We spent most of the last three years in Guadeloupe, enjoying our Caribbean surroundings and lifestyle. For my wife, Elda, it was a return to the roots, and for myself, re-discovering the island lifestyle I had left in Hawaii, decades earlier. But one thing was missing big time: sailing.
We started putting some thoughts on how to get ourselves back on the water the way we used to: after school, work, or whenever we felt the urge to get our adrenalin level up.
Sailing - like any water sport or outdoor activity - is never as good as when you have partners in crime.
Looking for signs of activity on the water, day in, day out, we could hardly see any sail at the horizon, and frustration built up. Sure, you could see once in a while, charter boats crossing the channels or anchor in our Saint-François lagoon, stopping over for a few days, but local activity was almost non existant.Yet marinas were at capacity, and all the breathtaking bays of the archipel filled with anchored boats. But this all looked more like cemeteries than the beehives you would expect with such perfect settings.
Curious, we looked at the other islands, and discovered more or less the same patterns: seasonal activities involving visiting sailors (charters, races) giving the illusion from afar of a sailing paradise, but with on the flip side, a local reality with fewer and fewer people out on the water - even those who made the crossing to find their sailing heaven wind up more often than not stranded, and entangled in the slippery slope to inertia.
Kitesurfers and windsurfers occupy preferred spots, but even there, the activity is relatively small when compared to other places with similar attributes.
And that trend is visible across the Caribbean, including South Florida, which, in our book is integral part of the region, both ecologically and socio-culturally speaking.
So what’s wrong, will you ask, when on the one hand, the water sport offer has never been so varied, and on the other hand we notice a dwindling activity on the water?
Well, for one, our lifestyles have changed, with new work and leisure patterns, a much wider spectrum of opportunities, lightning fast communication, and more specifically an evolution towards a service-driven economy. In our fast paced society, people want (rightfully so) instant gratification, looking for hassle-free turnkey solutions whether it be for food or leisure.
Second, despite huge technological improvements illustrated by Ocean Racing (Volvo Ocean Race, Vendee Globe,… and the America’s Cup), the mainstream offer hasn’t evolved to match breakthrough innovations found on the racing scene. Basically, the week-end sailor still sails the same way as 40 years ago.
As a result, seasoned sailors get bored, and younger or newcomers don’t want to embrace something that looks old.
This is nothing new as sailing faced the same problematics back in the 90’s, and the skiffs (inspired) designs looked like the answer with planing hulls and asymmetrical kites.
Twenty plus years later, history repeating, enhanced by major societal shifts.
The answer is simple: people want to have fun. The thrills can no longer be limited to competition. Surf, wind- and kite-surfing have long been (limited) solutions, but for the die-hard sailor, something is missing.
Enter the foiling era, which brought a smile on the face of many top level sailors, best exemplified by the International Moth Dinghy and the A-Class Catamaran which draw all the top sailors and adrenalin junkies to huge gatherings, but more important to sailing sufficing itself: simply going out is a joy shared by that group of early enthusiasts.
But those boats remain expensive racing machines, which is why there is a need to develop mainstream iterations of those foiling machines.
Andrew McDougall, creator of the famous Mach2 Moth, took all his experience and vision of the sport’s evolution to design the WASZP, a foiling dinghy taking most of the Moth technical attributes, yet tuned down to allow for a broader user base, and built to cut the costs down by half. The result is just a breath of fresh air, comparable to what the Hobie Cat, the Laser or the WindSurf brought in their own time.
Sailing is fun again, with wipe-outs, exhilarating foiling rides, and a renewed experience on the water, with a simple manageable boat both on/off the water. Communities are active all around the world, sharing their respective experiences across the social media spectrum, and the brand has a customer first approach similar to the early Hobie Cat days, well relayed by enthusiastic agents and ambassadors.
This new trend shows the way to go for sailing to compete with other activities and avoid the current high churning rate. Communities of sailors of all ages, level or gender sharing the same passion on exciting supports easy to set-up and offering programs in adequation with our fast pace society. The same goes for bigger boats where I see boat sharing and charters as a response to shorter vacation time scattered across a calendar year. Some builders already adressed the problem, but all the actors, including public services, need to take a hard look at the situation to make sure that our marinas and parkings stop turning into boat graveyards.