MORE THAN A SPORT – SAILING IS A LIFESTYLE FOR LIFE
THE recent Victoria Harbour Schools Sailing Series held at the Docklands shows inter-school sports at its best.
Girls and boys compete against each other equally; beginner sailors battle it out with the more experienced and each student is part of a team learning and demonstrating team skills and tactics each time they jump in a boat.
And, unlike a lot of team sports, parents are not required to fork out money for equipment and uniforms – boats have been supplied throughout the series by Yachting Victoria.
So just why is sailing –especially at a school level - a hard sport to sell?
Many people would say it is an elitist sport, only available to the rich. That is probably the greatest hurdle Yachting Victoria and event organisers have to overcome.
Haileybury College Coach Andy Hunting is greatly optimistic this view of his beloved sport will change in the near future.
An enthusiastic and successful sailor in his own right, Mr Hunting helped Haileybury take out the Victoria Harbour series recently.
``Unlike school rowing, or surfing where students, parents, and schools, are expected to outlay large financial commitments to set up a squad, teams racing ensures that all sailing is conducted in racing boats supplied by local yacht clubs,'' Mr Hunting said
``With such affordable and simplistic programs available, and the number of involved schools increasing each and every year, Victoria will soon be at the peak of the peak of the teams racing fraternity of Australia in the coming years.''
Yachting Victoria CEO Ross Kilborn agrees. Having seen more and more schools take part in the sailing series over the years, Mr Kilborn is confident the sport will continue to become a popular choice for students.
``Sailing is a healthy sport and a lifestyle for life,'' he said.``With great role models such as Andy Hunting it is a fantastic sport for students to take part in.''
The 2009 schools sailing series resulted in a showdown between hot favourites Haileybury and St Leonard's College.
The other competing school crews also demonstrated skill and tactics beyond their years, making this year's competition one of the most memorable in the series' history.
The Victoria Harbour Schools Sailing Series comprised two heats, followed by a very successful final, all held at Docklands.
The event was represented by schools from both the private and public sector, and included young sailors of all levels and experience.
The series was sponsored by Lend Lease and the City of Melbourne and supported by Docklands Yacht Club and Yachting Victoria.
Event director Mark Taylor said one of the key points of the series was to attract and keep teenagers involved in the sport.
``Over 15 years of age even exceptional junior sailors become distracted with school, exams, the other sex, part-time jobs, time availability, driving etc,'' Mr Taylor said.
``Drop out rate at this age is phenomenal……team racing is a key strategy of Yachting Victoria to keep kids involved in the sport through this period of their lives.
Mr Taylor said mixing age groups and sexes was important.
``It allows sexes to compete equally and encourages mixed crews – sociable and mature. Of the top two schools in Victoria this year half of the skippers were girls and half the crews were girls! Both of the top two schools are coeducational. ''
Mark Taylor said another attractive feature of team racing was a shorter form of traditional sailing competitions.
``Team racing is a short form of the sport – sailing's version of cricket's 20:20 if you like;'' Mr Taylor said.
``And like cricket, it is attractive for that fact - given peoples shortage of available time nowadays.
Susan and Mark Dale, parents of winning Haileybury duo Alison and Cameron, said the shorter style racing was particularly attractive to spectators.
`` From a spectator viewpoint, it is very exciting as racing is close to spectators and short races make the racing interesting,'' Mrs Dale said.
Mrs Dale said another factor attractive to parents was that the series was about teamwork.
``The importance of team approach and encouragement to all members is highlighted in the winning team's performance,'' Mrs Dale said.
``(This included) mentoring of younger sailors by the older sailors in the teams. From Haileybury's perspective, last year's finish just outside of finals set the team to focus on a finals finish.
``In leading up to the regatta the team trained in pacers and in the week's prior to the finals focussed on teams racing strategies as boat handling skills had been honed in earlier training sessions.''
Docklands proved a perfect setting for the schools sailing series. Along with the safe waters and central location, spectators could take advantage of the spectacular views of the competition from the deck of the wonderful Lade Cutler, Melbourne's premier cruise boat.
For Andy Hunting, teams racing is an incredibly addictive and enjoyable sport. Hunting hopes that more and more students will take part in the series in coming years
``Arguably the most impressive feat from the Schools teams racing regatta was the manner in which all competitors and spectators conducted themselves in a sportsmanlike and enthusiastic manner,'' he said.
``Throughout the 2009 series, it became clearly evident that teams racing, especially in Victoria is growing at an exponential rate.
``From a few secondary school students crashing their boats together nearly two decades ago, to a highly competitive, tactical, world recognised sport, it has changed the way sailing is viewed by our society.
``The view of teams racing being an inter-school competition for students who desire an alternative from the regular ball-sports has been embraced by almost every school which has trialed a program.''
For footage of the series and interviews with race participants please go to www.tbnn.com.au
For further information please contact Event Director Mark Taylor on 0417 832 000 or Yachting Victoria schools co-ordinator John Middleton 0411 453 127.
Yachting Victoria: 9597 0066
Ends: Jennifer Milligan
Yachting Victoria Media & PR
0448 884 993