If You Build It, They Will Sail.25/04/2019 00:47:00If You Build It, They Will Sail.
How One Sailor’s Vision Created One of the Most Dynamic Fleets in the USA at The Sailfish Club of Florida.
Gus Carlson interviews Paul Gingras - April 23, 2019
Call him the Sailfish Club of Florida's Ray Kinsella. Paul Gingras, like the fictional hero of "Field of Dreams" who famously carved out a baseball field in an Iowa cornfield, has built something special at the Club from the ground up. And they have come – men,women and junior sailors - all amateurs eager to keep the sport thriving at SFC by creating and growing a new fleet of boats that are fast, fun and challenging. The club's member-owned RS Aero fleet formed just three years ago, now numbers 8 boats and is one of the most active, competitive and diverse groups in the country. The boat, a 13-foot, single-person, lightweight speedster, appeals to a wide spectrum of sailors at all skill levels. Club members can see the boats racing off the docks on winter weekends and during the weeknight Rum Punch Regatta series. From time to time, Paul also takes a hardy few out through the inlet for an ocean sail, a true rite of passage for fleet members. For Paul, who has sailed his own RS Aero all over the U.S. for 4 years, the vitality of the club’s fleet is a gratifying outcome of his labor of love. We sat down with Paul to get his thoughts on the growth of the SFC fleet and why this little boat has electrified the club’s sailing crowd.
Q: Let’s start with the boat itself. Please tell us something about the RS Aero - a one-person 13-foot dinghy that is fast, fun and sometimes frenetic.
A: The RS Aero is a modern design with many well thought out features. The cockpit is comfortable, the transom is open so any water that comes onboard exits out the back, the rig is flexible and the sail controls are simple and easily reached from any position. A real bonus is that by using high tech materials, the hull weighs only 66 lbs (30kg), half of what a Laser or Sunfish weighs, so this makes it very easy to move around on its dolly and to launch and retrieve.
Q: How does the Aero compare with other small boats you have sailed? Some people say it is what a Laser would be if it were built with modern technology - lighter, faster and more nimble, but also more demanding and athletic. Is that a fair assessment?
A: Compared to a Laser, an Aero is much more responsive to the skipper’s inputs. It’s a lightweight skiff and at first it seems a bit tippy but you quickly learn how to control the boat and then it is just a delight to sail. The sail controls on the Aero and the hull shape allow the sailor to more easily adjust to the conditions than a Laser, in fact, to race a Laser well requires much more effort and at the same time, it’s uncomfortable.
Q: How did you discover the RS Aero and what made you fall for it? Was it love at first tack?
A: I’ve always sailed small dinghys and I read a review of the RS Aero, it seemed like the ideal boat for me. The boat was new to the States so I ordered one, sight unseen, and entered the 2015 North American Championships at the Columbia River Gorge. Racing a new boat in new water was quite an experience but by the second day of racing it all came together.
Q: A unique feature of the RS Aero is its interchangeable rig selection and sail sizes. The theory is it allows people of different weights to compete on a relatively level playing field in similar conditions. Does that theory hold water on the race course?
A: The Aero has three different sail sizes and that allows sailors of different weights or experience to sail the boat and race against one another. The boats are handicapped by rig size and the race results demonstrate that the different rigs are generally equally competitive on the course.
Q: You've sailed your RS Aero a lot of different places, including the notoriously windy Columbia River Gorge. Please share some of the highlights of your RS Aero adventures.
A: The Gorge is a spectacular venue for sailing. In the summer the Columbia River Valley heats up and draws cooler Pacific air through this cliff sided gorge increasing the wind speed and forming an endless series of waves to surf on. Sailing in such a unique and beautiful setting is quite a contrast to sailing in Palm Beach.
Q: Let's turn to the Sailfish Club RS Aero fleet. It is a relatively recent phenomenon, but it grew quickly and is now very active. How did that happen? Growing new fleets, especially in such a short time, is typically a challenge.
A: I brought my boat back from Montana, launched it at the SFC, and handed it over to our Sailfish sailors who had been sailing the Club’s Picos. Everyone who sailed the boat enjoyed it so much that they decided to purchase one of their own. The Aero sold itself.
Q: The fact that our fleet is member-owned represents an important dimension for the SFC sailing program. In your experience with this and other fleets, is it true that ownership fosters commitment and loyalty, and results in a more vibrant fleet dynamic?
A: Yes, I feel it does. We have a fleet of club owned Picos but they are used on an irregular basis. The Aero owners are very active and sail the boats every weekend - they just enjoy being out on this fun boat.
Q: For club sailors, the RS Aero provides a step-up the skill ladder and a growth opportunity from the club-owned Picos. We are already seeing how experienced RS Aero sailors are engaging others by sharing their knowledge and giving dockside lessons on everything from rigging the boats to sail trim to speed tips. How do these developments in the RS Aero fleet help the SFC sailing program broadly?
A: I feel the weekly activity with the Aero fleet brings a greater awareness of our waterfront resources to our membership. Quite a few members who might not be ready for an Aero have been taking sailing lessons with Patrick Sullivan because they see how much fun our fleet has been having. Patrick has a loyal core of junior sailors who are now able to sail the Picos and the next step is for them to helm our O’Pen Bics which are just small versions of the RS Aero.
Q: One of the unique elements of the Sailfish Club RS Aero fleet has been the wide spectrum of sailors, men and women, younger and more experienced. There are even some junior sailors who race from time to time. Does this diversity reflect the appeal of the boat or the type of racing and sailing offered by the SFC - or both?
A: With different rig sizes, the Aero can be sailed by juniors, women, and men. The Sailfish Club, unlike other yacht clubs, does not have a structured training and racing program for juniors and adults. We are much more relaxed and the sailing appeals to all ages. We are a fishing club with a small but dedicated group of sailors.
Q: One of the rites of passage for SFC RS Aero sailors is ocean sailing. You are the main proponent of these voyages - the Pied Piper, if you will. Why it important is that RS Aero sailors experience the ocean and what can they learn about their boats and their seamanship skills they won't learn on the inside?
A: We are fortunate to have the ocean just around the corner from the Club. The offshore waters are clean, clear, and the ever present waves provide an opportunity for our sailors to practice sailing both upwind into the waves and off wind using the wave energy to surf from one wave crest to the next. The skiff like design of the Aero enables us to have a lot of fun on the open water. The only real challenge is navigating the inlet with the large amount of boat traffic and sometimes the current and wind directions don’t allow us to go out. Anyone who can sail a small boat can handle the ocean conditions we enjoy so much.
Q: You have personally been an advocate for the SFC Aero fleet in regional races, including the class’s Midwinter regatta co-hosted with the Palm Beach Sailing Club. Other fleets are popping up in Florida, indicating the growth of the class. How important is it for the SFC to be represented in this growing class?
A: We have the largest fleet in Florida and some of us have traveled to other regattas where we can meet other Aero sailors and experience different conditions but I would like to see more of us head to other sites. The other fleets often ask why more SFC sailors do not participate in the out of town events.
Q: What would you tell a casual SFC sailor to persuade them to join the club's RS Aero fleet?
A: If you enjoy sailing small boats and if you would like to take your sailing to a new level, try one of our Aeros. You need to be flexible and reasonably fit but you may find that this boat offers more excitement and is more rewarding to sail.
RS Aero US Winter Series