Hey Rob (good to see you),
Let’s not confuse sailing with racing here… Most people can sail adequately enough. They can get their boat from one side of the pond to the other. Many can even go upwind pretty well with little or no training.
With a few tips and some diagrams from experienced sailors, most people will get the concept of sailing upwind versus reaching versus downwind and have a pretty good idea of how to basically trim their sails for each. They will be able to determine which way the wind is coming from and will be able to get their boat to go pretty close to the direction that they want it to go.
But as you and I both know, there is a lot of difference between this basic level of sailing ability and the sailing skills that are need to be a competitive racer. Boat tuning comes into play as does a more refined eye for wind shifts and sail trim. You need to learn the rules and tactics and understand how things are going to play out once the clock starts.
Those are not skills that the average joe will simply learn through osmosis in a few weekends on the water. If we want to foster this level of skill in all the sailors on the pond, then we need to be willing to teach them. What I am talking about here is sailing school. Between the junior program on the lake where I grew up (Pewaukee - home of the Harken brothers) and collegiate sailing, I had 12 years of formal schooling with on the water coaches and instructors teaching me very refined sailing skills. These programs were both 4 day a week programs plus racing on the weekends.
you would think that after my senior year in college, I would have learned all there was to learn, but I had not. After college, I started sailing offshore racers and had to learn a whole new set of sailing skills that revolved around target boatspeeds and computerized performance assessments that are commonplace in grand prix keelboat racing. And while I had no formal training in this, I did have some incredible mentors that taught me how to use this form of data. I learned how to feel the boat with my brain instead of my butt.
So, I think it is important to offer this level of instruction to those that we have managed to lure into our sport. If you look at the sport of RC flying, there are flight schools associated with flying clubs all over the place that offer newcomers a chance to learn this very challenging skill. We should be willing to do the same at our sailing clubs. If you have regularly scheduled races (say they start at noon), then maybe sailing school could be scheduled to start at 10. This would give you a couple of hours to teach the new guys before the experienced guys get there. It would be easy to cover in fair detail some subject in that time. Each week it could be different. Sail tuning one week, reading the puffs the next week, starting tactics the next, etc. Different guys fgrom the club could teach each lesson. The lessons could include chalk talks with a whiteboard (or a chalkboard) where appropriate. The full sized clubs offer this to new sailors - adults and kids alike. We should too.
Along those lines, the clubs where I have taught sailing school owned several boats for that purpose. In some cases, the newcomers could rent the boats from the club for a season, but in most cases, the sailing school was offered for a tuition fee. That fee helped to pay for the boats. In many cases the boats were donated to the club by their previous owners.
I think most clubs should consider investing in a small fleet of club boats. A fairly inexpensive boat like the Fairwind or the Victoria would make a great club boat. I’m sure that many guys would be willing to donate older boats, sails, transmitters, etc. If the club exists as a non profit entity, then such donations are actually tax deductable. Imagine actually getting a tax writeoff for your old boat when you decided that it was time to upgrade…
In short I think that RC sailing is a great way to get involved with sailing and we should endeavor to take full advantage of it by teaching the newcomers to our sport the same way that the full sized sailors do.