Why is sailing a white boy's sport?

For the writer as a white middle class boy this is a tough question to ask: why are people of other ethnicities to my own so few and far between in sailing?

If we were to widen the question to 'why is sailing seemingly overwhelmed by able bodied white men', then we could quite easily point our fingers at the Blue Blazer / Snotty Club Brigade and blame them.

While this may be the case in part, it might not be so simple.

Sailing is generally a welcoming community

We cannot deny that there are people who are elitist snobs in the sailing fraternity. They may well be the reason you don't see too many people of different ethnicities in elite yachting for exactly the same reason you never see women in top sailing jobs. Women, men, able bodied and disabled people are levelled by sailing – it is as much a sport of the mind as it is the body, yet if your face doesn't fit in certain clubs and circles you won't be welcome – white / black / woman / abled or disabled.

Most sailors aren't like that. Are you good company? Do you like a drink or six? Are you willing to throw yourself into the fun we have on the boat or when it gets a bit hairy, are you in the thick of it? Do you have a one pot recipe for a delicious plate of food? If your answer to any or all of these questions, you will likely find a welcome into the sailing community.

It doesn't matter if you know a bedsheet from a mainsheet – sailors enjoy demystifying the sport to landlubbers and we genuinely like getting people who've never been afloat to start having fun afloat. Yes, even when someone is about to go out on a club race, as long as someone follows simple instructions and doesn't give attitude, you will be welcomed aboard.

If you can't hold your drink, start a fight or try to sleep with the skipper's wife, snore and fart loudly at night and give people attitude when asked to do something, you likely won't fit in to certain crews but you wouldn't fit in in many places. There are white boys who do just that and find it a hard task getting onto any boat at all.

One sailing forum had a discussion about ethnicity and sailing, and people basically came to the conclusion that as long as your attitude is right they couldn't care less what colour your skin is. One comment was, "If I thought that the lack of racial mixing was deliberate / enforced, then it would matter. I dont - I think its simply an issuer of getting numbers of ethnic minorities into the age / socio economic group that goes sailing, which is a matter of time alone. Its happened in other sports and pastimes - it will happen in sailing. There is a much more significant issue about getting more young people of any background involved at club level. Only a minority of clubs now have an active youth sailing section. Many, like my own, are clubs of the middle aged."

Sailing scenes around the world

A few years ago I wrote a book about the sailing qualifications you can get all over the world. Did you know that only one country in Africa (South Africa) has a national leisure sailing scheme? Did you know nowhere in South America has a national governing body? Most of Asia has this issue as well. It does seem that internationally, the only yachting countries with a big enough sailing scene to have a national sailing federation of sorts are from Europe, North America and our former colonies such as New Zealand, Canada, and many Caribbean islands.

Where there isn't a national governing body it tends to be a few millionaires' sailing clubs. Brazil is a classic case, where they have some world class sailors but who are members of just a few select clubs. The 2016 Olympic Medal winners aren't of indigenous descent…

You do find in reading through that, again like Brazil, where there is a European community or (such as the Gulf States) there is a fondness for all things 'Western' there will be a certain sailing scene there too.

China is trying to develop its sailing presence in the world for similar reasons it wants to get people good at football – it wants to teach people to think as individuals to compete in the individualistic world of business. China's culture is a collectivist one, something extremely good for working as a team on a boat at sea. Like it or not, even the best solo sailors have had to be good team players before they entered the world of solo sailing. China's interest is in developing leaders, and ocean yacht skippers make some of the best leaders of all.

South Africa – a torch bearer for non-whites?

South Africa has been actively trying to level the racial divide brought about by decades (centuries?) of Apartheid. Some great news came out this week from Sailing Anarchy that announced two black Africans had done well in the fiercely competitive 470 World Championships: "Yachting's dirty little secret is the nearly complete lily-whiteness of the competition in nearly every venue, which is why we get stoked when we see stories like South Africa's Abenathi Jim and Sibu Suzatu taking the first podium in major competition for an all-black South African 470 crew. Jim took 20th in the Rio Olympics with decidedly un-black crew Roger Hudson and in his first big event with new crew Suzatu - in the pre-Worlds in Greece - the duo took third spot in a tough 44-boat pre-worlds fleet."

These guys were developed by the Race Ahead Foundation that aims to help people of all races get ahead in competitive sailing.

Perhaps the sailing world needs more organisations like this?

The UK too?

The UK is arguably the crucible where world leisure sailing began. Looking hard on the web, I found one press release where a group of black and minority ethnic kids went sailing: Simon Lu, BME sports officer for Cardiff and part of the BME sport community project, explained,

"Today we have started our sailing project in partnership with RYA Cymru Wales. We are bringing sailing provisions to the BME (British Minority Ethnic) communities of Cardiff, giving them the opportunity to go on the water, having lots of fun sailing, big smiles lots of excitement, it is fantastic to see as well."

Ultimately the best way to get anyone sailing is to get them on the water and to have a good experience, and ultimately they follow it up and get involved off their own bat. The RYA stated:<.p>

"While the hope is that some of those taking part will be interested in joining sailing clubs to keep up an interest in watersports, the starting point is simply getting kids out on the water in a safe and supervised environment."

Jump on in – the water's lovely!

As I indicated above, you will find that sailors are very amicable and easy going people. Just go sailing and see how much fun it is! Sailing with Kavas Yachting, you can hire crew to do the sailing for you and teach you some of the skills in sailing a yacht over a week or two. You don't need to know how to sail to learn to sail, or even to enjoy a cruise around the Aegean or Adriatic. Jump on in – the water's lovely 

Richard Shrubb