Up until a year ago I had spent over 7 years involved in teaching sailing and growing sailing participation as my full time job. The aim was to increase the number of people that have a passion for sailing such that they want to carry it on and maybe join a club. I see this as the first step to engaging new sailors… getting them loving it as much as all us firefly sailors do.
For this last year though I no longer have a practical sailing school and the scope of what I’m able to achieve has become smaller and so I have focused on developing participation in Fireflies at West Kirby Sailing Club.
How is this different?
The difference is in the commercial realities of introducing mass participation versus targeted growth. For a commercial school to be financially viable you need to be able to balance, number of people to instructor ratio, plus wear and tear on boats and in that regard, plastic boats such as the Feva, Open Bic etc were my boats of choice. With this model we introduced 2000 people to sailing in 2 years. But with the Firefly we can be super targeted to those Participants that have already been introduced to sailing and want to get more involved and perhaps sail with their parents.
My eyes have been opened..
Over the last couple of weeks though I have started teaching an 11 year old to sail in my wooden firefly. This young lad has no connection with the sea what so ever and so he may well look at my 1962 Mk III firefly as a bit old fashioned compared with the snazzy looking fibreglass boats that were also out sailing. But he didn’t, he has loved it, (I did have to tell him to be gentle as he jumps around and that this boat is like a vintage car)
My next concern was that there wasn’t enough room… but hey there is, – especially in a Mk III with side tanks to sit on! I did have to rig it up slightly differently though, for the first couple of lessons I rigged the boat as normal but left the jib furled with maximum rig tension and kept half plate. This enabled us to raise the boom giving more room and also mean that the boat was less likely to get stuck in irons.
Why is this important?
As class captain I want to grow our fleet and therefore I need to teach people to sail in Fireflies. If we teach them in a RS Vision or Wayfarer then that is the boat that our new sailor will feel comfortable in. Teach them in a Firefly and there is a good chance that they will continue to sail one. Getting junior sailors from your club crewing in club races has a similar conveyor belt affect, it generates it’s own enthusiasm and growth.
With a growth in single handed classes and emphasis from the RYA, I believe there is now a gap in the market for us to exploit and encourage people to come sailing in our fireflies. There are so many Fireflies around these days wouldn’t it be great if we could all take an opportunity to take a junior or new sailor from our club out in a firefly, encourage them to come sailing with us!