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US Sailing Southeast Regional Summit
Interview with Ashley Sukalski

For those who do not know Ashley, she is a NOYC & FWYC member. She started sailing six years ago – has come a long way in a short time with many hours served as a volunteer. Her current sailing accomplishments include two years of very entertaining crew positions on A-fleet winning boats for NOYC in Challenge Cup and two years crewing for J/22 Southeast Circuit victories, one year of which has included her son Micah. Off the racecourse, her personal note of sailing pride lies in her son and her adopted network of juniors across the coast, and supporting their development into confident young men & women.

We had a chance to catch up with Ashley to ask her to give the local clubs a quick report about the seminar which focused on ideas to recruit new sailors, families – parents and children to join us on the water.

*  Nicholas Hayes, Author of award winning and bestselling book Saving Sailing, kicked off the seminar with an inspiring presentation with key points that sailing is not expensive, complex yet fun. In 1979 when Al Gore invented the Internet, family time shifted from outdoor sports such as sailing to gaming and other forms of indoor entertainment.  Everyone has approximately 38 hours of spare time each week; it is up to us to decide how to use. Are we too busy? What happened to family time?

Ashley: Wait, who invented the internet? I thought Al Gore invented global warming. Ha. I believe Nick said that the average person has 38 hours of spare time a week. I don’t think those people are sailors! Or parents! I agree with Nick about the family time shift. The new (my generation) family dynamic often consists of split families, and untraditional family arrangements. So now for example, over a long holiday, you have a kid/young family that has to have two seperate family experiences that use up twice the time and twice the mental & financial resources that could be otherwise used for sailing. I think that is one of the main draws and appeals of online/gaming vs. family/group activities such as sailing – the younger generation is dealing with complex and exhausting existing issues so it’s easier to flip on a screen rather than figure out a new social chain. Which is a shame, because the level of friendship and support in the sailing community is unparalleled to any other network I’ve ever observed.  Have you read the book Saving Sailing?  Would you recommend this reading?  Where can you purchase?

Ashley: Ha well, I actually haven’t a *guilty look*. Where is that 38 hours? I actually just started it and it’s an easy read. It’s kind of funny with all of this talking about online stuff – it’s probably the first book I’ve read in a non-digital format in over a year. Nick is a great author and did a good job with this book. You can purchase via the link on

*  There are several perception problems about sailing including high costs. In reality Nick explained the average cost of sailing is about $50/month.  What are typical costs a family could eliminate to help fund sailing? 

Ashley: Well, first, I find that cost to be low, but we sail a lot more than other regions, so that’s okay, it’s a good value for the extra cost. As far as typical costs a family could change, Nick had an example about cable TV, but he also pulled that example back to family time. A lot of the active sailing families that I meet give up a lot of family vacations and other fun non-sailing stuff. Moms don’t get the purse they want so kids get a new tiller sort of thing. It’s all about choices, time and value, which are reoccurring themes through the book and most of the summit.  Market studies suggest that the word YACHT is perceived to be stuffy.  What is the official history, definition and meaning of the word YACHT?  How can we mitigate the negative perception?

Ashley: Apparently, ‘yacht’ is a term that describes your boat to anybody that hasn’t seen it!!! That was a quote from a Swede at the Summit. Personally, yachting is a Dutch term to me that describes the complexity and grandeur of this sport. Unfortunately, people confuse ‘elusive’ and ‘exclusive’. I think as sailors we forget how unapproachable sailing can be for those that don’t sail. The easiest way to mitigate that is to take people sailing and don’t let them excuse themselves. If they were honest enough to express an interest, then we as sailors need to give them that little push to get them started. It only takes one good sail and a positive social experience afterward!  Nick suggests that we should spend more time mentoring and encourage larger boats to invite our youth WITH PARENTS out to sail. Are we doing this effectively today? If so what are ways to get there?

Ashley:   This is something I’ve been thinking about non-stop since Saturday. There are certainly big boat programs that do a good job of sailing at a higher level with kids, like Zephyr on the Lake and White Trash on Mobile Bay. Are we encouraging it? I don’t know that we are. Are we bringing the full family in? Not really. There are definitely good races to take a family, like Dauphin Island, LPRC, and WFORC. Greg Smith does well on a junior crewed Olson 40 at WFORC consistently. Those types of programs are what we need to see more. I’ve taken kids big boat sailing twice this year already, thanks to the boat owner’s support, but did I bring in the family element? I don’t know that I did. The problem is that it’s such an individual prerogative to get these going. I think spreading this type of information out and giving out the appropriate recognition will really foster that in our region. NOYC’s Family Regatta in May is a good example of encouraging multigenerational quality time on the water. Check out some good examples of mentoring in Nick Hayes’ “Kid’s Experience” Summit presentation captured by FLIP Paparazzi Erwin!  At times, the seminar drifted in the direction towards Saving Yacht Clubs vs. Saving Sailing.  If we spend more time teaching sailing do you think we’ll end up with more yacht club memberships? 

Ashley: I do. I wish there was a bit more discussion on how to accomplish some of these things without a local community center. I know for sure we could convert some of the missing age range into memberships with more education and accessibility to club boats. How we do that without exhausting already strained resources is my question. I think ultimately it can be accomplished with some creative thought.  What is the difference between a Yacht Club and a Community Sailing Center?  Does one teach racing while the other teaching sailing?

Ashley: Not necessarily. I think the main difference between the two is in the value brought to the table. The Community Sailing Center model offers a shared resource in education and community boats. The Yacht Club model offers a shared resource in land and boat storage. I think it’s important to recognize the difference, because the value of a Sailing Center basically ends where the value of a Yacht Club starts. As somebody that wants to learn to sail, I can walk up to a Sailing Center and learn to sail. However, if I want my own boat and need a slip, and also want to share in organizing regattas at a social level, and want to start a network that I can build on, I join a Yacht Club. I may pay a bit more for the Yacht Club, but at that point in my life, the Yacht Club is offering the correct value for my life and money. Now, since we don’t have many of the Sailing Center models here on the coast, what can we learn from this? I think at a club level, we need to step back and see what value we are offering for what market, and see what we can change or add to our programs to encourage that opportunity. To take that one step further, the GYA could also form a committee specifically for a Community Sailing Center model and possibly grow the GYA. Then, if a sailing club that wasn’t before interested in being part of the GYA had an extra value, in that they could get some support, resources, and a bit of recognition for their model, it wouldn’t be such a stretch to get a Flying Scot to add to their learning fleet, and perhaps join the GYA. It’s a fantastic organization, so maybe we need to reassess and remarket the value we offer to member clubs. It’s just a thought, but you can see how we can take some of these concepts and utilize them on different levels. When you disseminate this information, it’s really incredible how basic concepts apply to all the different levels. Time, Choices and Value.

*  There were a couple of stories told about women sailing leagues created on Monday/Tuesday night.  Men are not allowed except to take photos and such.  Were they tired of being yelled at by men?  What’s the story here?

Ashley: Oh wow. This is an important point. These leagues are largely created by women that were in a later stage of life, where their kids and households and careers were organized to the point where they had time enough to want to learn to sail. So they make all the arrangements to go for a sail with their husbands,  only to get fussed at by somebody that can barely make a sandwich for himself. So then what happened was a couple of the wives got together, organized with support from the non-yellers and off they go. One program that was presented during a panel discussion was a program called Ladies at the Helm that started exactly like that. Well, the interesting thing was that the guys started asking if they could learn too, so after a few co-ed years of Ladies at the Helm, it turned into Learning at the Helm. I could go on about this for a while, but I think it’s important to note that these types of programs really have created an approachable venue for women of all ages to sail and have changed a lot of the male dominated perception, including the need for more adult education.

***  Good points, we noted 50% men and 50% women at the seminar. Do you see us heading in the right direction with Women Sailing in the Gulf Yachting Association?

Ashley: Yes and no. I think participation wise, we are headed in the right direction. There are a LOT of women sailing and having fun and learning. There are a lot of races for women. The quality of some of those are a little suspect, but largely we are doing a good job. So there’s that, which is great. However, if you look at the leadership composition of the GYA, you see a drastically different number. I think that’s going to be a real issue in the next decade or so if the current leadership doesn’t pay attention. The youngest person on the 2012 ExComm turned 50 last September and all four of them are men. Does that appropriately reflect the GYA membership? That statement isn’t a criticism at all, because the way it’s set up, it’s also a reflection of the pool from which the nominations are drawn. As an addendum to that, all four of those men are incredibly approachable and supportive to both women sailors and young sailors, and the incoming leadership HAS to continue to be the same way in order for the GYA to keep growing. However, the pool is starting to change. In the next two years, the GYA has the opportunity to have both a 30 year old man and a woman on the ExComm AT THE SAME TIME, along with Danny and Corky, two guys that are incredible leaders and rooted in very traditional yacht clubs. To me, that’s pretty huge for this organization. I’m not saying it HAS to happen but it’s opportunities like this that the GYA really needs to make sure they are aware of and giving proper consideration in order to keep the organization going in the right direction, because that’s the direction sailing is going. P/C’s Judy Reeves, Phyllis Seaton and Current Commodore Cathy Cromartie are setting up a great precedent for female leadership in the GYA.   The US Sailing PHRF and Portsmouth representatives arm wrestled?  Who won? 

Ashley:  Neither really, basically both systems have their issues. It wasn’t a very fun or productive thing to watch to be perfectly honest. It’s a dicey subject wherever you go, and no different on a national level. The only comment I’ll make based on the panel discussion and conversation is this: I sail in both systems at least twice a month – Portsmouth for little boats, and PHRF on big boats. That’s the only comment I have that’s not going to piss everybody off in some way, especially with this Challenge Cup nonsense.  After visiting all of the local yacht club web sites, how many times did you see the word family?  Is it easy for new sailors to connect to us?

Ashley: I was supposed to visit yacht club sites? There’s that imaginary 38 hours. I’ll tell you where it’s not though – it’s not on, or, nor any of the corresponding Facebook pages. It’s one of the things we HAVE to work on. I’ve started a debrief for FWYC, and I think I’m going to put in a “Call to Action” list – what you can do on an individual level, program level, club level, and maybe even a regional level, to help bring the ideas that we heard in Nashville to a very focused and executable list of ideas.  Nick presented that the age demographic 25-40 is missing from Sailing?  What happened?  Where can we find this age group and how can we get them interested in sailing?

Ashley:   We listed a few things during the seminar: invite the parents of the juniors, have a strong Facebook presence, etc. Upon some reflection, I’ll tell you what’s going on: the art of networking is lost among that demographic. We don’t teach it, and we don’t have to because things like Myspace and Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn make it so easy to do. Sailing can’t survive like that, we have to get people from behind the screens and onto boats. Again, just take people sailing. If you see Facebook photos and comments on my page from somebody from the Lake that’s like “wow, that looks fun”, shoot them a message and invite them. We have to take that next active step.

*  Rumor has it that a dedicated member of the seminar committee received a Rolex Yachtsman Award.  Is this true?   What were someof the other fun awards given out?

Ashley:  I’ll tell you what – the recognition this weekend was amazing. Apparently some funding fell through for Rodney Beason, because the Rolex Award became the Timex Trophy!!!!! It was a nice watch though. I don’t think Rodney could really appreciate it because he was laughing so hard he was crying. One of the initiatives that we’re doing at FWYC this year was echoed throughout the seminar, and that’s the theme of value and recognition. What kind of value at a club level are we giving people? Recognition is as easy and cheap to do as uploading pictures on Facebook now. It’s a very under-utilized tool. The two NOYC members walked away with two awards. One is a cup with a sticker on it, and the other is one of the most creative things I have ever seen given out at an awards ceremony. It’s hilarious, and I think I’m going to re-present it and maybe get an unsanctioned perpetual award going. Too funny.  US Sailing Executive Director, Jack Gierhart did a good job of listening to the audience and responding with a great message Saturday night.  What were some of his points?

Ashley:  Jack is a much younger leader as compared to his predecessor.  He developed the social media aspects of US Sailing, created strategic marketing partnerships and focused on building value with the brand.  He is a good listener and gave a good summary to answer as many of the questions while responding to issues.  We are thinking that Nick not only inspired the yacht club communities, but US Sailing as well.  Jack and Nick spent a lot of time together after the event – we are betting on some more positive things will happen in the future. Next on the horizon  is the Olympics.  These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Did you meet some fun people?  Would you recommend the US Sailing Seminar to others?

Ashley: I did. I sail up there a lot so I knew a lot of people, but meeting Nick and Angela Hayes will probably be the highlight of the weekend. They’re amazing. A lot of the regional leadership from DIYRA was pretty impressive too. I’ll give the GYA a lot of credit for choosing to financially support this seminar, I think this type of regional networking and information sharing is going to be an important tool in the next decade or so. Hopefully we’ll get some more people up to the next one.

*  Some say that Nick and Angela Hayes sang a pretty awesome duo at Tootsies on Saturday night?  What are details?

Ashley:   As far as I’m concerned, if it didn’t make it onto a Dave Erwin Flip Vid, it didn’t happen. Ever. J

*  Thanks for spending a minute or two with us!  You came back from the seminar – super inspired!

Ashley:  Thanks for humoring my “sixty seconds”. I came back inspired and really proud of what we have going on here in the GYA. We have invited Nick and FAMILY to visit during J/30 North Americans.  I hope he comes down here and shares some of his thoughts and leaves with some inspiration himself. We’re definitely capable of it.


Leukemia Cup Fund Raising
Tips and Tricks by Burt Benrud


VX One Design Sea Trial @ GYA Winter Meeting





June 30th @ 7:00 PM

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Who’s Racing? 6/30
Race Committee Help Wanted!
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May 26th – June 23nd @ 7:00 PM

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Who’s Racing? 5/26 6/2 6/9 6/16 6/23
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