Sailing sportsmanship and Paul Elvstrom

Published on April 15th, 2019

by Joe Cooper
For some of us, there are questions wafting around regarding the direction the ethical and moral aspects of our sport are taking.

I am pleased to report that in at least one part of the sailing community, one I am heavily involved with, High School Sailing, the sailors are acting in exactly the way The Great Dane might have been thinking on when he spoke, or wrote, his famous guiding phrase on sportsmanship in the racing of sailing boats.

“If in the process of winning, you have lost the respect of your competitors, you have won nothing.” – Paul Elvstrom

It was on April 13 in Bristol, RI when one of the several qualifying regattas for progression to the 2019 George O’Day Memorial Regatta was being conducted. Towards the end of the day, the likely qualifiers were coming to the surface, separated by a few points.

In one race, The Prout School (Wakefield, RI), which I have the privilege to coach, was called OCS. They returned and started cleanly but had, naturally enough, a shocker of a race.

The skipper, a skilled, experienced, and capable young woman, was upset more than the placing might warrant due to the fact the boat to leeward of them and ahead by the length of the bow of a C420, was not called OCS. A request for redress was lodged based on the failure of the RC to (also) call the leeward boat OCS.

The skipper of the leeward boat, from Moses Brown School (Providence, RI), acted as a witness for the Prout sailor’s request. This young woman, a contemporary of, and mates with, the Prout skipper, stated that she was next to the Prout boat and ahead of them when the Prout boat was called OCS.

In the request for redress, the Prout sailor asked for her place to be changed to average points for the races to date. This request was granted by the Protest Committee which moved the Prout boat from 8th to 3rd for that race.

However, in moving Prout from 8th to 3rd, the change in scores was sufficient to move Moses Brown out of the top three and put Prout in the top (qualifying) three to compete the following day for the George O’Day Trophy … instead of Moses Brown.

When the two sailors realized this, the Prout sailor was a bit stunned that she had inadvertently bounced her mate out of a top spot. When she informed her mate, said mate replied that it didn’t matter, it was what happened, that “you would have done the same thing” and it was the right thing to do.

When I presented this situation to the Moses Brown coach, after the fact, he looked unsurprised and said, roughly, “Yup, that sounds about right,” with respect to the actions of his sailor.

If only all our sailboat racing would be conducted by such outstanding people.

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