US Sailing On The Road: Annual General Meeting and Stakeholder Summit

Southern Yacht Club, New Orleans, LA

October, 2022

US Sailing has been around in one form or another for 125 years! Even as we celebrate our history and legacy, we are moving the organization into the 21st century. One Board and Staff initiative is returning to traveling to regions of the country where we can conduct the business of the Association, meeting with local sailing leaders to learn their needs, worries and concerns. Member engagement efforts like these remain a pillar of our strategic plan.

We most recently visited New Orleans, LA to hold our Annual General Meeting (AGM), but also conduct a Stakeholders’ Summit, gathering sailing leaders from Houston to Pensacola for a day of news on our efforts, feedback and questions from the leaders, and renewed commitments to serve sailors, clubs and the entire sport as well as we can.

In addition to the above, we held a day-long board session followed by a joint Foundation and Board meeting immediately in advance of our AGM.

Here’s a recap of our time in New Orleans:

CEO and Board President Listening Tour

In addition to the AGM and Summit, US Sailing CEO Alan Ostfield and I arrived a day early and spent the entire Thursday traveling between sailing organizations and visiting any and all sailing leaders who had time for us. Over 10 hours, we met with leaders from Southern, New Orleans and Pontchartrain YCs as well as the Gulf Yachting Association, Lake Pontchartrain Sailing Association, Community Sailing New Orleans, and more.

Firstly, congratulations to Alan for gaining the trust and respect of our hosts in a relative eye blink of time. His ability to actively listen and demonstrate that he heard feedback accurately, be transparent about the current gap between our ambitions and our financial capacity, be self-deprecating as well as humorous, won everyone over.

“I was US Sailing’s biggest critic on the Gulf Coast,” said one Gulf Yachting Association leader. “You’ve turned me around 180 degrees.”

Another Summit attendee remarked “Very, very encouraging to hear. It feels like US Sailing is really headed in the right direction.”

All the big, thorny questions and feedback came up and I believe answers and commitments were a breath of fresh air for local leaders. Topics that arose included race official/instructor insurance, Safe Sport, Olympic vs. Grass Roots financial decisions, tradition vs. responding to changing environment for US Sailing Championships, US Sailing judging recertification exam quality, and more.

Future Board Meetings

The Board was polled regarding the return to our ‘in person’ meeting model and agreed to continue it, with the reasonable caveat that we combine events, when possible, to reduce travel obligations and respect board members’ and staffs’ time. To that point, we are holding an in-person board session on Feb 1, 2023, the day before the Feb 2-4 Sailing Leadership Forum at the Tradewinds Resort on St Pete Beach. As an aside, if you have yet to attend this event, you are missing out! I’ve spent my entire career in sailing, and this is, by far, the premier event for helping leaders of sailing clubs, yacht clubs and community sailing centers lead their programs better.

We also all agreed with Alan’s assertion that we need to find excuses to get to US Sailing’s homebase in Bristol, RI for meetings so we can rub elbows and develop bonds with our staff, especially staff who normally don’t travel to offsite meetings like New Orleans. We will definitely be in Bristol for an in-person meeting in 2023.

One thing we’ve yet to work out is the timing of the AGM or the 2023 Stakeholders’ Summit. Last year’s AGM was Mid-November and this year’s was Mid-October. We got a bit of feedback that the October date, still in the active sailing season for most parts of the country, caused us some loss of attendees, from board members to local sailing leaders (including the GYA Commodore and Race Chair who were officiating the Viper NAs). However, November is AFTER the World Sailing Meetings. More to follow as we explore the best calendar choice for future AGM/Summit Events.

US Sailing will visit Southern California to host a board meeting and Stakeholder Summit next year. We are discussing for either May 2023 or with the AGM fall 2023.

As our 2022 governance didn’t suffer from fewer board meetings we did agree to stick with the ‘six open meetings’ which is what is required by our bylaws. Three of those will happen during our ‘in person’ meetings. These are only slightly longer than our monthly meetings had been and more interactive and dynamic.

Membership Initiative

Hannah Meyer, after weeks of work with several staff colleagues, made a big presentation on our membership structure, types, levels, benefits and what the staff as a group believes is a smart pricing structure to be rolled out in 2023. Also, they propose that all memberships run a calendar year at some point. There are substantial cost savings in doing this, and Hannah has seen this done elsewhere to good effect. The board had a substantial discussion on this and approved the structure and pricing.

Siebel Sailors

We discussed all aspects, including funds raised to date and reasonable expectations for the future, operational plans, and future plans for growth. The board had substantial discussion on this and approved operational plans. There is still time to contribute to Siebel Sailors and have the Tom and Stacey Siebel Foundation match your contribution dollar for dollar. The deadline is 12/31/22. If you are interested, you can go to the website or you can email me for more information;

Helping Sailor Athlete Directors

In the closed working session, we learned from Heather that the USOPC was explicit that US Sailing pay the travel expenses for our 5 qualifying athletes to join ‘in person’ board meetings. Heather will work out a protocol for discussion by the Board, SAC and AAC, to get general agreement before it is rolled out to our five sailor athlete board members. While this will need some attention during the budgeting process, personally, I’m pleased about it because the same advantages of spending quality time with colleagues accrue to them as to senior board members who can easily afford to travel to meetings.

Stakeholders’ Summit

As you read above, US Sailing’s Stakeholders’ Summits are providing us great insight into how our efforts, policies, and procedures land on local sailing organization and sailors. We had a perfectly sized crowd of local sailing leaders in the room for the day.

This event was great, with tons of engagement and wonderful presentations from Alan and Andrew, giving locals a better picture of what we are doing and how we are doing it. Thanks especially to Katie Ouellette for her professional on-site competence there.

Intelligent questions were asked from the audience on everything from how we balance elite sailing and grass roots support to the dramatically changing recreational marine insurance market; from how we can make volunteering easier and more rewarding to ideas on making our US Sailing championships more vibrant and relevant in the sailing universe.

Wrath of Ian

I’d like to say a few words about our colleagues in SW Florida. Edison Community Sailing, a jewel of the country, was mostly destroyed as it sat in the path of the dangerous semi-circle of Ian. Offshore Sailing School lost its building and some of its boats. You’ll be pleased to hear that Community Sailing New Orleans leadership raised $14,000 immediately for Edison and sailors nationwide have donated relief money. Also, US Sailing staffers are organizing a caravan to bring equipment and supplies to the center so they can start operating earlier. There is also a ‘Go Fund Me’ site set up by a local volunteer if you’re interested in helping.

Democratizing The Herreshoff Trophy

The Board voted to allow/encourage all US Sailing members to nominate someone for the Herreshoff Trophy. The selection will be voted on by the Board on December 5. I engaged the staff to ensure they can do the tech and outreach work so the membership is informed and has time to post a nomination in time for Board members to receive it, compare/contrast it with the others, and be ready to discuss and vote December 5. Staff has been enthusiastic and are already on it with the website and a comms plan.

Thank you, Clerc!

The Board said Goodbye and Thank You to Clerc Cooper, who finished her second and final term as a Board Director. Wonderful job, Clerc, and thank you for everything!

Bob Kottler

Thank you to Bob Kottler, board member of Community Sailing New Orleans, chair of the (now) former Leukemia Cup in NOLA, and Southern YC staff commodore. We are hopeful to have him on our volunteer leader rolls in the near future! He was the key person who helped us make our AGM/Stakeholders’ Summit a success. I hope we get to start working with him at the national level soon and he deserves our deep gratitude for shepherding our events through in New Orleans.

If any of this prompts a question, advice, or reaction, you can reach me on the website. Google US Sailing Board of Directors and click on my name!  Thanks for reading this far! Fair winds and following seas to you all.

Richard Jepsen, Board President, US Sailing