Home . Articles . Columns & Blogs . On the Wind . How to know if you’re really a sailor

How to know if you’re really a sailor

2019 July 1

Sailing friends who sail the Chesapeake endeavor each year to join a select group called the Century Club. To qualify, one must sail 100 days in a year. Of course, this is easier for folks who don’t live above the 40th parallel where the reasonable sailing season is compressed by climate to the weeks between Memorial and Labor days, leaving just 129 available days to cram it all in. We don’t have a Century Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I sail, and if we did, it would have only retirees and iceboaters in it. We envy the elbow room enjoyed by Century Club candidates.

However, we keep count here too. I often brag about the year that our family and friends team hit 53 starting lines together, clocking more than 400 hours racing and bombing around in between. It was a magical summer of privileged parenting that no member of the crew will forget.

In order to understand sailors and our behaviors, it is necessary to put a statistical benchmark on our commitment to the activity. Anyone can claim themselves to be a sailor, but how is one counted as among the avid? Sorry, bucket listing doesn’t qualify.

Social scientists who study leisure activities control the time variable using a socially logical threshold. In research circles, avidity is often based on a minimum of 120 hours in a year given to an activity. At first blush, it doesn’t seem like a high bar. However, in order for a recreational bicycler to be called a recreational bicycler, he or she needs to invest at least 120 hours on a bike, or working on their bike or planning their next ride with their bicycling friends in a year. Do you bike two hours a week all year long? If so, you’re avid.

We can do similar math with sailors. For example, if you’re in the time-compressed Northern latitudes you’ll need to spend about seven hours a week each week between Memorial and Labor Day engaged in some aspect of sailing in order to be called avid.

It is interesting that neither years of experience nor skill level matter in this measure. You could have been an America’s Cup tactician in years past, but if you don’t sail now, you’re not going to be counted. Our packed family summer a few years ago doesn’t qualify us today. And Century Club members must reapply each year.

Often, coarse statistical measures like these are used to compare trends between sports and sometimes, to understand quality of life overall. Is biking on the upswing compared with sailing? If that can be seen, then scientists can begin to draw hypotheses as to why something is becoming more or less popular and test for them. 

Importantly, the trend across all outdoor activities is that screens, commutes and the gig economy are squeezing our ability to do fun things with any frequency or for long durations. The most avid in any activity are the people who take control of their time. Avid sailors put down their screens and then choose to live frugally but close to water, so they don’t lose their valued time on the water. Here is where we can see sailing improving lives. Every selfie of a Century Club member features a carefree toothy grin.

This spring, I spied a new and strange trend in my own avidity: I invested 120 hours before the boat hit the water. The previous owner of our new (to us) used boat didn’t value speed as much as time, so his annual bottom paint job was slipshod. Avid himself, he insisted on spending his allotment cruising the Maine coast. So each spring he slapped another coat of ablative bottom paint over the prior year’s layer and then cast off. 

It took me from early March to late May to find the gelcoat buried beneath gooey layers of red, red, white, red, white, blue, blue, black, black and black; like sanding a burnt deep-dish pizza. Today, the bottom is thin, smooth and slippery, but all told, I have more hours in bottom preparation than I will spend racing this year. I don’t think they have a club for avid guys like me.

How much time will you invest in sailing this year?