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The View From Bilbao - Yacht Racing Forum 2019

by Keith Lovett 28 Nov 05:43 PST 25-26 November 2019
An AC Foil up close at the Yacht Racing Forum 2019 © Keith Lovett

Having attended the annual gathering of the world yacht racing fraternity for the last five years, this year's Yacht Racing Forum event staged in Bilbao over two days has been widely reported as one of the 'best ever'.

It was certainly well run, Bernard Schopfer and his team at Maxcomm pulled together a professional, well planned and at times inspiring event, so yes it likely has been one of the best, so far.

The Bilbao location, facilities and close proximity of quality, reasonably priced accommodation undoubtedly made life easier, helping create an improved community feel. Also pleasing to see a number of friendly locals helping out with the organisation - all volunteers from the local yacht club; Real Club Maritimo del Abra and motivated to be involved with yacht racing's good and great, with the event providing an end of season buzz locally and hopefully encouraging those that race, or might be tempted to, in the Biscay province of Northern Spain.

Each day was filled with a programme of real relevance with few exceptions, excellently managed by on stage hosts Shirley Robertson, Andy Rice and Dobbs Davis.

For infectious enthusiasm, few can better Don McIntyre, founder and chairman of the 2018 Golden Globe Race. Announcing the addition of a new class for the Ocean Globe Race planned to take place in 2023, a retro event, growing in popularity based on the 1973 Whitbread Round the World Race with 16 entries already confirmed, with the possibility that this could well be the largest Round the World Race in the last 30 years, as Don confirms 'creating modern day heroes'.

It was good to learn more about World Sailing Trust's, Women in Sailing Strategic review. Privately funded and being published on 4th December as part of the Access to Sailing programme, the project lead Vickie Low is eager to point out that although a review it importantly includes recommendations, so a must read for those organising and planning the future of our sport.

I was impressed by all of the work completed by Luca Rizzotti, founder of The Foiling Week in six short years. Established in 2014, women's and children's dedicated sailing was introduced in 2016, learn to fly courses in 2017, in partnership with the Andrew Simpson Foundation, and now running a forum and awards event, the first medical research into foiling injuries and electric foiling design. Credit for now developing a foiler that could be used by sailors both with and without disabilities to offer access to all to this fast growing sector.

There was dialogue aplenty surrounding two-handed racing, one of the sport's growing sectors. Nearly 90% of those at the Forum are in favour of two-handed offshore sailing at the Olympics, so the industry is obviously acknowledging that this is how an increasing number of people wish to race.

SailGP does appear to have had an enviable impact in its first year. Next season will see the introduction of three variable wing sizes, considerably broadening the sailing window, and with Sir Ben Ainslie steering the British team's boat expect an even higher profile.

The future of match racing was discussed in a number of presentations, undoubtedly in good health. Predictably the America's Cup as the pinnacle of match racing caused much debate with few secrets emanating from those representing teams. Designers diplomatically avoided questions as to which team they favoured now that we have seen the first designs. It was left to Ken Read, President of North Sails, to identify the differentiator, who was happy to tell those gathered 'its going to be the first big mistake'.

A fascinating view of the sport formed part of the presentation by Mateusz Kusnierewicz from the Star Sailors League, I guess we should not be surprised that the League estimate that only 3000 sailors are involved with the America's Cup, 3000 with offshore racing with 1,500,000 racing inshore. Media coverage being the exact polar opposite and therefore something that undoubtedly need so be addressed.

Using the event to gauge views by utilising short surveys, it was heartening to see that over 87% of attendees feel that the quality of sailing coverage has improved, one of the factors that keeps the sport alive. Hopefully the organisers may share the full survey results.

Following two days of networking, presentations, debates and awards, the 2019 Yacht Racing Forum came to a close on Tuesday evening. For 2020 the event moves to Portsmouth on 23rd and 24th November. Encouraging to see David Williams, CEO of Portsmouth City Council in attendance this year and singing the virtues of a city actively inviting involvement in all things yachting. The after conference talk appeared to centre on can Portsmouth provide the infrastructure. With Bilbao having virtually all delegates either at a hotel next door to the venue of at accommodation close by certainly helped oil the dialogue - let's hope Portsmouth can deliver in a similar way.

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