Babies and bathwater

Published on August 13th, 2015

by Paul Cayard, Seahorse
When I first sailed in the Star class, Bill Parks an engineer and bronze medalist from Chicago, was class president. Malin Burnham followed the next year with his JFK looks and smooth delivery. Ding Schoonmaker, Jimmy Allsopp and Dennis Conner were the World Champs the three preceding years and Buddy Melges won the next two before Blackaller got his second title in 1980.

The year was 1977 and no one would think of going to a prizegiving dinner without a blue blazer, grey slacks and tie. Most blazers had the Star Class emblem sewn on them. If you were a World or Continental champion you wore a Gold or Silver Star tie, proudly. Everyone attended the annual meeting the day before the first race of the World Championship to review and vote on the class rule changes.

At my yacht club, the St. Francis, in the same timeframe, there was a men’s grill, a lady’s lounge, a junior room and a sail locker in which to hang wet spinnakers. You could not eat in the upstairs dining room without a blazer and tie for men, and a dress or skirt for the ladies. I went to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in 1978 and you could not board the launch boat that took you to the island from the mainland without the same type of attire.

I remember during the 1983 America’s Cup in Newport, double breasted blazers, team ties, and white slacks were typical team uniforms. Every member of any team had to wear the uniform at the important events around the Cup.

Some people considered all this pomp and circumstance stuffy, cumbersome and unnecessary. I may have even been among them at the time. I think a certain level of dress etiquette was the norm so we didn’t know any different.

Going to prizegivings, opening ceremonies and event dinners were special events that left a strong mark on my memory. There was a lot of tradition associated with these events. I remember being chosen to hoist the American flag at the opening ceremony for the Star Worlds in 1989. I was proud to have that honour. The dress code gave these events importance. You had to get prepared to go to these events.

You had to spend time making sure your shirt was pressed and your shoes were shined. All of the pomp and circumstance, along with the dress, made the experience impressive and memorable to a teenager like me. The Star Class and the yacht club garnered the respect bestowed upon them with the conditions they required to be in attendance. I remember those days as special.

Our society has shifted in 40-years. Nowadays, almost no one wears a blazer to events at sailing regattas. Most people don’t event bring a blazer to regattas as it’s a hassle and it will just get wrinkled in their duffle bag. People stand around in T-shirts and flip flops at opening ceremonies and just hope it will end quickly. Most show up in jeans and maybe an un-tucked, button down shirt. You can go out to a bar right after the dinner or ceremony and fit right in with the crowd. I get that we are trying to be sailing and not yachting. I understand that casual is more comfortable, less expensive etc; but it’s also not special.

I know it isn’t just sailing that is changing. I remember being in Italy in the early 2000s when Luca de Montezemelo, then chairman of Confindustria, Italy’s association of large industrial companies, declared that ties were a thing of the past. In Italy! I remember thinking he was right.

As I sit here today, I must say that I miss the tradition and the special feeling a dress code gave to our sailing events. Tradition breeds discipline and respect, core concepts in any society. I would like important sailing events to be special again. In the halls of ISAF, I think they still wear blazers regularly. But I am speaking about the competitors.

I think it is cool when you see a 4-year-old in a little suit or blazer and slacks coming out of a church on Sunday. That is probably the only day of the week he wears his blazer but that makes church that much more special.

I am not saying we should require blazers and ties all the time, but I believe we should make certain events within a regatta special again. I remember idolizing everything about Malin, Buddy, Durward and Ding. I did what I could on the water to be like them and followed their lead ashore too. That’s why I wore my blazer and why I looked forward to it.

I need to float this opinion while there are still people alive who know what I am talking about. Whether we get some tradition back or not, I toast those of you who set the tone around the Star Class and the St. Francis Yacht Club in my youth. I remember it fondly and with respect.

Ben Ainslie, Oracle Team USA's tactician, drinks from the America's Cup trophy after their 9-8 win

This report is provided courtesy of Seahorse (September 2015), a magazine dedicated to international performance sailing, with contributions from a team of contributors that include some of the key players in the sport of sailing. Additional details here.

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