The "Big Boat" World
For many young adults, dinghy sailing can often seem like a lonely path. Spending hours by yourself in a boat fighting for the chance to make a squad or compete abroad doesn’t appeal to many older teenagers and college-age students, but they find it difficult to see another way to stay on the water. Moving into keelboats, however, has unlocked a whole other side of sailing for many people. Being part of a team can make crew members very close and creates a social aspect to competitive sailing that some feel is lacking from the dinghy world.
Traditionally, young sailors looking to move into keelboats had few options other than to join a fast-paced environment full of older sailors who have been racing keelboats for years. For example, Andrew Smith  – head of the U25 Keelboat programme in Greystones Sailing Club, Wicklow - feels very lucky that he was drawn into the ‘big boat’ world at just the right time, when he was “bored out of his mind in dinghies” but felt discouraged as “[he] had nothing to go to next”. Andrew saw that a lot of his age-group weren’t being picked up by one of the existing keelboat teams, and also recognised that being the only young person on the team often didn’t appeal to many of the younger sailors. Hence, he pushed the club to start an Under 25 team under the Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) U25 Support Programme.
The main goal was simple; keep the 18-25 age group on the water by showing them an exciting and social new avenue into competitive sailing. But they also recognised its potential to provide a platform for young people to learn how to sail keelboats properly in a more fun and relaxed environment than on many of the already-established ‘older’ racing teams. Now, the programme in Greystones has created fourteen confident U25 keelboat sailors loving their time on the water together when, a year ago, they couldn’t see any path to continue sailing.
The narrative in Greystones is not the only one – ICRA is currently supporting twelve U25 programmes in various clubs around the country. They provide grants for club-owned keelboats, mentoring, follow-on funding, as well as coaching and training opportunities across clubs. The positive legacy of the programme is already apparent in many of the supported clubs. In Foynes Yacht Club, Limerick, for example, the scheme has already been a real eye-opener for the young sailors into the massive responsibility that running a boat really entails. From organising cranes, sponsorship, insurance, towing, and race preparation, Mary McCormick – helm and head of the Foynes YC U25 team – believes the programme is a huge steppingstone from the dinghy world, where parents do a lot of the organising, to preparing you to go and race your own boat.
She strongly feels that it “instils confidence in people when they go forward to guide their own sailing career”. For instance, two of the team members are ageing out this year but instead of splitting up into other teams, they feel suitably prepared by their time in the U25 team to invest in their own keelboat to race. This, she argues, is the real benefit of the U25 programme – “when you come out… you feel like you have the confidence to go on and race your own boat rather than just step on and crew for someone you don’t really know.”
According to Brian Raftery, manager of the ICRA U25 Support Programme, this lasting legacy is what the programme is all about. He comments that, “long term, we want to build the next generation of cruising racers – to create a community of under 25s who believe that sailing is for them and not just ‘old people’, and will go out and buy boats and keep the sport alive”.
If you are between 18 and 25 and are interested in joining a U25 team or setting one up in your club, visit Under 25 Support Programme - ICRA (cruiserracing.ie) to find out how you can become part of the thriving U25 keelboat sailing community.
Headline Picture Credit: Tony Quintwan