By Chris Childers
If 2020 was a tough year to find crew, maybe we just weren’t looking at who was hiding in plain sight. At the Treasure Island Sailing Center (TISC) this past Thanksgiving, a community of youth racers made lemonade from a season of lemons with the only crew we could find: their families.
In many households, sailing habits are inherited top down. But especially in a diverse community like San Francisco, young sailors buck this trend and can introduce the previous generation to the sport. The group that came to the Treasure Island Sailing Center that weekend was a healthy mix of both.
A robust network of public access programs like TISC has helped countless non-sailors of all ages find a home on San Francisco Bay, and TISC’s Thanksgiving Regatta showed how one design sailing has a little something for the whole family.
It was a simple-enough plan: youth sailors bring along a household partner for a day of COVID-safe races on Clipper Cove, a world-class venue in the middle of the Bay with protection against its infamous thermal breeze. Their new fleet of light and fast RS Feva’s would provide a lively experience for all. Keep score? Maybe…
With a gentle 5-8 knots trickling in from the Golden Gate, we started out slow. Our youth sailors were ready to explain the course layout to their grown-ups, but I suggested we start with how us larger humans could safely get in these dinghies (the Feva is 15 feet long and normally takes two youth crew!). Without too many splashes, our sailors made it out for a quick warm up before we called the start.
For one additional gimmick, we decided to add some “distractions” to the racecourse. During the starting sequence, a safety boat would scatter enough pumpkins and gourds to create a little minefield and competitors were encouraged to pick up as many as they could while rounding the marks.
The results were predictable. While everyone started out trying to tell which end of the line was favored, the total weight of vegetable flotsam acquired probably undid any advantage gained. The parents who had previous sailing experience, so accustomed to the quieter competition of their larger keelboats, at first didn’t understand their skippers’ behavior. This was a wholly different kind of “fun” than they were used to.
In the end, the wind built to a solid 12-15 and we ran about eight races. We let the parents drive one race, so they didn’t feel left out. We forgot to keep score. No one noticed.
But the most exciting thing to see as a coach was all the teaching and learning happening everywhere you looked. And not just in the expected direction; plenty of kiddos were taking charge and giving advice, too.
Anyone who has spent time in a competitive one-design fleet knows this magic. We don’t do it for the pickle dish – we do it because there is something special about a group of people on equal footing before the wind.
About Chris Childers
Chris Childers is a Sailing Coach based in the San Francisco Bay area, teaching youth, adults and people with disabilities. He is a lifelong one-design racer and cruiser in boats like the Flying Scot and the Sonar, and loves sharing sailing with others almost as much as he loves sailing himself.