Fleet Building At Clinton Lake, IL - Eric Bussell, Fleet 135


'NOTE: Flying Scot, Inc, hosted a webinar on Fleet Building featuring Eric Bussell, Here is the link to the session - it is the first video on this page: https://flyingscot.com/how-to-video'

And here is Eric's article on Fleet Building:

At Clinton Lake, our entire fleet has bought into the importance of fleet building.  Sailing is more fun and enjoyable with more boats and more friends.  We don't need to tug at anyone's heartstrings to convince them to support our cause because fleet building does not feel like volunteer work.  Working together as a team has given everyone ownership of our success.   One of the biggest challenges to this success was convincing sailors to change the way we do things.  Sailors have been doing things the same way for decades.  Somewhere along this path, the sellers started to outnumber the buyers by a large margin.  When I started sailing at Clinton Lake in 2011, I was excited to join a fleet with 7 other boats.  I volunteered to register names at our open house the next year and nobody showed up.  By the end of 2012, there were only 5 other boats in the fleet (only 4 active) because there weren't any local buyers.   Thankfully, we had a very positive Fleet Captain in Deb Aronson.  Deb twisted my arm and convinced me to travel to regattas so I travelled to Ephraim in 2011 and then sailed at the 2012 NAC.  While there at Carlyle, I stumbled upon a FSSA fleet building workshop and heard some great ideas.  It was fun to imagine what it would be like to have a thriving Flying Scot fleet like Ephraim.  Together, with her husband Ben and my dad Rod, we decided to put some of those ideas into practice.  In 2020, we hope to surpass 20 local boat owners.  While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fleet building, I'm sharing the details of our program in hopes it might inspire some ideas that might work at your club.   If you have questions or want more details, please email fleet135racing@gmail.com.  

Local Flying Scot Boat Owners Who Store their Boat at Clinton Lake 

See the chart above.

Casual Wednesdays

Casual Wednesdays is Fleet 135's signature fleet development activity at the Clinton Lake Sailing Association.  Casual Wednesdays serve as a powerful pipeline for crew, skippers and race committee volunteers.  Every CLSA member is welcome to sign up and participate.  Fleet membership is not required and there is no additional participation fee.  Participants simply respond to the weekly invite and show up.  Boat assignments are emailed on Wednesday morning and we'll assign up to three sailors per boat, strategically matching experienced sailors and newbies for maximum learning and fun.  Boat owners appreciate the influx of new sailors and boat owners almost as much as not having to find crew in the middle of a busy work week.  Boat owners who RSVP agree by default to allow the program coordinator to assign crew to their boat.  Boat owners who want to sail but not have sailors assigned to their boat are still encouraged to show up and sail.  When demand exceeds capacity, we will overbook by a few sailors and assign those extra sailors to the race committee boat.  We always seem to get a cancellation or two at the last minute so people originally assigned to the race committee boat usually end up sailing.   If they don't sail, they get an orientation to our race committee boat and will be better prepared when they volunteer for race committee assignments on the weekends. Here is a limk to a video on Casual Wednesdays https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjk6UJxFXRk&feature=youtu.be

Camaraderie is King

Some people will argue the best thing about Wednesdays is the socializing after the sailing.  One volunteer will bring some salty snacks and a few extra cold beverages for our guests.  The boat assignment process contributes to the fun because we try to make it a point to match sailors with those they haven't yet sailed with so more people get to know more people.  We have a great social scene at the club, but there is something extra special about the informal and laid back vibe of Wednesday nights and we make darn sure everyone knows they are welcome.  

Fleet Development Boats/Flying Scot Foundation

We have multiple fleet members who will buy a second starter boat, make it race ready, and sell it to a new fleet member.   Until they are sold, these boats add capacity so more people can sail with us on Casual Wednesdays.   Since these boats are attractive and do not require any repairs or major upgrades, the people who sail on them fall in love with a boat and eventually buy one.   By that time, we usually have other starter boats lined up to replace the boat we're selling.  In 2019, members of our fleet joined together to create a 501(c) organization to replicate the fleet building model and introduce a self sustaining program and eventually not have to rely on the generosity of a few fleet members.    We received a $4000 grant from the Flying Scot Foundation to help form this entity.  The 501(c)3 used that money to form the entity, buy insurance, and acquire a boat.  Since its inception we've accepted a Flying Scot as a donation and another cabin boat valued at $9000 we plan to sell in 2020.   Thanks to the generosity and support of the Flying Scot foundation, we have another happy Flying Scot owner in our fleet and many more to come.  I hope to figure out how to best leverage the 501(c)3 in 2020 and share our findings with the association ahead of the 2021 season.  Stay tuned!  

Some Strings Attached

We are careful to restrict the sale of fleet development boats to sailors already active in our flying scot sailing programs.   After spending considerable time on the road and in the garage getting these boats race ready, we grow attached.  We can't stand the thought of one of these boats sitting on the shore and not getting sailed on Wednesdays.  In exchange for our fleet discount, new boat owners are generally happy to agree to loan us their boats on Wednesdays when they don't make it out to the lake.  More importantly, the new owner agrees to sell the boat back to the original seller at the original purchase price if they plan to retire from the sport or move away.  If a new fleet member prefers to buy a boat with no strings attached, we will gladly help them find the right boat for them and get it race ready.

Free Sailing Lesson

Fleet 135 advertises a Free Sailing Lesson to adults.  On Casual Wednesdays, we dedicate one skipper and one boat to focus on introducing new sailors.  Using this approach we can accommodate four free lesson participants every week.  Our goal is not to teach them how to sail, but to provide them an amazing experience and encourage them to join the club and come back out next Wednesday, and the Wednesday after that.  We'll give them a short safety briefing after they arrive at the lake and take them straight to the race course.  If all four free lesson registrants show up, we'll ask two of them to start on the race committee boat and we'll switch crews between races.  Those on the race committee boat have a great vantage point and get plenty of helpful insight from the experienced fleet member operating the race committee boat.   There is very little stress in offering a 'free' lesson and hardly any pressure to deliver value when the wind is too light or someone doesn't get to spend the entire evening on the Flying Scot.  If we feel they didn't get a great experience because of the wind or rain, we'll invite them back out to try it again with no strings attached.  

Adult Sailing Seminar

Inspired by the Carlyle Sailing Association, we're introducing a learn to sail weekend at the start of the 2020 season, featuring the Flying Scot.   Membership is included in the price.  We have 10 instructors and plan to introduce 20 new sailors to the club and hopefully our fleet.   We're going to try this out and see how it works.  We make it a point to try something new every year and continue to adjust our program as our fleet grows and evolves.     

Facebook and MailChimp

In 2019, Fleet 135 spent $145.31 advertising on Facebook. 8,981 people saw our Free Sailing Lesson events on their facebook feed.  We had more than 50 people sign up for free lessons.  While many of these lessons were cancelled because it monsooned for the first half of the season,  8 new people who took a free lesson joined the club and were added to our active Wednesday night sailor roster.  If the weather had been halfway normal, we would have enjoyed twice as much success, but still not bad.  Processing this many requests can be work, so we've automated most of the communications using MailChimp.  When someone signs up they get links reminding them to watch our free training videos before coming out to the lake.  They get a link to take our complete safety quiz and sign our online release of liability before they arrive at the lake.   The morning of the lesson they receive an email with directions and instructions on how to check in and find a life jacket.  If I mark them as showing up, they receive an automatic email thanking them with instructions on how to join CLSA.   In 2020, Fleet 135 has spent $195 promoting our Adult Sailing Seminar on Facebook.  So far 8 people have signed up and we are on pace to spend less than 20% of program revenues on marketing cost.   Based on our February marking, we are confident our May advertising will fill the class with 20 prospective fleet members.  

Absolute Support for Boat Owners

We'll teach you how to sail and then we'll teach you sail faster.  We'll make sure your boat is rigged and tuned correctly.  We can advise you on repairs or upgrades.   If asked, we'll take a road trip with you to help you inspect a boat before you buy it.  Our Fleet Captain will help you find crew, if needed.  Having a local fleet of experienced sailors to rely on for support provides an incentive to buy a boat, but we are careful not to let our fleet development boat program undermine our fleet development efforts.  We make it a point to NOT afford non Flying Scot owners all the benefits as a boat owner.  While we often allow non owners to borrow fleet boats on a limited basis and give them some say in who they sail with, our first priority is making sure boat owners are taken care of.  For example, we will not allow a couple of buddies to borrow a fleet development boat for a sailing event while a boat owner is struggling to find crew.  Fleet development boats are further restricted to Casual Wednesdays and weekend races.  If anyone could just borrow a boat without restriction, the person we just convinced to buy a $4000 Flying Scot might question why she just didn't stick with the free option.  Once all of our boat owners have crew, we will happily allow a prospective fleet member or loyal crew member to sail a development boat at a weekend race or regatta. 


Fleet Membership Encouraged

We don't require fleet membership status to sail with us Wednesdays, but we make it very clear up front that we give fleet members seating priority over non fleet members.   It's only $35 to join the fleet as a Sustaining Member with the Flying Scot Sailing Association.   By joining, the new fleet member is supporting a community that has contributed significantly to the transformational changes that have taken place at CLSA over the past 10 years.  

Fleet Membership Added Bonus: Small Boat Certification

Fleet 135 offers US Sailing Small Boat Certification to new fleet members.  This program provides newcomers a structured learning path where they can learn at their own pace by sailing with us on Wednesday.  Our fleet leaders have already been monitoring the progress of our fleet members for years, but making it formal and marketing it as such has resulted in immediate success.   

Club-owned Flying Scots Discouraged

First impressions can be important.  A boat that is cared for by an owner in our fleet is cared for much better than most club boats I've seen while visiting other clubs.  People don't treat our privately-owned fleet development boats like a club rental boat because it is owned by a fellow fleet member.  Since fleet development boats are cared for and looked after by someone with an ownership level interest, these boats are well maintained.  Since we're trying to sell them, the entire fleet has a vested interest in keeping them attractive.   If something breaks on a boat, the sailor on the boat lets the owner know immediately and in some cases offers to help with the repair.  We generally break even or better when we add up the acquisition cost and parts, so we're not afraid to bring a boat up to where it needs to be to be attractive to a buyer.  In our experience with club boats, they are maintained at a minimal level and not good tools for seduction.  If CLSA purchased a club Flying Scot, I feel it would undermine our fleet development model and give people reasons to not buy their own Flying Scot, instead of the other way around.   

Free Storage for Fleet Development Boats

In 2019, CLSA introduced a Fleet Development Boat policy where members are not charged for their second Flying Scot so long as the primary use of that boat is to build the club and fleet.   The Fleet 135 Fleet Captain may designate up to three boats and make them eligible to receive this storage discount.  The owner of the boat cannot designate their primary racing boat as a fleet development boat.   

Free Storage for For Sail Boats

In 2019, CLSA introduced free storage for people selling their sailboats, hoping to keep boats from leaving the club.  There are safeguards in place to prevent abuse, but this policy has already helped us prevent two Flying Scots from leaving the club!