Russell Coutts: Sailing needs more variety, less intensity
Published on June 2nd, 2014
Five-time America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts has been glancing beyond the Auld Mug a bit lately, and is wondering if the sport of sailing has evolved a bit too far for its own good. Here are his words…
In many ways, I think our sport needs to remember where it came from. I remember as a junior sailor, some of the most fun races were in this little bay in New Zealand called Paremata Bay, to the North of Wellington. We would race up and down this tiny tidal estuary, which had tons of current, and there were a lot of variables in play. We didn’t go out and set a triangle or windward-leeward course every time. We had a variety of courses, and it kept it interesting each time we went sailing.
As I got older, the races I enjoyed the most were in the Solent, where you have all the variables. Some people might contend that it’s not real racing when you are forced to avoid sand bars and random currents, and the local knowledge weighs so heavily. But the really good sailors can read the currents and recognize the different wave patterns. When you are really tuned in, you can see it like colors. With the water variables, and you have the wind affected by geographic obstacles, I think these factors add to the interest in the race.
Fact is, if you put a few obstructions in a race course, are forced to race around certain things, add some current, and then have to make decisions based on this variety of considerations, I find it to be pretty interesting. Personally as a sailor, I prefer a course like that compared to what we find more so today.
I watched the Optimist Champs in New Zealand recently, and they took the fleet way out to sea, far from where parents could watch. And then there was this enormous fleet of chase boats. So I thought about the expense of this plan, and whether the focus was for these kids to be having fun. Why couldn’t they run it right off the beach, where the parents could see, and where the kids would be challenged by the variable conditions? Dealing with the land wind shifts, and maybe the current in the water, are important skills. That’s sailboat racing, plus it makes its fun too.
I think we have gotten carried away over the years, particularly for the kids, with this mandate that we need to take the course out to sea, where the conditions won’t be affect by land. The sailing for these kids has gotten too intense. I think they were having four races a day. Whatever happened to the kids actually playing some games onshore? Are we losing sight of the social direction?
People wonder why the kids are leaving the sport. Heck, I don’t blame them… it’s so frigg’n intense. For a kid that’s 12 or 13 years old, I don’t blame them to look for something more fun. These kids have plenty of intensity later on in life. Having all the training, getting pushed by coaches, spending all weekend racing… there comes a point when it is just too much.