The RYA is excited . . . and well might they be. After years of falling attendance figures at the preseason showcase for the sport, the 2023 show welcomed 8,500 visitors,
Last year was the first time in its new Farnborough venue and it did not all go to plan.
But once again the pandemic took the blame for another new low turnout, ‘over 7,000’ was the vague official figure, a drop of around 1,000 on the last live show at Alexandra Palace.
So after that knock-back 2023 was really something of a make or break year.
Was the new venue plus the return to normal travel enough to stop the continuing downward trend.
With the receding pandemic finally allowing clubs to restart their sailing programmes in 2022, there was cautious optimism that the time was right . . . if not now than when?
Cue RYA headline, ‘2023 sailing season lifts off at ‘buzzing’ RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show’.
And a general feeling of outright relief with the RYA flagging-up that ‘8,500 visitors flock to Farnborough for season-opening show’.
On the Saturday the crowd did feel bigger, and I also thought that the show felt more dinghy flavoured, less of the general watersport accent that had seemed to dominate in 2022, but just a feeling and would the crowds really return.
And now it’s official. The figures back the feeling, which must be good after some tough years for an event that seemed to have lost touch with its target audience.
But . . . and of course there has to be a but. Judging the health of UK dinghy sailing on the turnout at a two-day commercial show has its limits, especially when free tickets were handed out!
Perhaps looking at how many people actually purchase a dinghy, join a club, take part in that clubs’ activities and attended the pinnicle of their chosen class year, the Class National championship, would better demonstrate the health of UK sailing?
And here the news is not so good.
The Yachts & Yachting Nationals Gear Guide, which has tracked Championship turnout numbers since 1999, shows that after a peak of 4,843 boats competing in 2011, it had fallen steadily to 3,947 by 2019 (with a pandemic low of 649 in 2020) back to (almost) normality at 3,099 in 2022 but still below the prepandemic figure.
Overall, a drop of 1,744 boats competing from the high point in 2011.
Taking a glass half-full view and comparing 2022 with the 2019 pre pandemic figure of 3,947 the drop was 896.
It is this continual drop in active participation that is more worrying as if reflected at club level sailing it suggests that the backbone of UK dinghy sailing, the club and open meeting racing circuit is losing momentum.
And while the RYA can boast of its world beating Olympic programme, topping the medal tables appear to have no effect at club level.
But then how many Olympic classes race regularly at club level or even at a national level.
The effect is further diluted by most racing for the Olylmpic classes taking place outside the UK, so even seeing Britain’s heavily funded stars in action is a rarity.
The upturn in attendance at the Farnborough based Dinghy Show is welcome and hopefully forecasts a bumper sailing season at club and national level.
They need something to get the Buzz back at club level where running costs have gone through the roof and along with all forms of hospitality, staff are hard to find.
Taking a tip from the the success of the Dinghy Show, RYA members can claim an exclusive free ticket and up to two half price tickets to the Southampton International Boat Show this September . . . I feel the Buzz already.