The Importance of Records

Published on November 16th, 2015

by Craig Leweck, Sailing World
Nothing directs mainstream media attention to sailing like a good accident. When Team Vestas Wind hit a reef in the Indian Ocean, the Volvo Ocean Race became a media darling. The visual of America’s Cup defender Oracle Racing’s AC72 self-destructing under the Golden Gate Bridge went viral overnight. It’s hard to beat a disaster story. But scripting such accidents is ill-advised, and not great press, either. For mainstream media, sailing also gets attention when it’s connected to another relatable experience — something rare, that involves preparation, risk and luck. We’re talking about setting and beating records.

We can all relate to records: how many days you can resist your guilty pleasure, how much time you can shave off your commute, or how many wieners a guy can scarf down in 10 minutes. There are also the more noteworthy records, like the longest free dive (200 meters), most balls juggled (11), or heaviest weight lifted with the toes (51 pounds).

Sports and records are inseparable. For a story to grab a reader’s attention, a record-­setting (or -breaking) headline is a clinch. To really matter, however, the record itself must be meaningful, and that is where sailing records seem to be running off the rails.

The most egregious are the non-record records, often to serve a sponsor: A sailor secures a salary, plots a course, and seeks media coverage for a “new record” — one with no existing benchmark. Then there are those record hunters who cherry-pick from a menu of trivial times. With the fast offshore multihulls and monster monohulls of today, one can lay claim to all sorts of rarely challenged offshore passages to feign importance: “Really, you’re the fastest from San Francisco to Shanghai? Fascinating!” Lesser records steal thunder from the iconic tracks.

Established race records have likewise become murky. Why be beholden to the unfavorable weather pattern of a scheduled offshore race when you can sail the same distance at your convenience, waiting for the ideal conditions to secure fast passage? Most prominent offshore races now have two records for the same distance: the actual race record and the course record. They are two very different benchmarks. For the 2015 Transpac Race, the 105-foot trimaran Lending Club 2 excused itself from the race and left three days early, grabbing a better weather window to set a new record and diverting the race spotlight to its own program. After the MOD70 trimaran Phaedo3 finished second in the slow 2015 Fastnet Race, it returned to the course a month later to blister the record. Why take a chance and race against people when a favorable forecast can assure you a footnote in the record books? – Full report

From the November/December 2015 edition of Sailing World.

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