I regrettably missed the annual Xmas regatta as we had booked family time away at one of the national parks. But it was an opportunity to pop into Johannesburg to collect an old windsurfer from the same man who built them and sold me my last one in the mid-1980s. Anybody who has had the privilege of meeting Boudewijn Lampe will know that he is a charismatic storyteller, and what I expected to be a quick outing turned into a three-hour affair as he regaled me with stories of the windsurfing heyday. (By the way, Rhona, Boudewijn sends you his warmest regards!)
He reminded me that it is a privilege to be a member of the small, global community of sailors. According to him, with few exceptions, there is something decent and recognisable in sailors wherever you meet them. Having been a member of several different yacht clubs across the country over the course of my life and having visited many others (like all of you), I agree that they are all familiar and welcoming. As a result of my introduction to the sport as a youngster, I have friends around the world. None of my other recreational activities has left me with this sort of priceless legacy.
The more sobering lesson, however, is to reflect on the massive popularity and sudden demise of windsurfing as an organised class. Boudewijn built 22 000 windsurfers, most of which remained in this country and must now be abandoned all over the place in peoples’ garages and gardens (like my first one, which I lost years ago moving from one place to another). Windsurfers were relatively cheap, easy to move about and great fun to sail. It was a true grassroots movement without the need for formal structures like sailing clubs to thrive. Throughout the 1980s there was hardly a piece of water in the country that did not host regular windsurfing activities. But then it died. Those boards are now considered collectors’ items; my first outing on my new, old board at Bushman’s river yesterday attracted all sorts of interest and nostalgia in what is regarded as a vintage craft, yet the windsurfer one design is a younger class than the ever-popular laser dinghy.
Perhaps the reason that the windsurfer class (and windsurfing in general) was not sustained was precisely because it lacked the organised structures of yacht clubs, in which we invest our time and money, and into which we induct our children. It is being part of a club that brings to bear the necessary social pressure to turn out and sail and race and, most importantly, to socialise with like-minded people. Yacht clubs are like families in the way they self-perpetuate. That sailing is an activity passed down generations is evident to me as I read and recognise the surnames of the entrants to the recent youth nationals. But without attracting enough new participants and without diversifying, this hereditary feature of our sport has probably only slowed the attrition in numbers at these annual national championship regattas. Sailing is without a doubt under threat in South Africa.
It would seem to me then that organised sailing will only survive if the clubs survive. An investment in time at Redhouse Yacht Club – whether it be the maintenance work that the old club needs, or rescue, bridge or galley duty, or as a member of the committee, or simply time on the water – is an investment in the future of the sport.
And on that note, I thank those of you who made the Christmas regatta another success. Eight lasers, a sonnet, a finn, two teras, a gypsey and a sprog were entered for the annual end-of-year event. Charlie Hills continues to dominate the lasers (perhaps it is no coincidence that Charlie is possibly our most regular yachtsman), while Cameron sailed to victory in the smaller Open B fleet. Tim and Adam took the Open fleet of two boats, a sonnet and finn.
Well done to Cameron Hills, Emma Lucas and Courtney Van Wyngaardt who represented Redhouse at the SA Sailing Youth Nationals 2019 at Theewater Sports Club. I see that the next edition will be sailed in the Eastern Cape in December 2020. This is a good opportunity for us.
Have a good Xmas and a happy New Year.