Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Stadium Sailing: Re-defining Sailboat Racing

J/70s sailing Grosse Pointe YC sailing league off Detroit(Grosse Pointe, MI)- Sailmaking professional and Grosse Point Yacht Club Sailing Director Wally Cross shares his plan for changing the way we view the sport of sailing.  Wally has been coordinating with Ben Klatzka, founder of the Premiere Sailing League USA, to help jump-start broad-based participation in one-design keelboat racing for Corinthian yacht club members.  This past fall, Grosse Pointe YC co-hosted their first “test event” for the “college-style” sailing league program using their fleet of J/70 class sailboats; all participants considered it an enormous success.  Here is Wally’s commentary on what he considers to be THE evolution of sailboat racing for kids, parents, families and friends.

Grosse Pointe YC's Sailing Director- Wally Cross“Ben and I have been discussing this concept of sailing in front of sailing clubs for two years. His business is the Premier Sailing League. His goal is to provide boats around the country in specific yachting venues, and create live entertainment in a ‘stadium sailing’ environment that has never been realized for the sport in America. The goal is to have regional yacht club challenges and eventually crown a national champion.

This past September, we decided to try a stadium sailing concept event at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. We had ten J/70’s from the Detroit area divided into four divisions; the goal was a four-hour schedule with a total of 18 races. Each team sailed during half the schedule to complete their nine races, splitting time on the water with time ashore spectating. On the dock, we had a grill and bar set up for spectators and participants (a very popular place to be!).

With so many demands on our time with family, work and competing sports, it is my belief that our passion for any sport can only be justified for a shorter period of time than what it takes to do the conventional sailboat race.

I always thought 18 holes of golf would be the maximum time we could set aside for a sport, yet even with that four to five hour time frame, golf is struggling with participation rates due to the various elements required to play; their challenges are similar to sailing- total travel time, actual play time, and the cost involved.

Stadium sailing is set up to be a four-hour experience, yet participate for half that time.  More importantly, the stadium-style event creates a far better ratio of actual sailing/ racing time to your total hours invested!  Compare that to the normal day of racing from your home yacht club or on the road for a travel event! That is one of the key goals – to maximize actual racing time relative to the entire time devoted to sailing for a given day or weekend.

Spectators at Grosse Pointe YC J/70 sailing league eventThe sailors are the ‘actors’ on the water and, then, the ‘ambassadors’ on land. We asked the participants to mix in with the audience to explain what is happening on the water, so there is a natural synergy that evolves both onshore and on the water. Coincidentally, this interaction naturally helps grow the sport! It is a byproduct of the stadium concept that fosters more participation for a sport that has been challenged to grow!

To sail the 18 races, each race had to be between 11 and 13 minutes. There is no down time and practicing is not allowed. Once the first flight completed the three races, the next group had to be ready to go without any gap in time, thus helping to maximize the actual race time for the sailors.

The course had three movable buoys that provided a windward-leeward course. The start, finish and leeward gate are all the same. The race is four legs and each leg is less than four minutes. The starting sequence is a 3-minute control box on shore (just like college racing) and a judge for the line sits in a RIB with a loudhailer.  We also followed the boats and whistled/ flagged the teams for any fouls. The penalty was a 360-degree turn or a last place finish for that race.  Fouling was not an option if you wanted to do well!

This style of sailing places a premium on quick tactical decisions and boat-handling skills and, consequently, focuses participants on rapidly improving their game!

The sailors faced many more strategic/ tactical situations in one day, than they would in a traditional 2-3 race day regatta!  The goal was to make racing quick, easy and decisive, so you provide instant gratification for all competitors and virtually continuous action for the spectators.

In order to run 18 races in four hours, the marks had to move a lot. The wind speed and direction directly affect the time the fleet takes to sail the course, so the marks have to adjust fast!  Based on the first lap time, the windward mark was either increased or decreased in distance.

To facilitate mark movement, Grosse Point YC is working with a buoy manufacturer that expects to produce a motorized mark that can be controlled with a smart phone. The mark will lock into a GPS setting, unless changed by the ‘course manager.’ On top of each buoy will be a Go-Pro style video camera that can wirelessly transmit images back to the sailing center. As a result, one person can adjust the course constantly for wind direction and speed; the goal is to keep the time close to 11 minutes and the course true to the wind.

We have plans for three events next summer with each event concluding with awards, but at the end of the three event series we will have a grand prize that will be awarded to the top three overall finishers. All the awards will be items the sailors can use to improve their performance.  Here is GPYC’s 2017 sailing league schedule:
  • May 20 – concurrent with Great Lakes Boating Festival
  • June 24 – concurrent with Great Lakes USODA Optimist Regatta
  • September 16 – Grand Championship Finals
We plan to sell sponsor branding on the moving marks, along the sailing wall (the pier in front of the club), on our new sailing center (located on-the-water), and on the asymmetrical spinnakers.  As the concept takes off, we anticipate strong sponsorship interest as well as significant growth in spectator attendance.

It is important to note that sponsors will get VIP treatment for seating and food/beverage service. The GPYC’s sailing center will allow spectators to watch the racing from a balcony looking over the water and race course area (just 50 yards away!), plus we plan to add bleacher seating for better viewing.”

To learn more about Grosse Pointe YC’s sailing league plans for 2017, please contact Wally Cross at phone# 313-640-7014 or email-  And, for Premiere Sailing League USA information, contact Ben Klatzka at phone# 617-480-8775 or email-