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Q&A with Gary Jobson

The next president of US Sailing talks about making sailing more visible

Gary Jobson recently traveled to Brewer Pilots Point Marina in Westbrook, Conn., to promote the annual Leukemia Cup Regatta that will take place Aug. 29 in partnership with the marina, Duck Island Yacht Club in Westbrook and North Cove Yacht Club in Old Saybrook, Conn.

Gary Jobson

Jobson, 58, has been national chairman of the event since 1993; he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2003. Now cancer-free, Jobson has been nominated by US Sailing to be the organization’s next president. Before sharing some tales from his extensive sailing experience to a captive audience, Jobson sat down with Soundings and spoke about the importance of charity events, the current status of the sport, and his goals as the next president of US Sailing.

Why is this event important to you?

The Leukemia regatta is one of many charity events that take place in the United States. It’s a nice thing that the sailing community, yacht clubs and sailors reach out to beyond what’s happening in our sport to help the community at large. So whether it’s Leukemia Cup or hospice or the MS Society, every group should do one thing like this per year.

The whole goal is to raise money to battle these blood cancers, mostly through research, but also with a little patient care and we’ve done that. When you consider it might cost a researcher $100,000 a year to research what they do, we’re funding 30 [thousand] or more through Leukemia Cup. Last year, we raised $3.7 million dollars alone.

It was quite ironic to be diagnosed with one of these blood cancers myself — a little weird, really. I went through chemo treatments for several months and did a bone marrow transplant; it really was a two-year process. But the nice story is all the research that goes on. So my message to people is you never know when events will transpire in life — and when you help other people, the biggest beneficiary might be you, yourself.

What plans do you have for advancing the sport of sailing when you become president of US Sailing in October?

I have a couple of things I want to solve: number one, our sport needs greater visibility, and through the Web site and an organized approach I hope to do that because, with greater visibility, everything becomes easier. Number two, I want to re-engage the yacht club to be a part of the sport; take a lot of leadership roles, help with community sailing and get that engaged with US Sailing so people feel good about it. I have a number of things I’m going to roll out in October on how to do that.

Third, US Sailing needs to be a smooth-running operation. We’ve had some struggles with rules and plan to put together some groups to study whole processes of how to make going sailing easier. I’ve been advised strongly by lots of big people like Ted Turner and others to not try to do everything at once, but I have a platform. So between the visibility, the yacht club, and making things simpler for the sailor, that will be my start.

How do you feel the sport of sailing has changed since you began?

At the high end, it’s become extremely competitive, boats are super-fast and people travel a lot. People have less and less time to spend on sailing. In the 1950s, people would take a month off to cruise or race the Southern circuit. But now, with couples working and the pressures of family and careers, it’s hard to get time to do sailing. So sailing organizers have to think how to do this in short periods of time, maybe three hours and that’s it. It’s not so much a money problem as a time-management problem.

Sailing can be seen by the general public as a luxury. In light of the current economy, how do you think people can continue to enjoy the sport while still maintaining their budgets?

For sure, sailing has the unfortunate reputation of being a rich man’s sport, but on large yachts you have one rich guy and everyone that goes sailing with him. Sailing can be done on a lot of levels: you can charter boats and rent them or do what I do, which is have partners with my boats. I may not be able to afford a boat myself, but with two or three people we can combine resources and make it happen. There’s Lasers, Sunfish, small dinghies, day sailing, community sailing associations … there’s a lot of ways to enjoy sailing at a reasonable cost, and you get a great value.

A younger person might want to go out for fun, but get a little older and he/she may get into the racing scene and it’s very intense and then get a little older and he/she may enjoy a little cruising. It’s a sport that stays with you.

This article originally appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Home Waters Section of the September 2009 issue.