Will gamers rule the sport this decade?

Published on November 3rd, 2020

Keels were once fixed, and now they can cant. Winches once required strength, but now a button can spin the drum. Cordage is stronger, lighter, and safer. Turning blocks are more efficient. The equipment keeps evolving, improving, and generally becoming more expensive.

As was detailed in The State of the Sport in 2020, advances in the sport now require additional funds to remain competitive, but an even greater shift is the influence of computers in making decisions and steering boats. This view comes from Geoffrey Emanuel of Falmouth, Maine:

Our sport has traditionally involved human skill attempting to master wind, weather, seas navigation and a man-made creation with its own long list of variables and challenges. This juggling act of such a wide variety of tasks is a true test of skill, perseverance, and desire, and the primary attraction for many sailors.

Since the introduction of electric powered instruments, our sport has evolved away from a purely human endeavor towards one where technology is considered by some to be essential to achieve the desired outcome.

Clearly some technology like VHF radios, AIS, and GPS has gratefully increased our safety. But others, like navigation software and the latest autopilots, have forever altered the importance of human input. Before these technologies, humans’ actions were the only critical and deciding factor. Now, one’s mastery of electronics’ operation may, at times, supersede human sailing skill.

Technological advances have resulted in increases in sailing performance. And I would agree that without technology, some of these performance advances would be out of reach. However, do we really want our sport to be transformed from a pure test of human achievement to one more like a video game?

Have a comment? Send to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

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