International Lightning Class Association Attracts Younger Sailors by Offering a Boat Grant Program
By Laura Jeffers, Executive Secretary of the International Lightning Class Association
The Lightning Class has supported youth sailing for many years. Every year we hold a Junior North American Championship. A Youth World Championship is held every other year. Many top sailors spent a lot of time racing Lightnings when they were young: Andy Horton, Jay and Jody Lutz, Greg and Matt Fisher, Jody Starck, Tim Healy, Brad Read, Ken Read, Betsy Alison, Dave Dellenbaugh and Ted Turner to name a few. Some class members thought this was not enough.
Several years ago, class members Bill Fastiggi and Allan Terhune Jr. came up with an idea to grow the class by giving younger sailors who might not otherwise have access to Lightnings the opportunity to experience the boat and all the class has to offer. Fast forward to now and the Lightning Class Boat Grant Program has done that and more.
Young adult sailors (minimum age of 19) who have the desire to race will be provided a competitive boat, sails, entry fee, gas money, and a mentor through the Lightning Boat Grant Program. They sail in regattas, learn the boat, and meet other class members.
“We are hopeful they’ll love the Lightning experience as we all do and become long-time members moving forward,” said Matthew Schon, Co-Chair of the Lightning Boat Grant Program.
This year marks the 14th season of the program. The Lightning Class announced three grant teams Lolly Vasilion (Burlington, Vt.), Jack Murphy (Arlington, Mass.) and Julian Fraize (Cleveland, Ohio). These recipients are members or alumni of strong collegiate sailing teams, underscoring the class’s focus on encouraging young sailors to continue their involvement in one design racing outside college racing.
Recipients are required to maintain the boat and equipment, write about their experiences, and be responsible for executing a summer full of sailing. Darby Reddaway and her team blogged regularly about their experiences and Greg Fisher, Lightning Boat Grant Program Co-Chair, interviewed Gordon Walcott and his team who won the 2016 Atlantic Coast Championships. Both are great examples of what the Boat Grant Program is all about.
Since 2007, a total of 128 sailors representing 41 teams have participated in the Lightning Boat Grant Program. The results have been excellent:
- This has increased class visibility with not only younger sailors but other classes and the sailing community as a whole.
- A youthful enthusiasm has spread throughout the class. At the 2019 North American Championship, 25% of the fleet was comprised of teams under 30.
- We are seeing new, younger boat owners. To date, 30% of Boat Grant helmsmen have gone on to become Lightning boat owners. This has encouraged other younger sailors to purchase boats as well.
- Over the past four years we have seen a spike in female interest for the program. In both 2017 and 2019, both teams were headed up by female skippers. Of the 128 participants, 34% were female. In total, we have had 10 female skippers and six all-female teams.
“We are excited to experience this level of competition outside of collegiate racing,” said Lolly Vasilion. “I feel incredibly lucky to have assembled a team of competitive women who are eager to get on the water and can’t wait to see what the Lightning Class has in store for us!”
- The energy amongst class members is higher with younger participants at regattas. The leadership has followed suit to include this demographic in policy and decision making. New ideas are being proposed because of their participation.
- Participants have forged lasting friendships that have benefited them both on the water and for some professionally.
- There is a positive impact with our class suppliers, including boat builders and sailmakers. This year we upgraded the equipment with a new boat and a “nearly new” boat. New sails are purchased each year.
- Members are fully engaged in these efforts by providing continuing technical and financial support to younger sailors.
- The program is inspiring “Boat Grant” type programs at the fleet level. For example, the Buffalo Canoe Club offers a similar program with a grant boat provided by their fleet. The Peruvian Lightning District has its own Boat Grant Program. Other examples include individual class members purchasing second and third boats for use at the fleet level to give new sailors the opportunity to try a Lightning. This helps fuel the supply of good entry level boats for purchase.
The Lightning Boat Grant Program has exceeded expectations and we look forward to the new opportunities this program generates as each year passes.