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Diversity Begins with Spirit T

here has been a lot of recent chatter about creating diversity in sailing. U.S. Sailing gave the subject top billing at its latest conference. On the surface, the theme of the year, sailing’s cause célèbre, seems to be that if America’s skin is darkening, evidenced by the last two elections and demographic trends, so too should sailing’s. This is inarguably true, but let’s not underestimate the enormity of the task ahead. Search the words “sailing” or “yachting” on Google, and often they’ll come attached to a string with words like “elite,” “club,” or “exclusive.” While there are outliers among us, sailing isn’t starting from a position of authority on the subject of enthusiastically engaging people other than old white men like me to participate. Diversity isn›t something you brand and then switch on. It’s something you are. You don’t become diverse when you market to people who are different from you and hope they show up. It’s a condition where different people agree to be together because experiences, both in lifetimes and across generations, prove that it’s worth it. It’s not a temporary meeting at a neutral safe harbor. Once it starts, it continues. Once engaged, diverse groups manage the tensions that come from mixing alternate viewpoints. It’s hard to stay together, but truly diverse groups do. Want women in sailing? Go sailing with women. Want blacks and Hispanics and Asians in sailing? You get the point. Diversity is a product of systemic inclusion. The Island of Bermuda helps us see how. Most of us think of Bermuda as a nation of offshore bankers and reinsurers and the destination of famous sailboat races. Indeed, it’s also a nation of color. Sixty percent of the population is black. Of course, Bermuda is not without its own racial and economic tensions; but as a tiny island, it has reason to find a peaceful path to real diversity. In part, it does this through sailing. Today, every Bermudan public school kid of any color is touched by sailing in a 44 May 2014 SpinSheet

by Nicholas Hayes, author of “Saving Sailing” meaningful way, not because of a sailing team or a yacht club, but because of deep cultural roots and a connection to a greater national and historic significance, made possible by a few volunteers, the schools, and one lovely sailboat. Going all the way back to the 1600s, the Bermudan Sloop was a fast and stiff merchant sailing vessel, owing to talented island shipwrights and tough local cedar. These boats dominated high speed shipping and transport on the Atlantic in both merchant and military commissions until

ocean and taken to Bermuda to be freed. A group of well-meaning modern-day Bermudans raised the money to build a gorgeous replica of one of these boats called the Spirit of Bermuda and created innovative teaching and tourism programs to use her for historic context and the greater good. Every Bermudan public middle school student sails aboard the Spirit of Bermuda on a real, week-long Atlantic voyage. In this duty, the boat is crewed by more black kids than white, as you might expect given the population demographics. More importantly, the program teaches Bermudan culture, history, technologic and seafaring prowess, social justice, and heroism. I’m certain it also teaches the character lessons that many of us know sailing can teach: cooperation, resilience, decision-making, problem solving, environmental stewardship, leadership, and teamwork. ##A group of middle But like many philanthropyschool-aged girls polishing the dependent, not-for-profit sailing brass of the ship’s agencies, the Spirit of Bermuda binnacle during a faces a perpetual fund-raising five-day learning expedition in challenge. The economic downturn January. Photo by and fallout nearly sunk her, though the Bermuda Sloop she has weathered the storm and Foundation remained afloat and seems to be finding creative ways to make ends steam overtook sail power. Since Bermuda meet. For example, privately schooled kids had a small population and white Bermusidestepped the program for a time. The dan mariners were often off sailing someorganizers are clear that all kids are invited where, enslaved blacks were conscripted and are expanding opportunities for people to sail and became skilled sloop sailors. aged 14-24 to get involved, regardless of During the 18th and 19th century, many means. If you’re inclined, send them a Bermudan sloops were sailed by mostly check. black men. But I digress. The Spirit of Bermuda Colonial Bermudan blacks were freed offers a solid attempt at systemic inclusion. when Great Britain outlawed slavery in the She’s designed to touch every kid contex1830s. For three decades following, slave tually and with a meaningful historic and ships still sailed west across the Atlantic futuristic optimism. She opens a window carrying captives en route to human trade into classless, colorblind, heroic living markets in the U.S. Bermudan black sailors through sailing. Every sailor undoubtedly didn’t stand idly by as shackled Africans disembarks having experienced the richness suffered in dark holds. Privateered Berof diversity and tasting the hard work that mudan sloops, sailed by black Bermudan diversity requires. sailors, were used to actively counter the And she speaks to the reason to diversify American slave traffic until the American in the first place: that all people may do Civil War made the ocean chase irrelevant. great things, like sailing, together and for There are tales of slaves unshackled mideach other.

SpinSheet May 2014  

Chesapeake Bay Sailing

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