It is a huge honour for me to serve the Dragon class as Chairman, but it is at the same time a big responsibility. I have been conscious of this since the pre-election campaign last year and all during the first year of my chairmanship.
We have the most beautiful class in the sailing community - designed a long time ago before most of us were born. It is our duty and responsibility to preserve and develop it in an evolutionary way.
One of the unique advantages of the Dragon class is a full calendar of events - unequalled by almost any other class.
In 2016 two IDA championships were held: the EC in Saint Petersburg and the GC in Hornbaek.
In July this year 45 boats came to the most Eastern part of the Dragon circuit - 25 international and 20 Russian reflecting a sound mixture of the world’s best professionals and Corinthians. Fifteen of the teams were from the top-20 of our ranking list. There were 14 nations represented.
The second major event was the GC in Hornbaek that brought together 76 boats from 16 nations including two from overseas – Hong Kong and Japan. The sailing area was one of the most difficult in Europe with very strong currents up to 120 meters/minute. Wind against current factors also had a huge impact on the event. From six scheduled sailing days we got races on four days. The highlights of the shore life in the community of Hornbaek were the gala-dinner sponsored by the local fashion designer Ilse Jacobsen and the reception on board the Royal Danish yacht hosted by HRH Prince Henrik. The participants enjoyed the races and the quiet after race time at one of the most popular resorts in Denmark.
This successful event was unfortunately spoilt by an incident involving a power boat damaging the rig of one of the participants between the races; the whole chain of events and decisions by participants and the international jury, plus the many comments that followed, upset a large number of sailors and the IDA, and myself as Chairman, were obliged to intervene.
I do not want to go into details of that story except to say that it created a lot of attention both within and beyond our Dragon community - the kind of attention that is not helpful for our class. The IDA investigated the matter and came to the conclusion that even if would want to have a different outcome, the decisions of the IJ are final and we have to live with them.
I believe that the lessons for me and for the IDA are:
- We must be very careful in selecting venues for major events
- We must have a clear and proven commitment both from the club and from its national authority
- We must always have a spare well-proven venue in case doubts arise about the venue one year before the event
- We must be careful in the selection of the IJ and the RC
The events were all well organized and carried out at different levels due to difficult weather conditions. However, our biggest concern is the declining number of participants at nearly all venues.
One of the reasons for declining numbers, expressed by some at various discussions and at the GC owners’ meeting, was that sailors tire of going to the same places every year, especially when the travel distance is long. They want to sail at places with reliable weather conditions, good logistics and are also eager to test new venues in warmer places.
This has prompted the IDA to think about the future of the circuit of Grade One events and try to explore some development without damaging the existing events. One of the decisions taken was to change the schedule for 2017 and, with approval of the OA and existing sponsors and taking into consideration the timing of other events. So next year the circuit will start again in January in Australia, come to Europe in February to Cannes, go further in April to Cascais where the WC will be carried out in June and then after Kuhlungsborn in July come down to Lake Garda in early October.
Douarnenez is organizing at the beginning of May the French Open and has agreed to skip 2017’s Grade One for one year, organising it in 2018 again. I respect very much the good will of Mr Guyader the excellent sailor, sponsor and hospitable organizer of the Grand-Prix in agreeing to make this adjustment.
So next year’s programme seems to be not only one of the most intensive of recent years but also very well-structured, starting in the South early spring, going further clockwise to the South-West, climbing up to the North in summer and going down to the South again in late summer and early autumn.
In future we must be ready to adjust the Grade One circuit to the most simple logistical decision and find some new exciting places to attract more Dragonists.
Dragon sailing is the focus of our sailing, but the wider changes occurring in the sailing world have a clear impact on our class.
As you know World Sailing (formerly ISAF) faces a number of big challenges. One of them is the future of Olympic sailing, and adjustment to the demands of the IOC who is the major sponsor of sailing at the highest level. When elected, the new President of WS will have a big impact on the future The elections will be carried out on the 13th of November in Barcelona and there are three candidates at the moment: Paul Henderson, former ISAF President 1994-2004, born in 1934; Carlo Croce, the current president of ISAF, born 1945, and our Dragon friend Kim Anderson from Denmark (born 1957).
You can see the programmes of all three candidates on the WS website. The most attractive one for me personally is that of Kim and I would prefer to support him at the election. Although the election in November will be done at the General Assembly by the representatives of the NA the position of the one of the most respected classes has weight and we have influence at discussions at the WS conference. I would ask the participants of the NAs to read the programmes and to develop their own opinion about it. I have no doubts that the majority of the present sailors will support our friend Kim, and if you do, I would like you to try to influence the position of your National sailing authorities in favour of Mr Andersen.
If the one of the best active Dragon sailors becomes the WS president it will be a very clear signal to the sailing community how alive our class is! We can’t expect a better promotion for our class!
You all know very well that sailing has a lot of challenges from outside. The selfie-generation is more oriented towards consumption of a huge range and variety of possibilities. Our wet and time-consuming sport is unfortunately not a #1 activity in the preferences of young people. And among those who still select sailing, the Dragon is not a boat of their dreams. They are all obsessed with speed. Foiling and surfing are the two utmost exciting sailing maximas of the new generation. I strongly believe that only the young sailors coming from Dragonists families understand what qualities the Dragon has and will come to our class later, as they would wish a more intellectual type of sailing and a strong community.
Our target for the newcomer owners are people 45+ with solid financial background and a wish to find some new quality in their lives at the time when the things seem to be settled and business and small children do not interfere with a hobby. Even more, the Dragon provides an excellent platform for communication with teenagers and the whole family.
At the moment we see some ebb in our class. The number of the new orders is one of the lowest in the recent years. In the past year we have only 13 of them in 4 yards. At the same time the second hand market provides excellent possibilities for obtaining a competitive boat at a very suitable price. I see for example the good impact on the Russian market from EC in Saint Petersburg. Many boats changed owners within the months before and after the championship and we expect a revival of the Dragons in Saint Petersburg in 2017.
Unfortunately, the whole economic and geopolitical situation with a lot of uncertainty and insecurity also impacts the leisure market and willingness to travel. In this situation it is all the more important to focus on the local club and national events. I visited a few this year and I am happy to report that at the club level the Dragons enjoy a very good level of popularity. Forgive me for selecting just a few for special mention - the events in Holland including a very creative celebration of the 80th anniversary of Dutch Dragons, the very well organized and attended 100th anniversary of the Merges club in Switzerland combined with the Swiss international, the success of the Danish and Belgian championships, the continuing success of Wednesday Alster races in Hamburg and the revival of the Dragon fleet in Mallorca with a Spanish boat participating at major international events for the first time for many years… and many, many other events around the world.
The IDA decided this year to get a more objective picture of the trends and desires of the Dragon world and carried out a survey. That was a very solid job prepared and executed by the officers. A special role devoting a lot of his free time to the analyses of the survey has done Dr Helmut Schmidt and I want to thank him for his great engagement! He reported to the AGM on the results of that first ever objective investigation. I want to emphasize only one item: that the overwhelming majority of almost 500 sailors welcome the job done by the IDA.
One of the important channels for communication with the sailors is also the social network with the Dragon international community at the major events, the use of FaceBook, and also the Owners’ meeting at the GC. Unfortunately, this year Owners’ meeting was not so well attended as the one last year in Kuhlungsborn due to a change in the race schedule. But still there were some major thoughts proving that our class develops in a proper direction. One of them is to keep the class tighter together at the sailing venues with good after race activities and providing the possibility for as many sailors as possible to stay at the same hotel. Another important point was the change of the attitude towards the GPS gadget use for the fleet. I saw that some of the most conservative sailors always voting against the GPS now recognized the value of that device. Later on we will discuss and make a decision upon that item.
As you can see our class is very much alive. Also very much alive is the IDA due to a very active role of the officers. I thank our team of Vice-Chairmen Mr. Jose Matoso, Mr. Stephane Baseden, Dr. Helmut Schmidt, our Honorary Vice-Chairman Mr. Marc Castagnet, IDA Treasurer Mr. Kasper Harsberg, IDA General Secretary Mr. Tim Pearson and last but not least our Sailing Coordinator Martin Payne for their sincere commitment to our class!
I also thank the numerous supporters and volunteers of the class including all the National Presidents and Secretaries.
As you all know the class faces new challenges and it seems we must make more and more efforts just to stay at the same level with our numbers of boats and participants. With J-boats, Melges, and numerous cats we have a lot of competition in the sailing world. We have a satisfactory class communication with our web-site and Dragon community through FaceBook. But that is not enough. We must be present in YouTube, major sailing print channels, TV-channels, and other printed media etc to bring over the borders of our class the huge values the Dragon possesses and attract newcomers to our community. There are no secrets how to do it, the only thing we need for it is some money.
Just a few years ago before the crises of 2008 our class was booming. Remember the 75th anniversary in Saint-Tropez. Maybe we will never be able to come to the same level collecting more than 100 boats at selected venues, but we must stop declining numbers of participants at the major events. That is why we need real sponsorship of the class and may not hope any longer for patrons giving money because of sympathy to the Dragons.
The one thing that made it impossible in the past was the structure of the IDA which does not allow us to get sponsor money due to the restrictive form of the organization. We do not want to change it because it proved its low cost efficiency and because of the proud history. We want to accomplish this structure with a modern form of a non-profit entity able to collect money and spend it in favor of the class.
Another component of making the class interesting for the sponsors is to develop a marketing product named “Dragon sailing”. I have studied for many months the market of possible partners for that task and came to conclusion that ICARUS sailing group is the most experienced and advanced company at the moment. We invited the team of young and ambitious Greeks to cover the EC in Saint-Petersburg and you could see what an excellent product they prepared for the Dragon class.
We need money not only to add value to the class and involve more sailors in Dragon sailing. We need it to secure a high level of organization of the events both on the water and on the shore. We need really experienced Principal Race Officers and International Jury members at the major events, we must invest money in the education of the measurers, we see how difficult it is for the protagonists of Corinthian-only events to obtain sponsorship. We want to create clinics for newcomers to let them feel the advantages of the class at the nicest places, we want to give the young sailors a chance to participate at the major events through providing them a boat for free, we want to grant a bigger part of the competitors prizes of better quality…
That is what we need money for, and in the hands of honest devoted officers of the class it will be used in favor of the class and spent transparently and wisely.
We are all very proud of the Dragon as the biggest one-design fleet of keelboats in the world. That means that all boats must comply with class rules and regulations. But there is more than one yard in the world producing Dragons. And every builder is naturally interested to produce the boat better and more cost effectively than his competitors. That is why the TC is a key committee of the class observing the developments and trying to keep all the inventions within the frame of rules. We must be very proud about a very active and well managed team of people spending a lot of their time and knowledge for the success of the class.
At the AGM we have some changes in the composition of the executive authority of the IDA. According to our Constitution Mr. Jose Matoso will resign from the position of vice-chairman of the IDA and the Officers will propose Honorary Vice-Chairman Mr. Mark Castagnet to take his place as a regular Vice-Chairman. I know we all will thank Mr. Matoso for his big commitment to the IDA and wish him many top places especially next year on his home waters at the WC!
And we will wish Mr. Marc Castagnet many fruitful years in the service of the Dragon class!
Thank you very much
IDA CHAIRMAN’S REPORT - AGM 2016 (pdf)