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Club Conference 2023: Time to think differently about sailing's challenges - Orams

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New Zealand sailing owes much of its unrivalled success to its ability to think differently about things – and that’s exactly what is required to overcome the next big challenges facing the sport.

That was the message from Mark Orams to an audience of more than 100 people at Yachting New Zealand’s Club Conference at Bucklands Beach Yacht Club on Saturday – the first in-person edition of the conference after years of Covid-19 disruptions.

Orams, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research at Auckland University of Technology and a champion sailor, spoke about diversity, inclusiveness, and sustainability in sailing - capping an engaging day of presentations and discussions on a range of topics relevant to the yachting and boating community in 2023.

Click here for all the material presented at the 2023 Club Conference

“A fundamental principle for us as leaders in sailing is that we should have a sport that welcomes anybody who's interested in enjoying, learning and participating in it – no matter their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious or spiritual beliefs, or gender identity,” Orams said.

Citing examples from the career of his daughter Brianna, Orams highlighted obstacles still being experienced by female sailors in this country.

“What I immediately noticed once Brianna started sailing, was that some of the things that were difficult for her were really different than the things that were difficult for myself and my brothers or for other males growing up in the sport.”


Mark Orams (left) and Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie. Photo / Eduan Roos

As a sailor, Orams has won over a dozen national and world titles and was a member of Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup defences in 2000 and 2003. He also sailed on the Steinlager 2 in the victorious 1989-1990 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race with great friend Sir Peter Blake.

Yet, he says, a sense of belonging that stems from collective involvement, instead of a relentless pursuit of accolades and medals, is critical to retaining more females in the sport.

“Children go on to have enormous opportunities as cruisers, as crewmates, as people who are involved in the marine industry, designers and sailmakers and engineers and boat builders and marine brokers,” he said.

“It’s not just about racing and winning big trophies. It needs to be more inclusive of diversity than that.”


Sustainability was a big focus of the 2023 Yachting New Zealand Club Conference. Photos / Eduan Roos

A strong advocate for ocean conservation, Orams co-founded the International Coastal and Marine Tourism Society and the Coastal-Marine Research Group and served on the Sustainability Commission for World Sailing.

He believes small changes can make a big difference in addressing the climate crisis.

“Many of us have recently been confronted by what is now going to become the new normal – massive storm events, unpredictable changes due to climate change, eroding of our coast, threats to our clubhouses, our boat ramps and our marinas,” Orams said.

“This is part of our future so what do we do about it? The problem is so vast that it can get quite depressing… and it is easy to think there is no hope.

“But if we all do our bit – like banning single-use plastic from our clubhouses, taking three for the sea, using electric engines – then that's what we should be doing. We can't change the world, but we can have an influence over our clubs, over the people involved in our sport and our communities.

“The decisions that we make every day can make a difference.”

Sustainability was also the focus of an earlier presentation by environmental law specialist Jeremy Brabant, who highlighted future challenges facing the marine industry, and gave an update on the advocacy work undertaken by Yachting New Zealand on behalf of its clubs and communities.


The Lion Foundation's Samantha Alexander presented on gaming and grant funding for clubs. Photo / Eduan Roos

The Lion Foundation’s Samantha Alexander shared valuable tips on applying for gaming and grant funding; Maritime New Zealand’s Jason Lunjevich and Sean Patterson presented on clubs’ responsibilities when it comes to on-water safety; while Yachting New Zealand staff covered a range of topics from the use of data in determining members’ needs to the impact of imminent changes to the Incorporated Societies Act.

New Zealand is revered for its abilities on the water, Orams said in conclusion – something that many people overseas find baffling.

“One of the most common questions I'm asked by people overseas is how, as this little island nation of only five million people, we are one of the most dominant powers in the sport of sailing in the 21st century,” he said.

“It’s because in this country we think differently about things. We are courageous and creative in trying to come up with new ways… and that’s something we can all be extremely proud of.”