Different strokes for different folks

Published on November 5th, 2020

The beauty of sailing is in the choices of how to go sailing, and the range of differences continues to grow. As Latitude 38 publisher John Arndt reports, different strokes for different folks is a good thing as long as we recognize the differences:

Sailing has an almost infinite number of choices, and it’s most important for classes and events to make clear to participants the role they’ve chosen for money, technology, and human involvement.

If you like singlehanded dinghy sailing, you could choose a Sunfish or a foiling Moth… just know there’s a big difference in cost and commitment required to reach the podium. The same should be clear in big boat racing.

There should be room in the world for events like the Vendee Globe and America’s Cup where technology rules, but there also needs to be low-cost, technology free, or technology lite boats. For me, I find electronics a big distraction to sailing, and prefer to look at pieces of yarn on the shrouds than digital screens.

In the same vein, some of my favorite albums are Eric Clapton or Rod Steward ‘Unplugged’ and think it would be great to offer races that were ‘Unplugged’ – no technology allowed. Wet your finger and stick it in the air to see which way the wind blows.

Generally speaking, the less technology and money required between the athlete and the podium, the more interesting the competition and more acclaimed the victory. Watching the Star Sailors League Finals was more interesting than watching the last America’s Cup.

There are very few other sports where you can spend so much on technology to gain a competitive edge (auto racing being another). Golf, tennis, the 100 yard dash, baseball, soccer are all great sports because they’re dominated by the humans playing them and not the equipment being used.

For sailing, there should be classes where autopilots, electric winches, and any number of other electronic wizardry are allowed. Perhaps there should be a class where humans are banned and only technology is allowed. The real challenge is the murky boundary between what’s allowed and how various bits of technology fit into some rating scheme.

A victory in the Finn class or the Sunfish will always be a much purer victory than one aided by millions of dollars of technology. Fully crewed boats shouldn’t race against singlehanders, and somehow some lines need to be drawn between high tech/high price and low tech/low price.

The fortunate thing for sailing is we don’t have to make the decision for the whole sport. The TP52s and all the other high tech classes are awesome but that’s a game for someone else. My personal choice is less technology (and money) but I’ll still enjoy following the Vendee Globe and the America’s Cup once there’s actual racing.

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