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The Publisher

Jul 12, 2011, 12:04 PM

Post #1 of 12 (25759 views)

Brazilian Torben Grael has the highest number of Olympic medals in his country, and holds the highest number of medals in the history of Olympic sailing. A lot has changed in the sport since Torben won the silver medal in the Soling class at the 1984 Games, and he is not certain about much of it. Here are his remarks, republished from the July 2011 edition of Seahorse magazine:
As an Olympic sailing veteran I ask myself this question very often. Since I started my Olympic career so much has changed in our sport; some changes were great as the introduction of female classes but some others were nonsense:

It took me 25 years to learn them (at least the ones we used most); then some clever people decided we should have more simple ones. The idea was great but the reality is not, as simple rules left many holes that were slowly amended and now we are back to the same complicated set of rules with one difference: they are different and I won’t even bother to learn them again as they keep changing anyway.

Starting sequence
We use to have something simple that worked pretty well: 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute and start. If there was a subsequent start the RC could opt to go straight to the 5 minute. Then some clever people decided that we should go straight to the 5 minute. As a result you have only 1 minute after the attention is given and many times people don’t manage even to make it to the line. So now either boats stay very close to the RC or the committee has to improvise with ways to advise you that they will soon start a sequence!

Finally why bother trying to start without the black flag? It is such a waste of time, especially these days when we spend more time hanging around than racing.

Coach boats
In the past we had an equal field with each team on its boat. And that was it. We had to sail to and from the course and it was the same for everyone. Then some clever people decided it was ok to allow coaches and coach boats. The result is now we have more RIBs out there than boats.

And now some teams are investing fortunes into America’s Cup first-shift technology. Is this what we want? More costs, more people travelling, more costs, more housing, more costs... and what for? Didn’t we sail back safely, even in a windy place like Pusan, a light place like Barcelona or a distant place like Savannah?

We used to have fair, long races with a good balance between the start and the rest of the race. We used to reach. How boring are these endless windward/leeward races no matter how much it is blowing. Once you spent 3 hours on the water and raced at for at least 2 hours. These days you spend up to 8 hours on the water and consider yourself lucky if you race for the same 2 hours.

Medal Race
There were 7 races. It wasn’t easy to win before the end but it was possible. Then we went for 10 short races. The more you have, the more likely it is someone will win in advance.

Then some clever people decided that winning in advance is bad for the sport and came up with the brilliant idea of the medal race. A short sh!tty race that counts double. It is good for media they said. What I see is that people still win in advance (Robert Scheidt in Miami and Hyeres; Iain Percy in Palma; Ben Ainslie in Hyeres and so on). On the final day I see nothing but coach boats out there. But then when you arrive ashore there’s nobody left in the marina. Everyone else has packed and left already.

Classes should be decided now for the 2020 Olympics, not for 2016. We need stability and changes should be well thought out. There should be merit and a technical reason for a class to be at the Games. They should represent the reality of our sport. Laser and Finn are exactly the same kind of boat. 470 man and 49er are not that different either.

Stop the politics! How did you ever take away the multihull when the whole world seems to be going that way? Stop the nonsense before it is too late. While there is something left.
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Jul 12, 2011, 5:40 PM

Post #2 of 12 (25741 views)
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Jul 12, 2011, 5:45 PM

Post #3 of 12 (25731 views)
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And he's dead right! Nothing more boring than this endless series of windward-leeward courses. How about a return to the old Olympic course, which at least has some variety?

Not all that sure that rule simplification has create holes to be filled, but it is worth giving it another thought.


Jul 12, 2011, 7:14 PM

Post #4 of 12 (25634 views)
Re: [The Publisher] TORBEN GRAEL - WHERE ARE WE GOING? [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

He's right on so many points. You can debate the 470 vs. 49er and the Laser vs. Finn, but in the current group of boats, they are too close.

Medal Race: Has sailing really achieved any more media coverage overall? Maybe the medal race is covered more than other races, but is it a trade off of the earlier races?

This is a very credible sailor making these comments. I wish ISAF would listen, but they won't.

Bruce Thompson

Jul 13, 2011, 7:18 AM

Post #5 of 12 (25107 views)
Re: [The Publisher] TORBEN GRAEL - WHERE ARE WE GOING? [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I share many of the same opinions regarding the starting system and the everchanging rules. I would point out that in my experience the key complaint by competitors is wasted time on the water. People come to race, not to idle around. Fix that problem and you can adjust the rest to suit the class, time available, local conditions etc.

My reputation in Lightning class circles got a huge boost after the 2009 Championship of Champions. On Day 1, we had our first start at 10 AM, a full one hour lunch break ashore, and a return to the dock by 5 PM. We got in eight races, with seven on-the-water boat rotations, sailing Lightnings using spinnakers. Minimum race length was 1.5 NM. We used a 3 leg WL course starting one-third of the way up the course from the leeward mark (start/finish, W, L, start/finish).

To make it an official regatta we needed four races (done before we went ashore for lunch). To get the first throwout we needed eight races (done when we went in at the end of Day 1 of 3).

There were a lot of happy faces. College style regatta competition with the amenities of grown-up racing as befits a fleet of national and world champions.

Bruce Thompson

Jul 13, 2011, 9:55 AM

Post #6 of 12 (25013 views)
Re: [Bruce Thompson] TORBEN GRAEL - WHERE ARE WE GOING? [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Let me add another point. One of the greatest mistakes of our sport's solons was to instruct race committees to avoid communicating with racers for fear of affecting the impartiality of the event. Some of the most important lessons I've learned have resulted from feedback from racers. Accommodating the wishes of female competitors is one example. As noted above, we planned ahead on having lunch ashore. So all the competitors were assured of access to a clean, climate controlled, rest room at reasonable intervals. On Day 2, we returned to the dock one hour early (4 PM) so as to provide the ladies with an extra hour to attend to their clothing, hair and makeup before the banquet with the members of the host club, Carlyle Sailng Association, starting at 6 PM. The ladies put that hour to great effect! There is nothing quite as delightful as the company of beautiful women at dinner.


Jul 13, 2011, 10:48 AM

Post #7 of 12 (24983 views)
Re: [The Publisher] TORBEN GRAEL - WHERE ARE WE GOING? [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Torben hit the nail on the head...
Bill Reilly

The Publisher

Jul 14, 2011, 8:01 AM

Post #8 of 12 (24705 views)
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From Paul Henderson:
As usual a fine sailor like Torben Grael is right on all points! Well put.

* From Don Bedford:
Torben is the man! I could not agree more with his take on the current state of sailing. If you're not thrilled with the direction that the competition for the Auld Mug has taken then you might want to question where sailing in general is going.

Maybe If you like TV watching then you're happy but if you like to take your family out on your dinghy for some weekend racing then it seems the sport is leaving you behind. Coach boats, on-the-water judging, no reaches - ugh!

* From Hans "Oily" Liniger:
Torben Grael’s comments are dead to the point! Thank you for being so outspoken. He just forgot to mention one other unnecessary modernism: match racing. Bringing sailing to the mindless champagne sipping ignorants in order to get some TV attention? No thank you guys. Looking forward to the next Volvo campaign.

Bruce Thompson

Jul 15, 2011, 6:53 PM

Post #9 of 12 (24522 views)
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I believe that a major part of the dissatisfaction with the rules is not the occasional revisions to Part 2 (and to a lesser extent Part 3) as much as it is inconsistent, and I would argue premature, interventions of judges into the process. As evidence I would remind everyone that U S Sailing almost was de-certified as our National Governing Body by the USOC because of two arbitrations, Hall & Salk. Our judges are sorely lacking in judicial restraint. Which inclines them to try to find what they personally consider absolutely perfectly just decisions, notwithstanding the letter of the rules. In effect, they make it up as they see fit. These inclinations are particularly problematic in cases of requests for redress, the USOC’s major complaint.

I can offer a case study to illustrate the problem. In May 2009 I took the tests to be certified as an NRO in anticipation that the Chicago 2016 bid might succeed and it would be helpful if there was at least one NRO in the host city and state. I passed the objective test and took the subjective, essay test. By the time I was advised of my results, the Chicago2016 bid had failed. I was finally advised I had failed the essay test. The essay question was composed of two parts. Part one involved the RC witnessing a situation at the finish line where a boat touched the finish mark and failed to fully comply with rule 44.2 before crossing the finish line a second time. Having failed to comply with 44.2, the boat failed to finish per the definition of finish and therefore deserved to be scored DNF. So far so good.

Part two of the question was “What would you tell the jury?” My immediate reaction was give them Ann Landers most famous piece of advice “Mind Your Own Business” (MYOB), but I though better of that and simply wrote “DNF”. It seems my lack of deference to the jury caused the graders to fail me. Since I had lost my incentive to pursue the issue, I didn’t bother to argue the point as I am already a Senior Race Officer. But the proper rejoinder is “Exactly what part of shall don’t you understand? Specifically with regard to A5, “A boat that did not…finishshall be scored accordingly by the race committee without a hearing”. Note that this has the major benefit of offering a competitor who might disagree the opportunity to file a request for redress and have a hearing as the plaintiff with me as the defendant before an impartial jury, satisfying the USOC’s demands. However, it does cut the jury totally out of the matter, absent a request for redress. These graders, without proper restraint, wanted there to be a hearing so the jury could be the ultimate arbiter in a situation where MYOB was the proper call. It’s called separation of powers and our judges (and the graders of race officer tests) would be well served to learn the concept.

The Publisher

Jul 17, 2011, 7:37 AM

Post #10 of 12 (24445 views)
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From Richard Clark:
America's Cup, the Volvo Round the World and the Single Handed Trans Atlantic races... this is where my love of sailing resides, and not on TV, nor in the Olympic RIB fleet. I was so close to unsubscribing to Scuttlebutt, and then the Torben Grael opinion surfaced. Now I see some hope. I will stick it out. Robust dialogue rules :) Keep up the great work.

From Gail M. Turluck:
Hear, hear, to Torben Grael! The sport lost 1000s of people with the "rules simplification," they're not simple, and old and new sailors are put off by them. Can we go back to the "old rules" to bring our ol' timers back? Don't know if it would work. Then would we lose the "new sailors?" I wonder if they changed the rules for Monopoly every four years (with interim changes annually) how popular that game would be? I often wonder how to effectively address the situation as I'd like to get more of our long ago sailors back in a boat. Maybe it's going to take a "Classic Rules" circuit or ???

From James S. Leopold:
Torben Grael for President....of the ISAF...and US Sailing too! Torben is not alone in his views! Let's get sailing back to its roots. Goodbye to the lawyers, coach boats and other obstructions that have created needless clutter in our sport and detracted from it.

From Susie Pegel:
Couldn't agree more with Torben's comments. Groups like ISAF and the IOC have become the ‘tail wagging the dog’ in the sport of sailing.

The Publisher

Jul 18, 2011, 6:22 AM

Post #11 of 12 (24375 views)
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From Hiro Nakajima:
Torben's commentary is right on. I thought I was being overly old school and not open to modernization of our sport. I am relieved to see that one of our sport's great icon shares the same observations and comments to the current state of our sport.

We need to look at possibly rolling back some of the complicated and unnecessary aspects that has permeated into our sport today. It certainly has not attracted any more people to our sport so it is hard to argue it was the right thing to do.

From Tom Arthur NZ:
I have been reading all the letters backing Torben’s views. When I read the original article by him my first impression was,” this sounds like a great sailor becoming tired of his sport”. Am I the only one to think this way? Some of his points I think are valid, but regarding the RRS, I think they get better with each revision. After all the revisers are getting rid of the problem areas that arise, I’m sure they aren’t doing it just to make life difficult for us.

The Publisher

Jul 19, 2011, 9:48 AM

Post #12 of 12 (24287 views)
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From Mario Sampaio:
After reading the letter by Tom Arthur in Scuttlebutt 3385, it never seizes to amaze me at the capacity people have to talk about things they know nothing about. On the issue of Torben Grael's recent insightful and very critical points made, most people have no idea what he's talking about; perhaps they are too young to know how exhilarating it was to be self-sufficient and to depend one yourself exclusively when going sailing.

They´d be amazed at how much we learned empirically by trial and error. The circumstances forced us into really thinking about the situations we encountered, without being interrupted by people, which in many or most cases don´t have the experience required to become a coach!

But yes, there was a time not long ago, when sailors depended exclusively on their seamanship, their rational and empiric skills! Nowadays my hardest 'sailing' moments with my youngest son, who is 15 years always arrive when I ask him to take a single decision without having to ask his coach.

It is therefore not a surprise at all that sailing has become open to intentional cheaters, crooks and all kinds of dishonest vagabonds; honesty is most definitely not a criteria anymore. The criteria is: 'win at any cost, because if you don’t win, I lose my bonus.'

We belonged to the generation who followed Elvstrom’s mantra that it is useless to win if you didn´t win your opponents' respect. Need I say anything else?

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