pros and cons – XS Sailing

What is it about us humans (especially men) that makes us so competitive? The days of fighting to win partners, food, and territory ended eons ago. We are no longer on the survival-of-the-fittest treadmill. Yet still the urge to prove ourselves stronger, smarter or more skillful drives many of us to the edge of reasonable behavior. Even in such a rules-based sporting environment as sailing this motivation to dominate seems unstoppable.

Everyone likes to win on the water, but at what cost? To my mind, it is simplistic to view this problem only from the perspective of dollars spent on boats, sails, and rigs. Vast amounts were expended a century ago on America’s Cup campaigns equivalent to today’s obscene budgets for the same event. The crucial difference is that back then, at the more modest levels of club and national competitions, the prevailing ethic was Corinthian. It was assumed that a true ‘sporting’ contest where the only prizes were trophies was between amateurs.

Today, professionalism in sailing is so widespread that it is accepted in classes and regattas previously considered to be the natural preserves of those who competed for love, not money.  The effect of this goes well beyond the impact of ‘hired gun’ rock star skippers and crew. Professionalism in sailing has become a whatever-it-takes attitude that purports to justify hyper-aggressive tactics and rule-bending.

Consider just one example. There seems little doubt that the J/70 has become the world’s most popular new sports keelboat class. They are terrific, affordable little craft and, as befits a good one-design, offer consistently close racing. That principle is reflected in the very first words of the current Class Rules of the International J/70 Class Association:

“The J/70 Class has been created as a strict one-design class wherein the true test while racing is between crews and not boats and equipment. The fundamental objective of these Class Rules is to ensure that this concept is maintained.” 

A fine sentiment, and one with which we might hope that any decent sailor would agree. But here’s the reality: the major J/70 championships are now divided into ‘Open’ and ‘Corinthian’ divisions. (i.e. professional and amateur). There is even a ‘One Pro’ sub-classification, presumably for owners on limited budgets who don’t think they can sail well enough to compete with the hot-shots.

Jump in the thread to discuss

– anarchist David

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