The London Boat Show may have finally called it a day, leaving the Southampton Show as the big boat flagship in the UK this year, but the RYA Dinghy Show sails on.
The RYA Dinghy Show, billed as ‘the only show in the world dedicated to dinghy sailing’ received nearly 8,500 sailors and dinghy enthusiasts to Alexandra Palace for two full days of everything dinghy.
As I wrote in an article back in 2013 when Dinghy Show attendence first dipped to the then low point . . . ‘The class associations may be smaller but old classes do not fade away without a fight, the aging population phenomena extends even it seems to the dinghy world, with a “classic” revival event for everything that has ever touched water.’
That is even more relevent today, and the RYA is fighting to turn the tide, with a programme of talks and seminars to help sailing clubs retain their membership and encourage new thinking in the face of a rapidly changing attitude to leisure activities.
RYA Shows and Promotions Manager, Celia Edgington commented: “We were delighted to see so many join us for this year’s show, and it was particularly encouraging to see so many young people engaged and passionate about sailing.”
But the problem lies not so much with the young, who have been well catered for with the ubiquitous Pathway programmes. But with the generation after that, who move away from sailing in their early twenties and find so many other sports and pastimes that better fit their life-style.
The danger then is that once the reliable familial link is broken it is never remade, and we see the gradual withering of the traditional dinghy club structure.
The 2012 London Games failed to provide the much-vaunted legacy payback for sailing, indeed the gulf between club sailors and the full-on sailing dinghy professional continues to grow.
When Olympic dinghy sailors talk of campaigning three boats, using sails for just one event, and needing to spend 300 days a year sailing to maintain the necessary standard . . . and this for a sport that commands little main stream media interest. Then convincing possible converts that they should join heavily structured clubs and organisations to go sailing is facing a strong headwind.
Sailing has been poorly served by the organisations that claim to promote and run the sport.
While not an unknown scenario with a strongly amateur based sport that finds itself facing commercial conditions that it has little experience or competence in. The time has surely come for the sailors to take control of their destinies, rather than relying on the largesse of government hand-outs.
The recent and on-going farrago over the equipment and events for the future Olympic Games, and the failure to develop a serious professional competition race circuit has been a disaster, undermining the careers of the sailors who have to cope with the lack of a consistent and sensible playing field.
A better structured presentation of the highest level of dinghy competition – presently concentrated on a quadrennial event, with little else of public interest – would provide a better showcase for the sport and give the public, media and commercial interests a meaningful focus point.
But for now we must be cheered that even 8,500 enthusiasts managed to found their way to a lonely hill in the north of London for another year.
While industry continues to support it the unique Dinghy Show looks set to continue, although the adage . . . fine words butter no parsnips . . . was an apt description of the PR releases that followed every London Boat Show right to the bitter end.