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How perfection is hurting the sport
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The Publisher
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Dec 4, 2012, 6:45 AM

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EVOLVING INTO EXTINCTION - HOW PERFECTION IS HURTING THE SPORT
By Glenn McCarthy, Commodore, Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation
I admit it, I am a Hardcore XXX Racer. It is in my blood. I can't wait for the next race. I want races with a lot of pressure and tactics. However, having watched this sport get to this level, where we made courses short, made them upwind/downwind or "sausage" shaped, and eliminated reaches and long distances, this all translated into eliminating luck and making racing based on "skillsets."

Additionally, we expect race committees to run races at Olympic level with drop marks, perfectly square lines and straight upwind and downwind legs. Not only do we study the racing rules, we also study the appeals, case book and race management manual, ready to jump on any error anyone does and make big drama about it.

Somewhere in this pursuit of perfection, the fun was pushed aside. Along with it, we have been losing people and boats. When you ask why people stopped racing, they say, "I wasn't having fun."

Let me expand on the first paragraph. In Stars (23-foot day sailor, no spinnaker) in the 1970's we were required to have 11.8 mile length races with the first beat close to two miles long. We sailed the Olympic course in those days, as most did, with a Windward, Reach, Reach, Windward, Run, Windward. Many things occurred differently out there. One thing was on those reaches, which most agreed were just "parades" and gave little room to pass or be passed, there was time to tell stories and to tell jokes, lots of jokes. It provided a break in the tension.

What did the long windward and leeward legs provide? The experienced sailors commonly went the correct way and took advantage of the shifts. The newcomers, or those who just enjoyed racing but weren't putting lots of time into it, commonly would fall behind. But wait! Sometimes those folks would go to the wrong side, just at the right time, and catch an anomaly shift that would put them in the lead of the race!

Back then, we said that they "won by a country mile" or they "did a horizon job." We have lost using this type of language in short course windward-leeward races. What we also lost was the fact that these newcomers and folks who didn't put in the time to be on top actually won a prize during the year. They would put that trophy up on their mantle and say, "I beat McCarthy, and Gary Comer (founder of Lands' End) and Bill Parks (Bronze Medal Olympian), etc. All winter long they would regale in their story how they beat everyone.

Do you know what this did? It gave them the taste and it kept them coming back for more. In short course racing, shifts don't separate boats by great distances and don't give a chance (luck) to give the bottom-fleeters a trophy. All of this has been lost in the pursuit of making racing perfect. Of course we Hardcore XXX Racers think that the transition to perfection is good. But what does it mean to participation? -- Read on: http://tinyurl.com/LMSRF-Nov-2012


The Publisher
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Dec 4, 2012, 6:45 AM

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From Julian Everitt, London, UK:
I couldn't agree more with Glen McCarthy that the pursuit of 'perfection' in race management and courses has done more damage to international yacht racing than any other factor in the past 20 years.




Glenn McCarthy
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Dec 4, 2012, 9:42 AM

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Rather than follow the link in Craig's post, here's the rest of the article -

Where is an example of less than “perfect” racing? How about Beer Can racing? In Beer Can races, commonly the starting lines aren't square, the legs are varied in length to get boats to the shore at the same time each night, the legs are not square at all, and how is the participation? Awesome. There's definitely a party awaiting when the boats return to the dock. Complete amateurs are welcome to join, the "rock star crew" or "skill sets" aren't required in order to get the boat around the course. Perfection is not the goal, and there still are winners. Aren't there a lot of lessons from the past and from Beer Can races we can take from to re-grow weekend racing to bring the numbers back?

This pursuit of perfection and eliminating luck is a part of the reason why Adults are separated from Youth sailors. Think about it, with short course windward-leeward courses, there is no time to deal with amateurs or newcomers, or anyone who makes mistakes. We seek out sailors who are experienced, we seek out those who have the "skillsets" to do the job. Surely a kid can't fill in these positions. Focus has to be made on the pressure and shift side of the course going upwind and downwind continuously. There are no breaks. Is there any wonder why regattas participants only have: gray hair; no hair; or, colored haired people at the parties? We cut off our future.

This summer I tried a test onboard George Petkovic's Flying Tiger experimenting on them). All races were s the two days. I was barely able to get 2 of them in, and 2 others were stopped with some action occurring on the course that required focus. How do we build friendships doing this having laughed a good portion of the day? People are walking away saying they're not having fun time to wake up!

Why is this constant pursuit of perfection being done? It is simple, we drank the ISAF, IOC and US Sailing Kool-Aid. The Olympics is not huge business, it is gigantic business. Money is driving all of their decisions. Nowhere can they allow someone to win a race due to being lucky and catching an unexpected wind shift. It would be bad for the TV, the politics and mess with their money equation. The Olympics are not about fun (we all think it would be cool if any of us made it on the podium, but really, does one laugh heartily on the podium? Clearly they are happy, but it was through massive training and practicing that allowed that pay-off). Why are we driven to believe that running club events like it was the Olympic Regatta is the right way to do it? That event happens once every four years for 300 sailors. It is the pinnacle. If club racing is to be like any Olympic Game, then why aren't we all sailing Olympic Class boats and boards and trying to get to Rio de Janeiro in 2016? You see, club racers are different, and we do need a different game than what ISAF, IOC and US Sailing would make us think. We need hijinks, shenanigans, goofy stuff, and laughter that lasts all night long. We need exercise, a challenge on the weekend, building friendships, having the family sail together, have adults mentor the youth by telling the terrifying tales of experiences you've had to assure they are prepared for that day when it becomes terrifying for them and they can draw from your knowledge. You won't find these things occurring at the Olympics.

To bring the fun back, to mix the Adults and Youth together Hardcore XXX Racers, we like the current game, but the game is shrinking and there aren't buyers for our boats when we move onto the next one. We need to have a steady stream of grow what we have been doing for the past 15 years?

What was racing like when it was growing in the 1970's?

Race Committees did not have many options, the courses were set for the season courses used fixed marks and government buoys and race committee volunteers did the best they could without any training or certification programs available. The courses themselves were out to some fixed buoy and back or around a number of fixed buoys. The race committee were attempted to start upwind, and now and then make corrections. Many races started on a reac commonplace (with the hope that one leg was a beat or close to it and one leg was a run).

- Offshore races were long: 16 - 30 miles.

- When large wind shifts came through, the race was not abandoned such as a Star World Championship would this occur).

- Races started on time, rarely postponed as there wasn't a lot of "management" involved in "race management."

- Was this racing? It sure was. People were awarded as they do now. Was it fun? It sure was a lot more fun back then.

Think of this another way, the IOC/ISAF/US Sailing race management and judge certification programs have worked to make the experience on the water with higher quality "because that's what the racers demand." Oh yeah? If demand was so strong, why isn't participation increasing? These programs are not causing more boats to show up on starting lines. Perfection and participation are inversely related in club racing. That's my story and I am sticking to it.

Soooo ... A Priest, a Rabbi, and a hooker walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, "What is this, some kind of joke?"





The Publisher
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Dec 5, 2012, 5:52 AM

Post #4 of 16 (31481 views)
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From Frederic Laffitte:
I read with attention the commentary from Glenn McCarthy. He is dead on.

I am a long time racer from days of the IOR dinosaurs, which I raced from the Med to Australia and everywhere in between. I stopped racing big boats when it stopped being fun, moving on to the J/24 and now Etchells. I stopped racing big boats for the same reason Glenn did... it stopped being fun.

I agree that the boats are much better now but it is irrelevant because so few of them are racing. So why have they stopped racing? The main reasons are:

- The rules change too often, making boats obsolete.

- The fun is gone as only the pros have a chance in a high level competition.

- The pro sailors killed the golden goose by making sure that no amateur can ever dream to win, and that includes what Glenn said about the race courses.

- The fact that the pros cannot get a job if they do not win has changed the atmosphere everywhere from the dock to the bar, and from the race course to the protest room.

Bottom line is that the pros are killing the sport we love. So what do I do now? I race my Etchells as well as I can, I race my family wooden boat in the Classic Boat race in the Med, and I go cruising on my 57 footer whenever I can.


The Publisher
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Dec 5, 2012, 12:10 PM

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Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are a lot of professional sailors crewing (or coaching) on Etchells these days.

This weekend begins the four event Jaguar Cup Mid Winter Series in Miami with 55 entrants listed. Details: http://forum.sailingscuttlebutt.com/...forum.cgi?post=14887

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt




The Publisher
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Dec 5, 2012, 12:11 PM

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From: "Sherwood Kelley
To: <editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com>
Subject: Frederic Laffitte's comment responding to Glenn McCarthy's in 'Butt #3730
Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2012 18:38:03 -0800



Frederic is a fellow San Diego Etchells sailor (as is our esteemed Butt Editor), and I want to underline his observations with one addition. It is a fact that the Etchells Class has always held the door wide open to any pro that wants to try sailing against us amateurs. This has been going on for years, successfully I might add, and for one reason. Pros regularly get beaten by amateurs in Etchells Class regattas, and that will happen again in the Jaguar series about to begin in Florida. We have a number of amateur skippers in their 50s and 60s in the Etchells Class who do quite well against pro- boats. Moral? Improve the quality of racing in your class and the pros wont matter. Its still yacht racing. Pro participation in Etchells fleets has done much to improve the quality of racing which our Class offers. May not work for other classes, but it has for us.


Sherwood D. Kelley, Etchells #USA1092


The Publisher
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Dec 5, 2012, 12:18 PM

Post #7 of 16 (31468 views)
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While the Etchells class enjoys the company of professional skippers (and boat owners) like Vince Brun, Bruce Nelson, or Bill Hardesty, there has also been a growth industry of professional crew who are being paid to sail. The question of whether this is good or bad makes for a good debate.

What happens when two amateur teams who are even on ability and tend to post similar results, but then one of the skippers hires two elite pro crews and starts consistently beating the other skipper? Is this good or bad for class health?

While the amateur skipper with the pro crew is benefiting in both performance and knowledge, are their big picture ramifications that should outweigh this benefit? Or would a ban on pro crew push out the amateur skippers that feel unable to participate without the support?

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt


The Publisher
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Dec 5, 2012, 12:19 PM

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From Frederic Laffitte:

A small follow up regarding professional sailors in the Etchells class. I am 100% aware that there are a lot of professional sailors in the Etchell class as I have been racing in it for 10 years, but somehow in this class the professionals have remain courteous on the race course, and fun the race against, a lot of them are my friends. In addition to that the boats are close enough in boat speed that once in a while even a mediocre amateur like me wins a race in one of the toughest fleet in the world.




The Publisher
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Dec 6, 2012, 5:15 AM

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From Bill Gage, Point Richmond, CA:
Regarding Glenn McCarthy's comments on Perfection vs. fun in racing, this struck a significant note with me, having noted the discussion over months/years of the declining participation in sailboat racing.

As an instructor for US Sailing's race management seminars, I can relate directly to the fact that the US Sailing curriculum is focused on improving race management as it pertains to serious racing. However, what Glenn states is correct; there isn't really any focus on less serious, "fun racing".

The thought occurs to me that perhaps we might assign categories to events to promote "fun racing". For example, Category S for serious racing; Category F for fun racing. The category could be specified in the Notice of Race. It would set the expectation for what a sailor would experience. Category S is well understood. Category F might suggest: Longer courses, not windward-leeward, fixed marks, simple SIs, simpler rules (somehow?), whatever else the organizer wanted it to be. Serious racers would hopefully still enter, but they would understand the format as "fun".

I have noted that when F-type events have been run, the serious racers want to move them toward serious race formats, which they excel in. Because they are the well-regarded and successful racers, often organizers respond to what they want, but these changes diminish the "F" aspects.

If an organizer wants to run a fun event, they could designate a race or regatta as Category F right in the NOR and in publicity, then it might attract the less serious sailor. Some fleets might routinely prefer Category F events. If US Sailing supported the concept, with standard approach and terminology, it could be powerful. One Day Seminars for Club Race Officers could be adapted to include standards for fun racing.


The Publisher
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Dec 6, 2012, 5:17 AM

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In Reply To
From Bill Gage, Point Richmond, CA:
The thought occurs to me that perhaps we might assign categories to events to promote "fun racing". For example, Category S for serious racing; Category F for fun racing. The category could be specified in the Notice of Race. It would set the expectation for what a sailor would experience. Category S is well understood. Category F might suggest: Longer courses, not windward-leeward, fixed marks, simple SIs, simpler rules (somehow?), whatever else the organizer wanted it to be. Serious racers would hopefully still enter, but they would understand the format as "fun".



Eager for feedback. Does this idea have legs?


- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt


terrulian
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Dec 6, 2012, 8:48 AM

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It seems to me the SF Bay area has tons of fun races as well as serious ones. The Great Pumpkin and the Three Bridge Fiasco and lots of beer can races are examples of somewhat less serious affairs. The AC is at the other extreme. I think anyone can race at any level they choose, with no difficulty finding amusement.
Tony Johnson


The Publisher
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Dec 6, 2012, 4:16 PM

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From Lou Sandoval, Chicago, IL:
Glenn McCarthy gets one of the key issues challenging the sport of sailing in his recent op-ed. (Scuttlebutt 3730: Evolving Into Extinction - How Perfection Is Hurting The Sport). The fun-factor is potentially missing from sailboat racing. However, the challenges we face extend beyond just the competitive sailing segment of the sport.

One might argue that sailboat racing, and the focus on competitive racing, IS what kills the fun. Now dont get me wrong, if you are a Scuttlebutt reader, there is a strong chance you have already bought into sailing to the degree that sailboat racing might seem readily achievable. But to preserve and grow participation in the sport of sailing, we have to look beyond the competitive sailing portion and address recreational sailing as well.

When reaching out to new target groups and especially sailors that have taken on the sport later in life, proposing that they take their boat out and race might be a bit much for neophytes. After all, you have to walk before you run.

The GEMBA study released earlier this year by the Yachting Australia association presented a list of barriers to participating in sailing (as a sport). Third on the list after #1: The image of sailing as inaccessible and exclusive and #2: Cost ranked focus on racing #3 as a barrier to participation.

New participants surveyed were interested in social relaxed activity rather than competition. The more unique finding in all of this is that the survey was done in Australia, which many would consider a hotbed of sailing and racing. Next to the National French s ailing groups, Australia has to rank near the top in terms of countries where learning to sail ranks right up there with walking and talking in the skills youth develop.

Despite strong integration of the sport into the Australian culture, what is unique is that Australia is looking to stay ahead of a foreseen decline in participation. Most recently, Australia hosted an International Sailing Summit in Melbourne comprised of various interests to identify solutions for increasing participation in the sport. This effort mirrors industry initiatives spearheaded by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and other boating interest groups known as the Boating Growth Summit here in the U.S. This group has met three times in the past twelve months and the impact across boating is starting to be felt.

Long story short - there is no simple overnight solution. For participation to improve in the sport, we have to make the sport welcoming, relevant, and fun. We need to appeal to a younger age demographic; champion women sailing in the sport; include a more varied ethnic demographic; and engage participants into one of the many economic entry points in the spectrum of participation.

Different parts of the country are doing this in one capacity or another, but it is always surprising when sharing best practices, how some of the basics are overlooked. We cant continue to just do what weve always done with the group we have always done it with and expect varied results. Sailing is a lifestyle - there is nothing better than being able to share it with those closest to you and creating memories that last a lifetime. Its important to remember that whether you are a competitive or recreational sailor.

In the meantime, we can ALL serve as ambassadors of the sport by continuing to share our passion with those who have never experienced it, and most of all applying the principal of K.O.S. - Keep On Sailing!


The Publisher
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Dec 10, 2012, 3:09 PM

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From Mark Weinheimer:
I can't remember who put forth the idea, but it may merit reiteration...run a W/L fun race wherein the entire fleet turns downwind wherever they are on the course when the first place boat rounds the windward mark. Repeat at the leeward mark. The trick is to have the course long enough for the fleet to remix with each rounding - challenging for the top of the fleet as they have to make their way back through the crowd and it gives the back markers a turn at the front defending. Prizes could be awarded for the boat with the most mark roundings, the most boats passed...and a sandbag award for the most egregious trophy hunter.


The Publisher
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Dec 10, 2012, 3:14 PM

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ALL EVENTS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
By John Strassman, US Sailing Race Officer
I am always interested to read things from my friends Glenn McCarthy and Bill Gage, as Scuttlebutt provided last week. Like Bill Gage, I am one of those US Sailing Race Officers and I also teach Race Management seminars.

I agree with Glenn that race managers sometimes can become too anal, and I agree with Bill that all events are not created equal. There are way too many Race Committees that are enthralled by the pageantry of the flags and the guns and operate under the assumption that all races must be run as if it was the Americas Cup.

The intent of the Organizing Authority should be spelled out in the NOR, of which Bill had two categories: Fun and Serious. I see sailing events arranged in a spectrum of different types of events. Here are five points along that spectrum.

1) There is no such thing as bad pizza events:
Week night beer can racing should be 3-2-1-GO events with minimal adult supervision. These events are a time to have fun with your friends and enjoy the water. The RC should provide on-time starts, traffic control and scoring. There should be minimal structure but the RC must keep an eye on the weather and dont be afraid to shorten if the wind collapses.

2) Week-end or season series local course races:
Start on time, set square starting lines and let the dice roll. By letting the dice roll I mean that the RC must realize that shifts happen. If a new breeze comes in, by all means change the course but DONT CHASE THE OSCILLATIONS! This is not brain surgery and dont worry, the RC will still have a chance to use plenty of flags.

3) The lost art of medium distance races:
Instead of having three one hour races, have one three hour race over a predetermined course and let the wind blow whichever direction it pleases. These races often transit between shore and sea breezes and different tide and current situations and can be very challenging. This will also give the bigger boats a chance to try out all of those cool sails the sailmaker told them they should have.

4) Marquee offshore point to point races:
The Organizing Authority and RC do need to be the adult supervision in these races and assure excellent customer service at both ends of the race along with state of the art scoring and tracking. The OA and RC must also enforce the appropriate safety regulations.

5) Big time course race regattas that do require laboratory conditions:
Race Management for events such as the Americas Cup, Olympics, ISAF World Cup events, World, Continental and National Championships and the gold standard big boat regattas must be held to a very high standard. The OA and RC must be top notch with the manpower, skill set and equipment to pull it off. The reason why these events are spread out over four or five days (or longer) is so that the RC can be selective about the weather and can abandon and restart a race if things turn out badly. These are the events that the RC can use all of their flags.

The modern race officer must be flexible enough to discuss the options with the OA and more importantly, listen to their customers and give them what they want.




The Publisher
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Dec 10, 2012, 3:21 PM

Post #15 of 16 (31376 views)
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From Russ Chapman, President, Mass Bay Sailing Assn:
Bill Gage's idea (ie, Category S for serious racing, Category F for fun racing) is simply fantastic! I only wish I had thought of it first. This should be implemented immediately by US Sailing and promoted to the RSA's and clubs.


From Tony Johnson:
Regarding Bill Gage's letter, it seems to me the San Francisco Bay area has tons of fun races as well as serious ones. The Great Pumpkin and the Three Bridge Fiasco and lots of beer can races are examples of somewhat less serious affairs. The America's Cup is at the other extreme. I think anyone can race at any level they choose, with no difficulty finding amusement.


Bruce Thompson
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Dec 11, 2012, 8:53 AM

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"...listen to their customers.." How true! One of the negative influences on racing back in the 1990's was when the judges tried to enforce rules that strictly forbade communication between the RC and the competitors lest one competitor might not be paying attention and then went whining to the jury for redress. Back then, the LMSRF Area III Race Management Committee went through a series of techniques so as to circumvent the judges. We started the first year by flying an "R" flag to indicate that "R"adio communication was allowed and failure to hear the broadcasts could not be used as a basis for redress against the RC. Progressively, over several years, this evolved into the "courtesty broadcast" that is now well established practice. At that time, they would have been illegal under prevailing judicial precedent.

But PROs have more power than judges with the The Powers That Be (TPTB) on the OA, as we bring in paying CUSTOMERS! Judges do not. Money talks. So we got our way. Before you know it, we even got the ISAF Rules on Outside Assistance changed too.

The moral of the story? Be nice to your RC and they might make it possible for you to have more fun.


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