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Please, can we have our reach legs back?

Published on March 21st, 2023

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
When I wrote The State of the Sport in 2020, the theme was to highlight the variables that were impacting participation. The bullet points were not new; many had been repeated ad nauseum in Scuttlebutt. The document was my attempt to pull it all together.

Among the oldest of these issues is race course configuration, which Sailing World magazine highlights in a report by 2-time Sunfish World Champion Derrick Fries who makes an 800+ word pitch for alternatives to windward/leeward racing. Never too late…

But it is notable this report follows the magazine’s Sailing World Regatta Series – San Diego event in which the only division with alternative courses attracted just one monohull. However, this has everything to do with poor execution, so hopefully the professional event staff will get inspired by Fries’ report:

Back when I was racing Sunfish and Force 5s, I absolutely loved reaching legs: the spray in my face, water squirting through the centerboard truck, the thrill of broaching and being on the razor edge of control in big breezes. Even light air reaching was fun because we were suddenly going a whole lot faster than would if sailing dead downwind.

But there was more to reaching than speed. It required the special racing skills of maintaining maximum speed while passing (and hopefully not being passed) by other boats.

Alas, the thrill is gone, thanks to the onset of windward-leeward courses, which are designed to give boats that are behind a chance and create greater opportunities for passing. I have a short attention span—perhaps my greatest accomplishment was remaining in a seat for 11 years of college, but when windward/leeward racing started several decades ago, it left me hugely disappointed, and I suddenly found racing boring.

Up and down with not much excitement, no speed downwind, and generally, no planning. I even drifted away from the sport in search of speed elsewhere, discovering it in triathlons. Swimming became my upwind, biking aboard a high-performance machine my reach, and running my downwind. An overstatement? Perhaps, but my hyperbole raises the question: why did we adopt the windward/leeward paradigm? – Full report

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