A popular one-design dinghy class association recently announced that its rules committee had approved new class-legal digital compasses. I was curious to learn more about the breakthrough, wondering if the committee had finally given in to data. Cruisers and handicap racers find that data can simplify sailing: inexpensive computers tie routing to actual weather, a start can be precisely timed with clocks that account for speed and distance, and tactics can be determined based on actual fleet and global positioning. Instead, I learned that the committee had barely budged: Finally allowing its sailors to pick from two 20-year-old digital compass designs, in addition to the analog kind, but only “provided that the devices do not have the capacity for information other than heading.”
America’s Cup foiling ranks among the top technical feats of this young century, on par with the booster rocket that lands itself or the pictures sent from the surface of a comet. Well-funded teams of great engineers make miracles.
These three facts may surprise you: 1. Today, there are more learn-to-sail programs than ever in U.S. history.2. There are more kids in those programs than ever.3. There are more adults trying sailing for the first time.
Back when parents sent kids away to weeks-long all-outdoor excursion camps, one could choose to go to a sailing camp; if you could call it that. A half dozen kids between 10 and 15 years old would join a counselor (usually a college kid on break) to cruise from port-to-port aboard a sailboat just large enough to sleep them all. They would carry their own cash, watch their own weather, pick their own destinations, cook their own food, and generally care for themselves. They’d leave on a prescribed date and return in time for the fall semester, but in between, they were on their own.
A viral video of solo sailors in the Southern Ocean shot by a French warship and helicopter has landed on my Facebook page a hundred times. Sailor friends and friends who know I sail are sharing it. Parents and grandparents have texted dire warnings: “You’re not going to try this are you?” No, mom, I promise I won’t.