As pro­fes­sional sailors pro­lif­er­ate the sport, those tasked with keep­ing tabs con­tinue to tweak the sys­tem.

Sailing World - - Contents - C O LUMNS

Those tasked with keep­ing tabs on pro­fes­sion­als seek to im­prove the sys­tem.

I re­cently came across a book I was given for my 10th birth­day 58 years ago, Suc­cess­ful Yacht Rac­ing by C. Stan­ley Ogilvy (W.W. Nor­ton & Co., 1951). Ogilvy was an ac­com­plished Star boat sailor, a PH.D. math­e­mat­ics pro­fes­sor and a pro­lific sail­ing writer. In his book, he wrote, “Aside from win­ning a to­ken prize [for win­ning a race] there is no ma­te­rial re­ward for ex­cel­lence. No pro­fes­sional man­agers wait on the dock, anx­ious to sign up the day’s win­ners on their teams. No scouts clus­ter around wav­ing con­tracts. The lack of tan­gi­ble as­sets con­nected with win­ning is the best thing that could have hap­pened to the sport. It means there is no place for the chis­eler afloat. In any other kind of race, ref­er­ees and of­fi­cials swarm over the course to see that no­body fouls out. In yacht­ing there are no ref­er­ees.”

All th­ese years later, the sport of sail­ing has changed dra­mat­i­cally. Pro­fes­sional sailors are ubiq­ui­tous, as are um­pires and judges. Try­ing to as­cer­tain who is ac­tu­ally a pro­fes­sional has been a work in progress. If sail­ing is to thrive in this new en­vi­ron­ment, defin­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween pro­fes­sional and am­a­teur is es­sen­tial. If we don’t do this prop­erly, too many am­a­teurs will fade from rac­ing.

Pay­ing for rac­ing- crew ser­vices and in­di­vid­ual coach­ing was vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent be­tween the end of World War II and the early 1990s. Over the past 20 years, how­ever, we’ve seen far more pros out on the wa­ter. In my town of An­napo­lis, Mary­land, some own­ers are even pay­ing for ex­perts to crew in Wed­nes­day-night races. One can ar­gue the trend has gone too far when pro­fes­sion­al­ism reaches week­night club rac­ing, and I’ve heard from many own­ers who grew tired of writ­ing checks and even­tu­ally left the sport. This might be the un­in­tended con­se­quence of re­ly­ing on pro­fes­sion­als, as Ogilvy writes, for “the re­ward of ex­cel­lence.”

Our for­mal sys­tem for clas­si­fy­ing sailors as pro­fes­sional or am­a­teur has been in place for more than 25 years. The need to de­fine in­di­vid­u­als who race as a pro­fes­sion is im­por­tant as re­gatta or­ga­niz­ers and classes try to ac­com­mo­date both. The clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem was orig­i­nally put in place by US Sail­ing, but over­sight mi­grated to World Sail­ing in 1997. Con­se­quently, the def­i­ni­tion of a pro­fes­sional sailor, and the process for mak­ing that de­ter­mi­na­tion, also has been evolv­ing, but there is still not a per­fect ap­pli­ca­tion.

A true am­a­teur or a true pro­fes­sional is fairly easy to de­fine. The many sailors who ex­ist be­tween the two groups present the greater chal­lenge. At one time, there were three cat­e­gories: Group 1 were am­a­teurs, Group 3 were pro­fes­sion­als and Group 2 sailors were de­fined as not be­ing in group 1 or 3. Un­for­tu­nately, re­gatta or­ga­niz­ers too of­ten lumped Group 2s in with the Group 3 pro­fes­sion­als. Rec­og­niz­ing the prob­lem, World Sail­ing elim­i­nated the Group 2 cat­e­gory in 2008.

When I joined the board of World Sail­ing in 2012, sailor clas­si­fi­ca­tion was one of the ar­eas I was as­signed to fol­low. I’ve been work­ing with Clas­si­fi­ca­tion Com­mis­sion chair­man Tom Rinda for the past five years. Rinda and his 10 com­mis­sion mem­bers (plus two ex of­fi­cio mem­bers), along with the World Sail­ing staff, have been fine-tun­ing the def­i­ni­tions and im­prov­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive process since drop­ping the Group 2 clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

At this writ­ing, there are 17,662 reg­is­tered Group 1 sailors in the world, from 153 coun­tries. Only 1,195 sailors are clas­si­fied as Group 3 sailors. Rinda and his com­mis­sion­ers would like to see more sailors reg­is­tered, which would al­low them to up­grade and im­prove the data­base in or­der to con­stantly tweak the sys­tem to “be as fair and dili­gent as pos­si­ble.”

Rinda would then like to ex­pand World Sail­ing’s ser­vices be­yond sim­ply as­sign­ing a clas­si­fi­ca­tion. “We need to of­fer more to sailors,” he says. “Be­ing on a list should help pro­fes­sional sailors and coaches mer­chan­dise their skills. Our pro­gram might serve as a clear­ing­house to help put own­ers and pro­fes­sional sailors to­gether. We could also of­fer fi­nan­cial ad­vice, like you find in other pro­fes­sional sports. This might in­clude how to han­dle in­ter­na­tional bank­ing. We could also pro­vide both par­ties with a tem­plate for con­tracts. There are cases where sailors have not been paid. We should be able to help.”

Coach­ing has be­come a vi­able ca­reer for many tal­ented sailors, and while they pro­vide good value to those who want to im­prove their per­for­mance, they also need to be clas­si­fied as pro­fes­sion­als, be­cause they work to en­hance per­for­mance, even if they are not on the rac­ing boat. Be­ing reg­is­tered can help them ad­ver­tise their ser­vices.

In the past, only the chair of the com­mis­sion was known to sailors, but World Sail­ing changed its pol­icy two years ago, and now all com­mis­sion mem­bers are pub­licly listed. The com­mis­sion meets each year to re­view its meth­ods and clas­si­fi­ca­tion cri­te­ria. I at­tended its most re­cent two­day meet­ing in Fe­bru­ary at World Sail­ing’s head­quar­ters in Lon­don. At­ten­dees spent a con­sid­er­able amount of time dis­cussing the cri­te­ria. Among the is­sues, and ques­tions they re­viewed, was an in­sight­ful let­ter from Don­ald Fin­kle, vice com­modore of the Youngstown YC in Up­state New York. Fin­kle takes par­tic­u­lar is­sue with the Clas­si­fi­ca­tion Code’s Ap­pen­dix 4, which de­fines that a Group 3 in­di­vid­ual has been paid to work (ex­cept coach­ing) in a ma­rine busi­ness or or­ga­ni­za­tion that re­quires knowl­edge or skill, is ca­pa­ble of en­hanc­ing the per­for­mance of a boat in a race and can be uti­lized by the com­peti­tor while on a boat when rac­ing.

“The prob­lem with the lan­guage is that it is too al­len­com­pass­ing and catches in its net many sailors who are not paid to sail but who work in the in­dus­try in some ca­pac­ity,” wrote Fin­kle. “The paid pro­fes­sion­als sail many more days and miles each year than the ma­jor­ity who work as bro­kers, rig­gers and oth­ers not paid to sail. It is time to limit Group 3 to paid pro­fes­sion­als.”

Fin­kle has a valid point. The ques­tion for the com­mis­sion is how to draw the line be­tween the pro­fes­sional and the am­a­teur. The gray area is where in­dus­try work­ers re­side. Try­ing to de­fine whether some­one en­hances per­for­mance ver­sus act­ing to ser­vice or main­tain a boat is im­por­tant. I have long main­tained that most peo­ple in the ma­rine in­dus­try have learned it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to make a liv­ing and still have time to en­joy the wa­ter. The com­mis­sion is study­ing the is­sue. There is an ap­peal process to han­dle clas­si­fi­ca­tion dis­putes. Three mem­bers of the com­mis­sion are as­signed to re­view each case. Fur­ther, there are a num­ber of ques­tions with an­swers to help sailors un­der­stand the cri­te­ria found on World Sail­ing’s web­site.

In 2017, World Sail­ing de­ter­mined that any sailor over the age of 70 would not be clas­si­fied as a Group 3 com­peti­tor. This year, the com­mis­sion is ad­vanc­ing a new sub­mis­sion that says any­one turn­ing 22 can be in Group 3. Cur­rently, the age limit is 24. There are many sailors be­tween the ages of 22 and 24 be­ing paid to sail as pro­fes­sion­als, and yet they are clas­si­fied as Group 1.

The vol­un­teer com­mis­sion mem­bers take their task se­ri­ously. “We work in the spirit of fair­ness,” says Rinda. “We don’t want to act as de­tec­tives. We rely on the clas­si­fi­ca­tion ques­tion­naires be­ing an­swered hon­estly.”

Rinda is con­fi­dent that 95 per­cent of ap­pli­ca­tions are ac­cu­rate. “But it is never go­ing to be per­fect, and that is why we keep up­dat­ing our meth­ods every year,” he says. “The sport is al­ways chang­ing, and we work to keep up with all the changes.”

I sug­gest all pro­fes­sional sailors reg­is­ter and work with the com­mis­sion to help fur­ther their ca­reers and im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for cur­rent and fu­ture boat own­ers. Many high-end rac­ing boats need pro­fes­sional sailors to keep every­one safe, as well as com­pet­i­tive, and there should be con­sis­tent and clear un­der­stand­ing of who is a pro­fes­sional and who is not. Mr. Ogilvy might be sur­prised how the sport has changed since he wrote his book in 1951, but I’m con­fi­dent he would be an ad­vo­cate for mak­ing sure the sail­ing was al­ways fair, and that every­one con­tin­ued to im­prove their skills on the wa­ter in the in­ter­est of ex­cel­lence. Q


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