Annapolis Snipe Fleet 532 hosted the first-ever Annapolis Snipe Invite for under 30 sailors on June 13-14 and the event generated a (not) surprising amount of buzz. Everyone who participated had a great time and we got tremendous feedback from the participants, parents, and the local sailing community about how beneficial the event was for the kids and how it would certainly help to grow the local fleet, the Snipe class, and the sport of sailing in general. While it does take work to pull off, the benefits are real and should be considered for expansion to other areas as a way to strengthen your fleet’s ties to your sailing community and to grow your local fleet.
The event was modeled after the Miami Snipe Invite that is now in its fourth year and built on an event hosted in Annapolis last year as a Snipe Junior World Championship qualifier. The concept of these Snipe Invites is to introduce junior sailors and recent college grads to the Snipe and how much “Serious Sailing, Serious Fun” this class has. Kudos to Kathleen Tocke for coming up with the “Under 30” idea – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
Many of the participants have never been in a Snipe so a clinic is part of the event schedule. By introducing these kids to the finer aspects of rig tuning and sail shape controls, they will be better sailors. Showing them that this older sailboat design is still extremely relevant and is a highly competitive yet emphasizes maximum fun, we will generate the future members of our class and connect them to a class that exists outside the high school and college 420 scene. This hopefully will begin to reverse the trend of losing junior sailors once they graduate.
Here are my “Lessons Learned” from our event and why I’d love to see other areas embrace this concept:
Lesson #1: This is a tremendously powerful concept for marketing the class. Not only did we introduce a whole new generation of dinghy sailors to the Snipe, we created a strong bond with their parents, many of whom inquired about buying a Snipe after the event. One of our “twenty-somethings” commented: “Trust me, people my age are looking for their next class and they are landing in some obscure places. A good place to start is promoting Snipes as the next step for sailors after the structure of jr/high school/college sailing is lifted.”
Lesson #2: High School sailing programs and their coaches are fertile ground for the Snipe. Of the 15 teams we had participating, 10 of them had current high school sailors aboard and one was a high school coach. A few more were alumni of the local school programs. In an email after the event, Jonathan Bartlett from North Sails told me: “I was so happy to see the local kids sailing. The lack of knowledge today’s junior programs can’t give to kids regarding adjustable rigs has caught way up to even the Olympics. Thank God for the Snipe Fleet.” One top high school sailor emailed: “I had a ton of fun. That boat is really cool to learn in. I had no idea about mast forward and mast back and pre bend, or how to use it. Haha. I had a blast.”
Lesson #3: Good quality loaner boats is key. Your area must have generous owners of “late-model” decently rigged Snipes. The Annapolis and Miami fleets are lucky to have such owners and SCIRA’s Borrowed Boat insurance gave them the comfort that if something did happen to their boats, they would be covered. One thing we will do better next year is to make sure the Charter Coordinator and/or the owners rig the boats way ahead of time, label with a Sharpie where the lines are, and ideally go over the boat individually with each borrowing team. Having a few good “boat boys” on hand with tools and spare parts is also really helpful. See next Lesson, but timing it in sequence with an invitational can make more boats available.
Lesson #4: Timing is critical. Much is written about our “over-scheduled youth” and it is true. Finding the right time for your area takes coordination with local schools, junior programs, local Snipe regattas (to take advantage of otherwise out-of-town boats), and college schedules. For Miami, the sweet spot is around New Year’s – just after the Orange Bowl Regatta and before colleges start back up. For Annapolis, it is the second or third weekend in June just after the Colonial Cup and before the Junior Sailing programs start. A triple trailer from South Florida that had come up for Colonial Cup and the ACC’s helped get additional sailors and loaner boats on the water.
Lesson #5: Redefine “Serious Sailing, Serious Fun” for this generation. It is really all about the Social. You have to get a core group of the “cool kids” committed and build on the “so-and-so is doing it, can I find you a boat and/or skipper and/or crew?” Learning from Kathleen, we also started our event at “the crack of noon.” Teens and twenty-somethings seemed to really appreciate this! The social events need to be targeted toward the competitors. They really want to hang out with each other, not a bunch of old people. That doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate your fleet members as we did for the Saturday night party and socialize to some extent, but they need their own space to be themselves in their own element. Fleet members who had teenagers hosted our parties, so there was adequate “teen space” for them to hang together.
On the Serious Sailing side, courses were 30-45 minutes with the 5 minute starting sequence – longer than the typical high school or college course, but shorter than the regulation SCIRA course. We were able to run five races on Saturday and two on Sunday. We ran the event closer to the dock than our typical larger Snipe events, which was a real benefit; it greatly reduced transit time to the course, made for a more comfortable venue for newer Snipe sailors, and allowed more racing in the time they were on the water. We did have some protests, as these kids are used to a high level of competition, so think through either “Three Minute Justice” [see accompanying article by Gavin O’Hare] or at least have a competent Protest Committee formed and ready.
Lesson #6: A Clinic is Crucial. Both the Miami and Annapolis Snipe Invites featured a pre-regatta clinic. We were fortunate to have Steve Pickel from North Sails run ours, which definitely added to the Serious Sailing part of the event, but any well known or experienced Snipe sailor could run one. For true newbies to the Snipe, pre-tuning the boats, emphasizing the big picture of how to sail the Snipe and minimizing the emphasis on all the “strings” really helps.
Lesson #7: Word of mouth marketing maximizes participation. Electronic media helps to get the word out, but personal contact seals the deal. Miami created a fun website (miamisnipeinvite.com). Our fleet used Facebook (facebook.com/snipejuniors), but probably should have used Twitter or some of the newer social media vehicles. Through these mediums, you can build buzz, advertise who else is coming, share photos, and build excitement for the event. In the end, it was personal emails and texts to potential competitors (and sometimes their parents) that secured the commitments to sail.
All in all, the positive feedback we have been getting from all sorts of different angles has been tremendous. Of course, we won’t have the truest measure of success (new boats in the fleet) for another 6-12 months, but we did get at least 14 new SCIRA memberships and trained up a bunch of new Snipe skippers and crews.
My dream is that we could create a “Snipe Invite” franchise with locations around the country. Boston Snipe Invite? San Diego Snipe Invite? Let us know – we’ve got lots of kids who would come!
Photos and helpful links:
Photos courtesy of Jill Bennett: goo.gl/photos/tfpD1RYZf8ZWZb2M7
Miami Snipe Invite – includes NOR and past results: www.miamisnipeinvite.com
Annapolis Snipe Invite website with links to NOR: http://juniors.severnsailing.org/snipe-juniors/
Annapolis Snipe Invite Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/snipejuniors