September 4, 2012

The problems of racing

AMATEUR SAILBOAT RACING has always suffered from two problems. The first is a lack of hands willing to do the considerable work of organizing sailboat races.  The second is the problem posed by the skipper who keeps winning all the races and demoralizing his opposition.

Thomas Fleming Day, the feisty editor of The Rudder magazine, recognized these facts in 1911 when he wrote:

“You can’t keep the sport going unless you get to work early and keep at it until the last gun fires. It is no use trying to keep yachting popular and inviting, unless you constantly vary the menu.

“As it is today, we keep the sport moving too much in a circle. It is the dog chasing his tail. Do something different; do something nobody else does, and do it differently. Any pastime, like water, becomes corrupted unless it is kept constantly in motion; but that does not mean to be stirring it always the one way.

“Talking about this reminds me of that Bug Class they are getting up on Long Island Sound. This will be a fleet, and Commodore Newman has come forward with a sensible and happy suggestion that they parcel it into Divisions of Skippers. First division, the crack-a-jack skippers; second division the fairly good timoneer, and third division, the green hands at the stick. When a man in the two lower divisions has won three races, he moves up the class above, until he is in the first division.

“This will give the learners a chance. Constant defeat through being up against better men is apt to cold-water the enthusiasm of the new hand, whereas a victory now and again will spur him to renewed effort.”

One-design classes are particularly vulnerable to becoming demoralized by skippers who can’t be beaten.  I personally knew one who single-handedly destroyed the Soling Class at one club I belonged to.  Nothing in the way of bribes could persuade him to throw a race now and then.  People on bended knees couldn’t convince him to show a little pity for skippers less talented than he. He was an honorable, talented competitor and deserved his wins, but pretty soon he found himself with no-one to sail against. 

In days gone past, when I was organizing dinghy races, I came to the same conclusion as Thomas Day, and divided skippers into three classes. In my case the most experienced skippers were asked to aid the beginners by giving helpful advice about courses and sail trim while they were under way.

It worked for a while, but soon the young Turks were rising to the top and consistently winning in Division One, which brought us right back to square one.  I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps there isn’t one.

Today’s Thought
For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks—not that you won or lost—
But how you played the game.
—Grantland Rice, Alumnus Football

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
(30, and last!) “Well, honestly, sir, what do you expect for $3 — a whole pair of trousers?”

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


Colmce said...

I'm really going to miss the fly/soup jokes.

John Vigor said...

So am I, Colmce, now I'll have to ferret out ordinary Tailpieces again. I'm beginning to believe that (after nearly 600 columns) there simply aren't any new ones.


John V.