A Corinthian Co­nun­drum

Play nice or play to win? It’s the com­pet­i­tive tus­sle we have ev­ery time we line up to race.

Sailing World - - Starting Line -

O I was racing on an owner-driven J/70 at a re­cent re­gatta, and we were a lit­tle early while ap­proach­ing the start. We luffed our sails to slow. Then I saw it: a boat com­ing in from be­hind with speed. We bore away to ac­cel­er­ate and de­fend our hole, but we were too slow to match its speed. The other boat, crewed by an ex­pe­ri­enced match racer, sailed close to lee­ward and luffed us. We tried to re­spond but it was so close, there was noth­ing we could do to keep clear. It sailed into our luff­ing jib and hailed “Protest.” We ar­gued for a mo­ment and then did our penalty cir­cle, even though we didn’t feel we’d fouled. We felt we had done all we could to keep clear, but our chances would be slim in a protest, and more im­por­tant, our so­cial hour after sail­ing would be wasted in the protest room.

The ex­pe­ri­ence got me think­ing about the way we in­ter­act with our com­peti­tors. Yes, we got too close to the line and had to slow, and I should have seen them com­ing sooner, so there’s no deny­ing we put our­selves in a vul­ner­a­ble spot. How­ever, my ex­pe­ri­ence is that typ­i­cally in this sce­nario, the lee­ward boat sim­ply pre­vents the weather boat from get­ting a good ac­cel­er­a­tion rather than forc­ing them to spin cir­cles. Know­ing the tac­ti­cian of the other boat, I should’ve been aware that a more pun­ish­ing out­come was likely, but my mind was in the mode of friendly Corinthian sail­ing, not stick- it- to- them, elim­i­nate- the- com­pe­ti­tion match racing.

I won­dered af­ter­ward: What are the so­cial rules of play for quasiCorinthian classes like the J/70? Is it no-holds-barred, use the rules to pun­ish the other guy racing? Or should the rules be ap­plied to sim­ply pre­vent boats from hit­ting each other? I have no prob­lem racing ei­ther way, and I en­joy us­ing the rules for tac­ti­cal ad­van­tage my­self, but I won­der if the racing would be more fun for ev­ery­one if top teams ap­plied a softer ap­proach?

I also won­der whether it’s nec­es­sary to do all you can to slow the boats around you at the start, even if it does not im­prove one’s own start? The sit­u­a­tion I ex­pe­ri­enced is a com­mon one: Two boats are over­lapped ap­proach­ing the line, and the lee­ward boat dic­tates when the weather boat can put the bow down and go. They can do this in such a way that the weather boat can still get off the line, al­beit com­pro­mised, or they can try to crush the weather boat with a late and high-speed build. Why is it nec­es­sary or even de­sir­able to do that if it doesn’t im­prove your own start?

And here’s an­other one to con­sider: Do we treat boats dif­fer­ently de­pend­ing on who is on board? Per­son­ally, I tend to be a lit­tle more re­laxed about rules com­pli­ance when the other boat is less skilled, but is that re­ally the right at­ti­tude? Ev­ery class has an in­nate com­pet­i­tive spirit. Some classes are cut- throat, oth­ers are more ca­sual. These are so­cial rules, how­ever, not racing rules. I be­lieve it’s im­por­tant to try to em­brace the ethos of the class, even it means oc­ca­sional com­pro­mises in com­pet­i­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties. In a grand-prix class, for ex­am­ple, it might be ac­cept­able to drive an­other boat back in the fleet to beat them in the re­gatta, while in a grass-roots class, that might be con­sid­ered a breach of eti­quette.

I am in no way ques­tion­ing the skills or ethics of the other team in my story. They were marginally within their rights to try to make us do a penalty turn, and they skill­fully ex­e­cuted a very ag­gres­sive ma­neu­ver. But just be­cause you can do some­thing doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Q

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