Regenerating the Fleet
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Regenerating the Fleet - The hidden page


The Draycote Water Fireball Fleet fifteen years ago was in a situation close to terminal, with no more than 6 boats racing of which probably only 3 would sail on any given day. However, the fleet had declined of its own accord, rather than being trounced by any other class, and we still had a large number of boats in the boat park, the owners having given up sailing for a variety of reasons. Now we are a strong fleet again, with 30+ boats on the bank, 20+ racing and up to 10+ on the water on any given day. At the peak of our success you could have added 10 to all those numbers, but times are hard so we dust off the strategems once again.


Listed below are a number of ideas which we have employed over the past years, along with a guesstimate as to how effective they were. Because Draycote is not necessarily the same as other clubs, some of these ideas may be more or less effective for you. Draycote is a good Fireballing place because it offers primarily fleet racing rather than handicap racing, over various conventional RTC courses rather than olympic or W-L. We have 700 acres to play with, which is enough to allow a Fireball to really get going, but the water never really looks big enough for 49ers, Laser 5000s and Boss (RIP) classes. This does not explain the lack of Laser 4000s etc, although the strong fleet structures at the club will have helped here. All the following ideas have been tried, but it is fair to say that success breeds success, and the majority of newcomers to the fleet over the past few years have arrived with little or no prior encouragement from the fleet captain.

But you have to start somewhere, and the place to start is at the bottom, with the new sailors and the slightly dodgy old boats. The new sailors will be the most amenable to your advice, and have the least money to spend as a result of being unsure how long term their interest in sailing is going to be. At Draycote, new members may have just completed an RYA course, or they may simply walk into the office and pay their fees. At this point, the Draycote establishment promptly loses all interest in them and they are left in limbo with no idea of what to do next. It is at this stage that they need to be contacted by somebody who has a boat and is interested in their future. Somebody with a Fireball, for example….


      1. Market the fleet in a positive way.

  • This encompasses all the following points, but it can be as simple as just talking to potential members in a manner which suggests that you are very enthusiastic about sailing generally and the Fireball fleet in particular, without sounding like a loony or a desperate double glazing salesman.
  • Important for: Not looking all washed up
  • Rating 7/10


      2. Help potential members to buy a boat - even if they aren't actually in the market yet.

  • Potential members pop up all over the place  particularly members new to the club or to sailing. Hunt them down at club training courses and offer them a ride. Ask them what they think they want, and give them an honest appraisal of whether the Fireball is right for them. If you think they would be better off with a Solo, say so and move on - your time is limited so don't waste it. If they don't fancy racing you probably don't need them either - cruising Fireballs are not much use when building a fleet. If they are in the 'two-person / young - middle aged / looking for fun sailing and racing' bracket, there is no reason why they should not want a Fireball. Check their budget and give them the sales talk as appropriate:


  • Low budget: Fireballs for around £500 offer a fantastic amount of boat and performance for your money. You can pull bits off derelict boats (assuming there are any of course) to mend them, and anybody wanting to get into performance dinghy sailing really ought to start with something which won't devalue too much when they prang it. Obviously the Fireball is the most stable and forgiving performance dinghy you can buy, and the Fleet Captain will show them how to rig and sail it (this is a huge selling point). But for god's sake don't let them buy a minger off eBay, there's some really tragic kit there masquerading as 'projects', and the best way to kill a new member's interest is to let them buy a rotting hulk. As a rule of thumb, don't let them buy anything older than hull number 13,500 and if they're in this bit of the market then you'll need to vet their purchases bloody carefully.
  • Medium budget: £1200 plus will get you a composite Winder, with a hull which is arguably faster than the wide-bow white articles on inland waters. A twenty year old boat can win races at club level. The wooden deck is a bit of a turn-off, but (having owned one) you can take it from me that they need very little work very occasionally. Avoid the top-end kit that has a foredeck like a grand piano as it can only get worse and will need mucho love to keep it beautiful - buy something scruffy that you can just gob varnish onto when necessary.
  • Big budget: Buy a white Winder, I've seen these for as little as £2.5K in the depths of the winter, normally £3.5K upwards. Stress that the build quality is so much better than practically anything else out there (honestly, it really is). Or they may want to buy a new one, but you are unlikely to come across anyone who is this doshed up and is asking your opinion.
  • Given the dubious build quality and overpriced nature of some of the Fireball's competition, you should have no trouble selling Fireballing to anyone on a small to medium budget. Our target market will always jump at the chance of cheap boat if the fleet captain says it looks OK.
  • Important for: Getting new members
  • Rating 8/10


      3. Advertise (1)

  • Stick up-to-date useful info on the fleet noticeboard, along with race series results showing who is winning. If your club has a newsletter which carries fleet news, ensure that you've always written a big chunk of it. Talk up any positive stuff, like welcoming new members, mentioning good turnouts or events
  • Important for: Making the fleet look alive
  • Rating 5/10


      4. Advertise (2)

  • Stick an interesting but not too scary colour picture of a Fireball entitled 'Fancy a go ?' on the training noticeboard to encourage all and sundry to come and try one. Stick another one up in the training room, and anywhere else you can get away with it. Include some stuff about how great the boat is, your contact phone number and a time when anyone can turn up on a whim (say after the last race on a Sunday). Take people out in a decent boat and let them helm if it is not too windy.
  • Important for: Getting to talk to potential fleet members
  • Rating 6/10


      5. Run two fleets or two starts

  • We all know that the wooden and fibreglass stuff isn't as fast as the foam sandwhich stuff. So create 'A' and 'B' fleets, and if possible make the 'A' fleet start about 5 minutes after the 'B' fleet and/or score them separately so that people with old boats are in with a chance. The wooden boats and rookie sailors are your best chance to regenerate the fleet, so you must cater for people who own/are them.
  • Important for: Good competition
  • Rating 6/10


      6. Devalue the boats

  • What with all these new classes coming along, Fireball prices have taken a hit recently. Nobody has a clue what a boat numbered under 14,000 is worth, so tell people to expect to pay no more than £700 for a good specimen, falling away to under £100 for something earlier than 12,000 which 'needs a bit of work doing' (see pt.2). No wooden boat is ever worth more than £1,000. Composite Winders are worth £1,000 to £2,500 and no more. Fibreglass boats max at £700 for a really nice one. This won't make you very popular with the vendor, but a cheap boat sells a lot quicker than a pricey one. Being cheap is our one big advantage, so make it happen.
  • Important for: Getting new people into the fleet
  • Rating 6/10


      7. Help to buy and sell Fireballs

  • Don't bother trying to cajole people who don't sail much into coming more often; it never works. Wait until they give up or fail to register the boat with the club, and then ask if you can help them to sell it. Make sure they realize it's not worth very much (too old, no demand, see point 6), and now you can actively try to flog it to the next potential member you meet. Only now, it's a bargain.
  • Important for: Getting new people into the fleet
  • Rating 7/10


      8. Buy a Fleet Boat

  • The biggest problem for most people who are looking for a boat is that they can't spend enough time sailing a boat before they buy to know if it is right for them or not. Dig a plastic pig out of the mud or get a decent wooden boat, and kit it out with all those old bits that you and the rest of the fleet have got lying around. We got 2 suits of sails, a rudder and a load of fittings donated by various fleet members. Insure it 3rd party only (£25). Now you can let those undecided punters loose in the thing without worrying about it, plus fleet members can use it when their boat is off the water.
  • The trouble with this idea is that even a plastic boat needs maintaining, and the people who use it are unlikely to be able to rig it or even tie it down properly, so you need to put some effort into keeping it working. Also, you can't charge for its use as the insurance won't permit this, so you must rely on 'donations' from the users to fund the thing. If your club runs training boats and RYA courses, they may be interested in helping with the upkeep and insurance in return for being allowed to use it.
  • Note - with wooden and fibreglass boats being soooo last century, we're now thinking in terms of trying a composite Winder for this job. They damage easier than plastic, but at least they go fast and provide the punter with an insight into what a decent boat is like. We'll just have to be careful who we lend it to and keep a close eye on the maintenance...
  • Important for: Getting new people into the fleet
  • Rating 5/10


      9. Run your special events fortnightly

  • You have to accept that most people are not going to turn up every weekend. It has become a fact of life that even the keenest sailors just can't commit to that. So run the special events on a fortnightly basis. This includes your fleet championships and all the other short series that you organise. Hopefully the fact that it is a special event will coax more people into coming on the relevant day, and the fact that it is fortnightly means that they can get brownie points in the intervening weekend and turn up for the next day in the series. Don't bother with more than about 3 special events per year.
  • Important for: Good competition
  • Rating 4/10


      10. Write a Newsletter

  • If the club newsletter only comes out once a year, it is no use. Write your own and post them to fleet members and anyone who ever sails a Fireball. One sheet of A4 printed both sides is sufficient for all our news. We do three per year, each one coming out roughly one month ahead of some important event such as the AGM, Fleet championships, Prizegiving evening etc. Race results, forthcoming events and gossip fill the gaps. Don't expect anyone to ever say anything nice about these. For examples, log on to this page . This worked well for us, as we had a large dormant membership and this woke them up a bit. If you don't have dormant members, it's of less use.
  • Important for: Keeping your members informed and improving their perception of the fleet.
  • Rating 5/10


      11. Write an introductory booklet

  • Something which explains the benefits of Fireballing and offers to help a new member to get started, and contains your phone number. Do thirty of these and leave them with the club secretary with instructions to give one to everyone who enquires about joining the club. New members often perceive the club to be a big unfriendly thing, and any offer of help makes them more likely to (a) join the club and (b) allow you to talk them into a Fireball.

    The booklet could be provided by the UKFA of course, couldn't it ? No ? Oh, OK then…
  • Important for: Getting new people into the fleet
  • Rating 6/10


      12. Get a website

  • Or better still, get a good chunk of the club's website and make it clear that Fireballs are still going strong at your club. Ensure that you have links to and from other relevant sites, in particular the UKFA. Don't put in anything that requires updating too often.
  • Important for: Getting new people into the fleet
  • Rating 5/10


      13. Keep tabs on the crews

  • Helms and crews rarely turn up as a job lot. So keep a list of people who wouldn't buy a Fireball but expressed an interest in crewing one, and try to tie them up with new helm ASAP. New potential crews will get bored and give up if they don't get at least one sail every four weeks, so even if you can only get prospective crews an occasional ride, it's worth it. Likewise, if you can get an existing helm to sail more than twice a year by providing a keen new crew, you've just improved your turnout. If you get two or more potential crews and run out of helms, talk one into helming and find them a nice cheap boat to buy. Nobody turns down a £450 boat if you sell it properly.
  • Important for: Getting new people into the fleet
  • Rating 5/10


      14. Express an interest

  • All these new Fireballers are going to need a lot of encouragement before they can even sail the boat competently. Organised training never seems to hit the spot, so make a point of talking to them regularly and finding out what aspect of their progress is bugging them right now. Then help them sort it out. This invariably means giving up your sailing time (or lunch time) to crew for them.
  • Important for: Keeping new members
  • Rating 6/10


      15. Know your facts

  • Fireball builders have long ago ironed out all the weak spots in the design of the boat and spars, and modern Fireball construction techniques are as good as (and usually better than) anything that the competition can come up with. Be aware that ISOs devalue like mad, Laser 4000s are too heavy, 3000s are just for kids, RS boats leak, break masts or whatever. Stress that the Fireball is the only performance dinghy which you can buy into for under £1000 (big value) and then sell on with little depreciation so you can trade up to a foam-sandwich job which offers near-as-dammit one-design racing. Stress that the Fireball is a proper boat, not just a racing machine, and that your fleet is a distinct organisation which is there primarily to help Fireball sailors (at most clubs, asymetrics are part of a fast handicap fleet which never seems to have any particular cohesion).
  • Important for: Irritating the asymmetric sailors
  • Rating 5/10


      16. Don't do Handicap or Windward-Leeward racing

  • DINGHY RACING AS A SPORT IS REALLY NOT ABOUT WINNING, IT'S ABOUT CLOSE RACING WITH PEOPLE YOU KNOW AND LIKE. IF ALL YOU HAVE IS HANDICAP RACING THEN YOU'RE KNACKERED.  Sorry, shout over. But it's true, a Fireball fleet needs to sail a course which is suitable for the boat, and that's definitely not W/L. And any racing fleet needs close boat-on-boat racing, which is the antithesis of handicap racing. You might have to get started under a handicap regime, but you need to do your best to make it secondary - keep Fireball fleet scores in the Fireball fleet race series, make sure you and your fellows race your own fleet rather than going for ultimate speed to win the handicap race. And if you manage to achieve critical mass as a fleet, get out of handicap racing altogether if you possibly can.
  • Important for: Being an individual fleet rather than just one of the herd
  • Rating 7/10


      17.Don't exclude anyone

  • We try to persuade all our Fireball sailors to join the fleet (£10 per boat per year when we need the dosh) and the UKFA. Last time we went round with the collecting tin, only just over half of the fleet stumped up the tenner and a (presumably) smaller number were in the UKFA. Because a large percentage of our members are sailing on a shoestring budget, we never try to force them to join either organization. They receive the newsletters, invitations to social and sailing events etc regardless. We don't give prizes to anyone who has not paid fleet subs on the basis that these things have been paid for by the rest of us, but apart from that we make no exclusions. We really can't afford to. If you've got a Fireball then you're a part of our club and we'll do our best to make you feel welcome regardless.
  • Important for: Keeping existing members
  • Rating 8/10


Which of these strategies will work best for you depends on your circumstances. If your fleet is a bunch of guys who have newish boats and travel to open meetings, then you'll be trying to attract similar people, which really means you'll be hoping to steal experienced boys and girls from other fleets or other clubs. It can happen, and it's an easy win for you if it does.

Really these ideas are all about getting rookies in at ground level and giving them the next 5 years to get good. To implement them, you need to be sailing at your home club and putting time and effort into hand-holding and propping up the local racing. If your local fleet disappears up the road to the next open meeting every few weeks then the rookie will not feel well catered for. If the hotshots never sail in less than a F4 then they are offering no encouragement to the rookies, who will be upside down or in the bar at this point. If the local fleet is all hotshots and disappears over the horizon in a quest for domination at the next Nationals, well that's no use either.

Close fleet racing is a fabulous thing, but you have to work at providing it, and it is often entirely at odds with your personal desire to become excellent. If you've got a fleet of 15 boats racing then 14 of those boats won't win the next race, which makes it all the more important that they have a good race anyway. You can have a 5-boat battle for an hour and come 5th and enjoy every minute, or you can play follow-my-leader and even if you win then it was still bloody dull - hence my personal dislike for handicap racing where every boat-on-boat encounter is detrimental to the cause of winning. Winning without close racing is for losers.

So ultimately, if you want to build a fleet, then you have to be there, at your local pond, week in, week out, and you have to fight tooth and nail to make sure that every one of your fleet has a good time sailing. They need your help.

Good luck!