Maybe the Modern Age Isn’t What Everyone Wants

Published on July 31st, 2013

By Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
When there are over 110 boats set to compete in the Thistle Class National Championship, which will be held in Sandusky, Ohio on August 3-9, you’d think the class must be doing something right to attract such enthusiasm.

But when this same class appears resistant to evolve into the modern age, I stop to consider that maybe the modern age isn’t what everyone wants.

A post on the class website clarifies its position on electronic devices…

Rule 65. Electronic or electrical devices, such as electronic compasses and other electronic navigational instrumentation, shall not be used. Electronic starting timers and stop watches are not prohibited by this CMR (class measurer’s rule) and may be used.

Rule 74. From the time a boat leaves the dock until she has finished the last race of the day, returned to shore, or has been instructed to return to shore by the Race Committee, no electronic or electrical devices shall be used to gather information about conditions, monitor performance, communicate between boats, communicate sailing related information, or in any other way benefit or influence a boat’s racing. Communication in any form is permitted to request or to provide assistance in an emergency.

The focus of the report is safety. The class is not saying boats can’t have a cell phone or VHF radio onboard; they are just limiting their use.

My guess is that the elite sailors want to actively use the electronic equipment, but the majority of the class is opposed to changing this rule. I witnessed this vote at the Thistle Midwinters West, and spoke to several top sailors about it. They were frustrated, as the other classes they race in allow this equipment. But not the Thistle class.

It brought to mind a report that Scuttlebutt published about growing the sport. In that report, long time one-design sailmaker and champion Dave Ullman made the point of where the focus of a one design class administration needs to aim.

“So often we listen to the top tier of competitors, the top 10%. But if the mission is to build or even sustain growth in a class of boats, that is the wrong segment to focus on. The focus must be more toward the middle.”

Maybe the Thistle class is listening to the middle.

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