Gary Jobson on sailing, the Vineyard and the America’s Cup

Gary Jobson, president of US Sailing, is racing in this weekend’s Vineyard Race aboard Gus Carlson’s Aurora. On Friday, while waiting for the race to begin, Gary sat down with us at Stamford Yacht Club to talk about the state of sailing and a few other things.

You’ve been president of US Sailing for 11 months. How’s it going so far?

It’s been very active. After cleaning up a few problems that needed immediate attention, I started focusing on improving our communications. One way was making sure the Web site was improved. We’ve made strides but it’s an evolving project. Now that those have been addressed we have set our sites on a range of issues.

So what are some of those top issues?

In no particular order we’ve been taking a hard look at:

Membership. It’s been on a seven-year decline. Our revenue is fine but not our membership numbers. The good news is that by the end of the second quarter of this year we were up 8 percent. It took a bit of work to do that but it’s working.

Balancing needs. As much as I’ve been around sailing and US Sailing it took me a while to understand what “it” is. Here’s what I mean. US Sailing is different things to different people. We have instruction/training, certification, handicap rules, offshore safety at sea programs, 18 championships, an Olympic unit as well as the infrastructure to support all this. In the end we need to balance those needs and it’s a challenge.

Handicap rules. There are too many. It’s like bad Scrabble with all the rules out there. In simplest terms we need to get it down to fewer rules and those rules need to be well defined.

Certification of race officials. It’s become quite difficult for people to get certified. The rules were imposed in the 1970s with good intentions. Everyone wanted better race management. But for someone who is in their 50s, 60s or 70s and is ideally suited to do this, it’s a long, difficult process. We need to make the administration part of sailing simpler.

What about some of the more high-profile events, like the Olympics?

That’s another area we’re focused on. First, recognize that the U.S. has done fairly well in the Olympics. We still have the most medals with the Brits catching up. And remember, we didn’t send a team until 1932. However, we’re not doing as well as we used to. And one solution is to alter the way we do trials. Think about it. We’re one of the few countries to hold trials in our country, rather than through a selection process at international regattas. If the trials were held here in Stamford everyone would arrive a year early to get ready and study the weather patterns. But that doesn’t help you when you win the trials and head overseas to the Olympic venue. In addition, you will miss all the important international competition. Instead, we’ve taken a very bold step and will determine our Olympians that way the Europeans and Australians do – by picking those who fare the best at international competitions.

How about our junior programs?

I think we do a very good job in that area with Optis, 420s, etc. We have almost 500 high school sailing teams and 214 college varsity program. Thus, from the ages of 8 to 23 we’re well covered. Regrettably we lose people from 23 until about 35 to 40 as people start raising families and work on their careers.

How do we fix that?

A big part of this rests on yacht clubs. They are the backbone of our sport and provide access. Yacht clubs need to make it easy for younger people to join. And once they join create programs suited for them such as team racing which is very popular.

Towards that end we are holding a yacht club summit in Chicago on April 23 at the Fairmont Hotel. Every yacht club has been invited to send a flag officer, club manager and other luminaries. We’re going to meet and share ideas. I even have Ted Turner as our keynote speaker.

How do you think the U.S. compares to the rest of the world in sailing?

I am getting weary of hearing how good the Kiwis are how good the Brits are. They are good sailors but Americans are as good. We’ve won the Star worlds, the Sunfish worlds, the Snipe worlds, the 505 worlds, the Melges 24 worlds, the Moth worlds, the team race worlds, the Med Cup and, oh yeah, the America’s Cup. I’d say our sailors are doing pretty well. I am bullish on American sailors. That’s why I urge owners to use American crew. We need to have a place for all these great sailors to go.

What’s your take on professional sailing?

I am OK with high-end professional sailing. There are some very well-known professional sailors who help run programs and add real value to a boat and its program. What I don’t like is now suddenly every 25 year old calls himself a pro and asks for a day rate to got sailing. Most of us should look at sailing as a sport to enjoy and do for fun. Now I’ve made my living promoting sailing but I don’t get paid to go sailing.

What are you doing here in Stamford for the Vineyard Race?

The Stamford Yacht Club, as I understand it, has this grand exalted society for those who have completed 10 or more Vineyards. As you know, it’s called the Buzzards. I checked my records and found out I need two more to qualify. This year will be my ninth. I am determined to leave U.S. Sailing as a Buzzard.

When Gus asked me to race on Aurora I jumped at the chance. The Block Island Race and Vineyard are great races. They are medium distances with overnight work and there are all sorts of curveballs you face. I also really enjoyed racing on Aurora to Bermuda. I love the attitude on the boat. Everyone’s into it. Gus has exactly the right Corinthian attitude.

What’s your take on the America’s Cup these days?

I am glad the US team won and we’ll know soon if we’re competing in monohulls or multihulls next time.

For the the Cup to be successful, three things need to happen:

First, we need boats that are similar so we can have lead changes and close races. I am fine with multihulls competing as long as they can meet these criteria.

Second, the Cup has to cost less. We now have multi billionaires spending vast amounts of money. Only a few can play this game. If it costs less more people will be involved.

Third, it has to go back to its roots. It has to be a friendly competition between nations. The American boat should have Americans, the New Zealand boat Kiwis, etc. Look at the World Cup. It was cool. It was country against country. The Cup needs to return to that.

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