When casual conflicts with cooperation

Published on June 17th, 2021

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
The sport of sailing survives by the cooperation of its participants. The more the rules are respected, and consideration is given to fellow competitors, the better off it endures. But competition can create unnerving emotion which erodes the value of participation. If people aren’t having fun, they leave.

Rules expert Dave Perry once told me how he was not a fan of the mid-week beer can races, which surprised me as they tend to be the most popular events in any harbor. His point was how the casual atmosphere impacts our respect for the rules, and that without rules there is anarchy.

Perry is right of course, as there’s a reason why street intersections have traffic control and the sport has the Racing Rules of Sailing. Cooperation needs guidelines.

Our beer can series in San Diego is well attended, and as the eighth start, watching the earlier fleets gives us plenty to absorb. Aside from getting a sense of the start line and first leg strategy, it’s pretty entertaining too, and the highlight is always the class ahead of us as two Ericson 35-2s regularly tangle at the start.

A southerly wind direction skewed the upwind leg, requiring a port tack start, and these two Ericsons were on port approach at the pin end, overlapped and ready for another tussle. But port tack starts often have that one starboard tacker to disrupt the plan, and this start was no different.

With time running out, and faced with no alternative, the leeward Ericson bore off to duck, altering what would have been a well-planned launch off the line. However, the windward Ericson, apparently, did not want to make a similar sacrifice, with the starboard boat needing to bear off as they crossed.

Shaking my head, I turned my focus to our start, but later spoke to crew on both boats. The Ericson that ducked, and went on to win the race, shook it off as a beer can moment. However, one of the crew on the Ericson that appeared to foul the starboard boat didn’t seem too stoked with what occurred.

For the boat on starboard, my guess is they weren’t too stoked either, and as Perry observed, the casual atmosphere of beer can racing deters protests, and in the absence of a mechanism to enforce guidelines, the health of the game can suffer.

Do you have a rules story? Send it to editor@sailngscuttlebutt.com.

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