Better Isn’t Always Best

Published on May 19th, 2020

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
When I released The State of the Sport in 2020, it was intended to offer a wide view of the variables influencing participation. However, now that competitive sailing is impacted by health guidelines to limit the COVID-19 spread, this section has additional relevance:

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At some point in time our pursuit of perfection took over our weekend regattas, and every course configuration became windward-leewards, and every event took on the format of a world championship.

So for decades now we have been promoting a plan that emphasizes excellent crew work, refined tactics, elite speed, and in handicap racing, benefits modern boats that have efficient layouts. Plus now, the trend has been to get as many races in a day as possible.

We have effectively squeezed out the casual competitors, and worse, socializing may be getting sacrificed too.

None of this is a growth formula, but conversely we see great participation when events set the tone through shorter days, random courses, and strong after parties. There is a reason why mid-week racing is so popular.

While certain events should hold high standards and perfect course types, the lunchbox crowd can’t be forgotten. However, changing the NOR isn’t enough if seeking to bring people back to the sport. You’ve got to pull out your landline, dial numbers, and convince people it is safe to come out and play again.
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I’m also reminded of an article I wrote for the April 2014 edition of Sailing World magazine on the topic:

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We’ve refined the perfect windward/leeward racecourse. Our perfect race officers wait for the perfect wind, and our perfect race crews exhibit perfection. There is nothing wrong with this, except not every regatta is a championship. We need to curb our obsession with the pursuit of excellence. The fun is getting squeezed out.

The desire to improve, to make things better, is commendable and expected. This is trickle down from elite events like the Olympics and the America’s Cup. Some of it is trickle up from refined junior racing teams. Plus, top sailors are often the most active, and likely the most vocal. They want to excel in the big regattas, so they must prepare. This has caused the little events to look more like the big ones. But better isn’t always best.

Is the current race format—with big colored inflatable marks aligned perfectly to the wind—offering racers a highly tactical windward/leeward course, but not what they really want?

Stan Honey, the mastermind behind the perfect America’s Cup broadcast, doesn’t necessarily think so. “Maybe folks figure that well-run windward/leeward races in open water, run by professional PROs, tend to get won by the same folks, and so folks that are unlikely to do well lose interest.” – Read on

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