Forging a way out of this black hole

Published on September 19th, 2022

Among the advantages of aging is the accrued wisdom. Whether you better see the forest through the trees, or gain that 50,000-foot aerial view on an issue, it is a perspective not always held by those in sailing leadership.

With so much of the sport guided by volunteers, decisions are often influenced by the most active and competitive people whose desires may not include the bigger picture.

It can all lead to something like Howard Beale’s cry in the 1976 film Network – “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

In this report by Mario Sampaio, he lets off some steam from Cascais, Portugal:


In the last half century our community has intoxicated the waters with the wrong ideas about what sailing is all about (and it sure isn’t about the equipment).

After all, some of the most fun and competitive sailing one can do in any sailing venues around the globe is on age old half broken floating tubs and if you don’t get that you may not belong here? Let’s face it, sailing is about taming the wind (or taming our mind when there’s none) on whatever sailing floating platform, physical location, and circumstance we happen to be in.

It’s a gradual process like with most everything we learn in life but it’s about personal/team achievement against the elements and fleet competitors.

The focus ought not to be on the additional expense required to achieve the extra half knot of boat speed but how to be better sailors. No equipment makes up for unforced errors and we all make them many times repeatedly, over and over again, so it’s not about equipment at all if we dare to be honest! It’s about practice!

The cost alone of any race winning competitive dinghy today is prohibitive for the majority of countries. Let’s face the undeniable facts when we also want numbers to increase. This is ludicrous; is there even the need for a discussion? Why isn’t this miserable condition not more obvious to us all?

So we follow the money and bingo! We get the full picture, marketing has arrived (talk about creating false expectations) and television and all the acrobatic desperation to make more dosh, lots of it preferably.

That’s my perspective on the status quo. Here’s my take from a conceptual perspective to sort this out:

1. Strictly Corinthian local club environment that teaches children to act safely at sea and learn how to sail in all the age old dinghy classes. Corinthian says that if I hit a mark or competitor I retire or accept penalty without argument. And please do not make the Olympics a pro event. Olympic and professional are antonyms … hello? Or is it all fake? Because if it is all fake, I say screw the Olympics; let’s go Corinthian. this exaggerated insane pressure to win at any cost, killed our sport. really simple)

Conversely, the O’pen Skiff Europeans started by awarding a prize to the very last competitor, than the youngest one and to the one who overcame the toughest circumstance out there, and so on, immediately the family/unity/inclusion magic button turns on, kids rejoice together, they forge friendships, as we did, some for life. Its back to basics, sailing 101; what a healthy practice to stimulate losers and help winners to stay humble. It’s about healthy community practices and not rock stardom.

2. Define professional classes/events but keep them separate/in parallel from Corinthian events, nationals, continental, and world championships. Naturally sailors will make individual choices as to which direction they would like to develop their sailing life in future. One or the other according to their personal preferences. But once a pro there’s no returning to Corinthian.

3. Coaches: some top coaches are known to get result-driven salary bonuses that are xxx rated… what sort of behavioral practices does that incentivize? I saw with my eyes kids on shore at the club, who couldn’t stop moving their arms in the prohibited sailing motions nor talk to their families at home during the Worlds… this isn’t sailing. It’s something else altogether that I don’t even dare to qualify here.

I don’t care how many coaches anyone decides to contract and have hanging around them, but only in the pro circuit. In any Corinthian regatta there ought to be zero. coach boats on the race course (much like you don’t take your private teacher to the exam).

4. Define and categorize dinghy/all boat classes into at least two distinct groups, easier less complicated more resilient less expensive existing classes all the way to a foiler, 49er star or Finn; and the same for pro events such as for example, TP52s, IMOCAs, most offshore multis, and may many more classes which are not and will never be Corinthian boats by any measure
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This would be a good solid starting point for in depth discussions to forge a way out of this black hole! It’s not black and white but it really doesn’t take rocket science either. What’s needed is the strength not to succumb to greed, blind ambition, and unethical behavior. Regrettably, it’s been the money that’s been doing the talking, and that’s the problem.

When I started, sailing was, above all, a school for life, a platform to practice honorable actions following strict voluntarily self-imposed ethical principles, and having a load of fun and feeling a sense of personal achievement in the process. That’s what kept sailing healthy and popular, and what is needed again to help maintain the sport.

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