A Conversation about Competition

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Sailing is that sport when, if you seek it out, you can compete against the best in the game. No other sport provides access to its elite athletes. There are amateur sailors that thrive on this, whereas others may like the idea at first, but soon find that getting hopelessly pummeled is no way to spend their recreational hours.

Heightened competition requires increased commitment in time and money. As a result, that level of play will appeal to fewer people. But what creates heightened competition? Certain classes have the history, such as the Star and Etchells, whereas newer high performance classes tend to attract the best sailors.

While there are exceptions, the general landscape in sailing is demanding more effort. The overall complexity has risen, whether it is in equipment or preparation. Costs keep increasing, so how do you hold down the bar to ensure you maximize participation? Here are three variables to consider:

• Culture: Managing the arms race through cooperation is powerful and healthy. As most people compete within established fleets in their local area, a strong social program can hold back the overzealous. Once a vibe is established, senior fleet members can educate new comers on what is expected.

• Format: The regatta trend toward more races a day and W/L courses does not create growth as both require more skill. Best sailors tend to win regardless of event format, but more people can feel competent when the daily schedule and technique required are minimized. Alternative courses and a race schedule that leaves energy for après sailing assures wider support.

• Sailor Classification: When all else fails, make rules. While boats have rules that define their one design status or derive their handicap rating, the unmeasured variable is onboard expertise. Two identical boats are not identical if one is sailed by weekend warriors and the other has America’s Cup veterans.

To provide events and classes with an international system for assessing expertise, the Sailor Classification Code was launched as a universal approach that provides a distinction between sailors who race only as a pastime (Group 1 – amateur) and sailors with a financial interest in the sport (Group 3 – professional).

The system took great pains to identify those marine industry professionals who were tilting the playing field, and while this wasn’t a perfect way to identify expertise, if the system was used it did theoretically control the influence of people whose income was connected to race outcome.

But the shortcoming in the system is how it assumes all Group 3 sailors have the same expertise, and it has become increasingly less perfect with the increase of Group 3 sailors who are not employed in the marine industry but rather derive their income from skippers willing to pay for their crewing services. – Read on

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