December 1, 2011

Let others win

ONE MINUTE I'M BEMOANING the embarrassment of coming last in a yacht race, and the next moment I'm being admonished in print by a famous editor of 100 years ago. Look at what just popped up in my reading matter; it's by Thomas Fleming Day, of The Rudder in 1911:

It is no  use getting up races if men won't enter them. Many men plead the foolish reason for not entering that they cannot win. Is winning the sole incentive? I think not.

There is pleasure, there is experience, there are a hundred things to compensate the man who goes in like a sailor and a sport, and takes his boat over the course, win or lose. This is especially so in the long races over unfamiliar water, to new ports, where you meet and make new friends.

Besides, do you owe nothing to the sport, or the club, or to your comrades, or to the stranger who comes to race under your flag? He at least should be given an opportunity to show what he can do against the best of your fleet . . .

One way to get more entries is to give every finisher something to show that he has been in the race. The best thing is a small bronze plate to screw up in his cabin. These can be had for a small sum, and are greatly appreciated, as they are an ever-present excuse for a yarn and a drink.

Also, more prizes should be offered; if seven start, at least three prizes should be given, not necessarily expensive ones, but something. A prize is a prize, no matter whether, second, or third.

It's extraordinary that Mr. Day should have anticipated my complaint 100 years before I complained. Perhaps he was what they call prescient; or perhaps sailboat skippers have always been the same.

I have certainly known men who completely destroyed local one-design racing classes because they just kept winning and nobody else ever stood a real chance of walking away with the top trophy. The perpetual losers just got thoroughly discouraged, sold their boats, and went looking for another class where they had a better chance; or else they bought boats that could be raced under rules like the CCA or IOR or PHRF, where a small bribe for the measurer might assure one of a more favorable handicap.

The message is quite plain. Even if winning is not the sole incentive, it is a mighty powerful  encouragement to keep racing, and if you wish to promote a healthy competitive class you must convince the perpetual winners to throw races occasionally, pour encourager les autres. Just let them win a few minor races, and then suddenly astonish them with your skill and expertise in the season's major final regatta. Yes, yes, I know it's sneaky, but it's for their own good, really.

 Today's Thought
Virtue and cunning were endowments greater
Than nobleness and riches: careless heirs
May the two latter darken and expend;
But immortality attends the former,
Making a man a god.
— Shakespeare, Pericles.

“My wife has been using one of those flesh-reducing rollers for nearly six weeks now.”
“Oh yeah? Has she had any results?”
“Yes, the roller is much thinner.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Aaron Headly said...

Just my 2 cents, and I may be way off base, but I think that any organizer who is in danger of losing all his or her entrants because some one person is taking all the prizes should consider changing the courses around.

De-emphasizing the upwind legs (or ditching them entirely) lessens (or completely removes) a lot of the frustration for less technical sailors.

Pounding upwind while chasing puffs is dreary work for all but the truly obsessed. And it warps yacht design.

Anonymous said...

Hey Aaron,

AFAIK, all races start with an upwind leg. After that it's either downwind or reaching, or one than the other in the case of the Olympics. Heck even our local "race your house" event, the least serious race in the nation, has an upwind leg.

Still, I take your point about slogging up when you really just feel like cruising in the same direction as a bunch of other boats :)