Defining the Approach to Competition

Published on July 30th, 2018

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
When 66 teams line up for the of the 2018 Thistle National Championship being held July 30 to August 3, this healthy turnout is traveling to Westport, CT to sail a 70+ year old design that is agony to hike on and lacks modern features.

What are these people thinking?

Looking at the entry list, many are relishing a week of sailing with family. Half the crews share last names, and the number is likely higher given the propensity for inbreeding. The Thistle class is a family. Boats don’t make a class… people do.

US Sailing past president and Thistle class stalwart Tom Hubbell believed three person boats had that advantage. If somebody got pregnant or otherwise sidelined, boats stayed on the water by plugging in a third wheel. Plus, with an ideal total crew weight of under 500 pounds, a Thistle team includes all genders and ages. That translates to family.

But these days, nothing upsets the apple cart more so than when the field of play for competition is disrupted.

The class has had a longtime policy of limiting the acquisition of sails to one suit (main, jib, spinnaker) per calendar year. Not great for the sailmakers but immensely important for minimizing the gap between the casual competitor and the elite teams.

But the other popular advantages these days are professional crew and coaching support. Like all other variables that contribute to performance, it is fair game to use what the rules permit to seek an advantage. But similar to sail limits, managing the investment required to compete supports the notion of maximizing participation.

I recall when the 2012 Thistle Nationals were held in San Diego, and I imagined how vital a support boat would be to performance. It was a long sail to the course, the racing venue was not well understood, and there were no limitations in the rules for receiving outside assistance. Yet, not one team had a support boat.

This was due to how the class had deep roots in Corinthian competition, but as I stated in an April 2017 report for Sailing World, if a class likes how their culture handles certain issues, it might be time to firm up the rules to keep them that way.

So it was of interest, when reviewing the documents for the 2018 Thistle Nationals, to see the class was very specific in addressing this issue.

In the Notice of Race it stated, “No competitor may be paid to sail in this event, and private coaching is not allowed in this event, as per TCA Bylaw Article IX, Section.”

Referring to that section in the Thistle Class Association (TCA) Constitution it states:
The Thistle Class Association promotes racing between Corinthian teams.
(a) No helmsman or crew member may be paid to sail in any TCA sanctioned race. A signed declaration of compliance with this provision by all participants at a TCA sanctioned regatta may be required at the discretion of the Executive Committee and in a form it specifies. A team member who receives reimbursement or payment for reasonable travel and living expenses to participate in a TCA sanctioned event shall not be viewed as being paid to sail in the event.
(b) Private on the water coaching is not permitted at TCA sanctioned events. At TCA sanctioned events, no private Coach boats shall enter the area where boats are racing from the time of the first warning signal of the day until racing has been concluded for the day. A TCA class Coach boat, approved by the Class Executive Committee or by a Regatta Organizing Committee designated by the Executive Committee may provide coaching to a wide range of competitors to enhance all competitors’ enjoyment of the event.
The sport of sailing takes many forms, and the rules we use to compete guide our approach to the competition. Defining that approach results in the kind of participation and competition that can be expected.

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