Changing the vibe for the joy of sport

Published on May 3rd, 2023

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
I’ve been binge-watching Boston Legal, the legal and comedy drama television series that originally aired in 2004-08. In one of the latter episodes, there was a case against a high school for causing the death of a student who was sleep deprived due to a heavy school workload. It was so familiar.

This topic, like many in the series, has only escalated. It’s revealing how the issues of today are nothing new, and in this episode, it was all about the pursuit to succeed, to get to the next level. There aren’t many areas of life that don’t feel this pressure, and Sailing is right in there among them.

It is ironic in how the single most significant hindrance to increasing regatta participation is competition. The harder people try to succeed, the fewer people are willing to do it. This was a general theme of my State of the Sport memorandum. We, as a society, just can’t not keep score.

But sometimes, when something so startling stops us, and allows us to see, then perhaps change can occur as revealed in this report from Larchmont Yacht Club in Larchmont, NY:

For over 25 years, Saturday morning model sailors kept score as competition, at times, was very competitive. From the very beginning, a high-point scoring system that was created by Bizzy Monte-Sano and Buttons Padin on an evening train from the City, accommodated the fact that not every boat would sail every race. Electronics or breakdowns often resulted in attrition throughout the morning’s sailing.

The key to the scoring, however, was the present week’s winner would be charged with bringing donuts the following week. Or, as in the case of Tom Wey who once said, “I like finishing second, then I don’t have to buy donuts,” a thunderous outcry from his fellow modelers demanding that he stop by Dunkin Donuts…just because.

It should be noted that these donuts would be enjoyed as the sailors prepped their CR-914s for the day. So, along comes the pandemic and the suspension of Club services and racing. Eventually, it was agreed that, rather than meeting on the Founders’ Porch, masked sailors would prep their boats on the Veranda and stand on the front dock an appropriate distance apart.

Then, there was an epiphany: it was so satisfying just to be back sailing, then why bother keeping score. The much-relaxed competition became racing model sailboats for the joy of the sport.

Racing was still performance oriented, but if someone gets hung-up at a start by a port tacker, there is no hesitation to restart the race. If someone is doing a horizon job on the fleet, they will stop and wait for the other boats to catch-up because sailing “in a group” is more fun than winning a race by a leg.

As the Larchmont Model Yacht Club sails on with its 30th season approaching in the near future, a new tone, a new sense of fun, and a new joy of model sailing has prevailed. Model sailing ends the morning of Commissioning, but you can get your own model, practice all summer, and be ready to “race” next fall.

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