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Bubba Clears Up Youth Sailing Conundrum


t appears, at least from the news stories that have been circulating in the sailing media for some time, that younger sailors are not gravitating to the sport—a sport for life—in the quantity of years gone by, when youngsters once approached sailing as if it was the Holy Grail. Back in the olden days, junior sailing was the door that led to tony social contacts, a coterie of friends who made you part of their august group because you sailed, gorgeous girls from moneyed families, yacht club memberships in places like Greenwich and Larchmont, possible Ivy League college opportunities and, if you were really good, your name eventually got placed on the letterhead of a New York law firm or the door to a corner office in a building on Wall Street. If you made the right contacts and sailed well enough, you got to know people like Olin Stephens, Briggs Cunningham, Bob Mosbacher, Sam Merrick, Joe Jessup, Bill Ficker and other men whose yachting and social credentials were as unimpeachable as bullion from the U.S. Mint. These days, apparently, the growth of sailing as a sport is suffering from a case of the slows. Certainly, today’s youth has far more distractions to deal with than their grandfathers did. Some of them are electronic. Kids today are hooked on text messaging as low-life junkies used to get brought to the dungeons of mortality by awful stuff like heroin. Text messaging is legal. Crystal meth, on the other hand, is not, but it’s out there and as available as an iPhone. All you need is money and a need. Someone will help you along the road to perdition for a small profit. The subject of sailors who are young enough to take up the sport and eventually become good at it, if they have the skills, smarts, coaching and the will, was on the mind of live-alone, live-aboard sailor Bubba Whartz as we both sipped beers at The Blue Moon Bar one afternoon this spring, when the weather was warmer than we had want-


May 2012


ed and the funky darkness of The Blue Moon seemed preferable to the abundance of scalding sunlight outside. The light and the heat got me to thinking about the summer season here in Florida when senior citizens and members of the AARP regularly get into fistfights and duels with furled umbrellas (touché!) over shaded parking places. “The sort of universal buzz, Bubba,” I said to the liveaboard, live-alone sailor and skipper of the ferro-cement sloop Right Guard, “is that young people are turning away from youth sailing these days like Muslims at a pig roast.” “Yeah, I’ve heard that, too.” Bubba replied. “Some say there are too many choices in other areas. Some guys are into computers now. They never get sunburned. The wind doesn’t die on them and leave them sitting still on a pond whose surface looks as glassy as a mirror. Older guys get into cars, or start dreaming of them at about age 14. They have a need for speed. Sailing isn’t their avenue, their venue. Fifty years ago we didn’t have skateboards, go-carts, snowboards, text messaging, cell phones, parents who picked you up at the school bus stop so you didn’t have to walk three blocks to your home, movies aimed at teenagers, MP3 players and ear buds. There were far fewer distractions back then. Nowadays, there‘s serious competition for the attention of American youth, a collective group not known for having the longest attention span in the world.” “Then you are saying that youth sailing is in a world of hurt?” “I never said that,” Bubba grumped. “You intimated it,” I replied. “If I get intimate with someone, they’ll know it,” Bubba crowed. Our discussion had veered off the tracks like a long train of coal cars with a broken braking system on a downhill grade. Conversationally, this was “The Wreck of the Old 97.” “Look, Bubba,” I protested, “I’m not going to debate semantics with you. It seems sailing is not attracting the minor