Offering a bigger experience of sailing

By Kimball Livingston, St. Francis Yacht Club

When Kimball Livingston was the 2016 Commodore of St. Francis Yacht Club he led an initiative that changed the focus of his club’s youth program. Now with the title of Staff Commodore Ambassador to Youth Sailing\, he offers this update.

I follow, fascinated, the stream of commentary in our sport’s media expressing pride, dismay, optimism/pessimism and, occasionally, disdain for the state of youth sailing in this moment when everything is happening at once. Gone are the days of advancing automatically from this little-kid boat to that big-kid boat. Kids are being diverted into the newest, fastest thing, including other, related watersports—wingfoiling has proven irresistible to the young and not so young at StFYC. It’s also proving to be more teachable and cost-effective than the kiting it is largely replacing, and we think it’s safer too.

After years of fretting that we couldn’t get teens kiting because of the windy, current-ridden waters in front of StFYC—and sending kids elsewhere to learn—we’re teaching the sport of foiling at last. First on a tow-behind. Then the kids get their wings.

So far, we’ve produced no experts to follow in the footsteps of our world champion kite sailors, but our newly minted, foiling 15-year-olds are about same age as six-time Formula Kite World Champion and StFYC member Daniela Moroz when she first launched from Crissy Field Beach adjacent to our clubhouse.

All my kids want to foil. That’s why the dinghy park is not Waszp-free.

Everything happening at once? We’re planning a free one-day clinic for Fevas and Teras on the Friday ahead of their Pacific Coast Championships, July 22-23, 2023. We believe in Teras as singlehanded trainers and Fevas as a doublehanded tweener. Both fleets deserve to grow, and the reasonably-priced Feva, with its asymmetric kite and rotomolded skiff shape, is a planing thrill ride and a great stepping-stone to the next fast thing.

That is why we’re offering clinics for both fleets, and that is why we’re making the clinics free, with the St. Francis Sailing Foundation making it possible. Tera coaching at press time is TBA, but Feva World Champion Ben Hutton-Penman will coach Fevas. That’s one big, y’all come.

Meanwhile, a cadre of our older teens will soon be off to C420 regattas on Lake Michigan and the East Coast of the United States. The C420 was designed in 1959, so cutting edge it’s not, but with C420s we get to teach spinnaker and trapeze, unlike with the white-sails-only FJs our kids have to sail to participate in high school sailing in the Pacific Coast district.

Just as every club has its own character, capabilities and limitations, we work with ours. StFYC walked away from spring-semester high school sailing beginning in 2018 to offer a bigger experience of sailing. But to be clear: Any of our seven high school teams that choose to race spring regattas on their own are supported with cheap boat charters and encouragement. The coaches are meanwhile coaching elsewhere. Some teams carry on, and it’s good for them.

For international readers: In the USA, our high school sailing teams race in a system building from the local to the regional to the national level in robust, simple dinghies designed seven decades ago. The high school system feeds effectively into the college system, based on a similar model and often indicted for diverting potential Olympians in critical years of their development. I could easily and unnecessarily scratch open sores and so…

Moving on quickly, I note that our StFYC coaches care very much about the big-picture fun factor to set the hook for a lifetime of sailing. A kid can be a kid around here, but our home in the maw of the Golden Gate wind funnel does not accommodate casual picnic outings. We have an island in the Sacramento Delta for that.

And when it comes to the popular game of comparing class versus class, it occurs to me that for as long as I’ve been sailing, I’ve had friends in Southern California agonizing over the value of Sabots, with their leeboards and a distribution of 100 miles, versus Optis with a reach that girdles the globe.
Not to worry about the subset of over-ambitious parents who pop up in any class, I observe simply that SoCal kids sail Sabots, and SoCal kids sail Optis, and when they move to their next boats, they’re the same sailors.

StFYC’s Hoel Menard as a teen skipper was part of our brief flowering as a center of ripping it in Nacra 15 performance catamarans. Now he tells me he’s still learning, sailing alongside UC Santa Barbara sailors in pokey ole FJs.

We ran our Opti Heavy Weather Regatta, with a Slalom, June 15-18, with a few folks asking the Annual Question: “If we sold off all our Optis in favor of Teras, because a Tera is a boat, not a box, and you don’t have to sail-and-bail, sail-and-bail, why run a regatta that our own kids won’t enter?

The answer will remain the same: Because it’s a great event. Kids from Vancouver to San Diego come here to race and get thrashed and go home with bragging rights. Ask Charlie Buckingham how he felt when he won the first one in 2002.
By the way, none of our kids worry about any of this. They just want to get out on the water.