Advertisement

A 1979 Interview With Paul Henderson

June 6, 2002
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

_At the 1979 IYRU Meeting, then-International Yacht Racing Union (the predecessor to ISAF) Vice President Paul Henderson submitted a radical proposal (see sidebar) to eliminate pumping, ooching, rocking, roll tacking, and virtually any other form of kinetic body energy from competitive sailing. His bio, which preceded the story, ran as follows:

Paul Henderson’s sailing background includes 36 years of competition, during which he actively campaigned Finns, Flying Dutchmen, International 14s, Solings, and, currently, Stars. He represented Canada in the Olympics in both Finns and FDs, along with claiming the FD U.S. Nationals title several times. He also finished third in the Finn North Americans. In Solings, he won the Atlantic Coast Championship, and in Stars, he finished third in the North Americans, won the last race of the 1978 Worlds and claimed a very respectable third in the recently completed Star Bacardi Cup.

At the administrative level, Henderson was a member of the working party that formulated the alternative provision of rule 60.3 (the “Black Flag” rule), which, when conditions merit, allows the race committee to signal competitors that they may now pump, ooch, rock, and scull as much as they desire. Besides being current Vice President of the IYRU, he is also a member of the Class Policy Committee.

Advertisement

The Henderson proposal, which follows, and the accompanying interview with the outspoken Canadian yachtsman provide a comprehensive look into an issue that may completely change the nature and future of smallboat racing._

YR/C: You’re suggesting some rather radical changes in IYRU policy through what has come to be referred to as “The Henderson Papers.” Some of the trends you’re protesting have been practically commonplace for a number of years. Why have you waited this long to submit your proposals?

HENDERSON: Well, actually, the ideas have been brewing in my mind for some time now. But only recently have I really come face-to-face with the problem-on the race course. What immediately comes to mind is when I went to the Ontario Sailing Center this past summer (1979) to give a lecture. Understand, the Center is on the edge of a little lake where waves in a hurricane probably wouldn’t get much over six inches. I had a chance to sail against some of the instructors and program participants in Lasers. In one race, I started right at the windward end, and I had this younger sailor tucked away-he was about a boat length behind and half a length to leeward. I mean, I really had him hammered. Anyway, the wind’s blowing 10 to 12 at that point, and everything’s looking good for me. All of a sudden, I see this guy start to bang and shove-you know, the whole body energy deal. Before I know it, he’s sailed right through me-to leeward! I know that without that extra movement, there’s just no way he could have broken through like that.

Advertisement

After that incident, I decided to do a little more active research. I’ve got a small outboard powerboat, one that allows me to get in close enough to l racers without getting in the way. I took it to CORK and paid a visit to the 420, 470, and FD courses.

On the 420 course, where the wind was blowing about five, I saw a 420 skipper on an offwind leg sitting to leeward, pumping the main by actually moving the boom in and out with his hand. And all the time, his crew is sitting to windward, bouncing up and

down, pumping the spinnaker and basically propelling the boat with his weight. I watched this team approach the windward mark, about two boat lengths behind another 420 in the same, light wind. So the guys behind threw in four quick roll tacks and just edged out the other boat at the mark.

Advertisement

YR/C: How about the other classes’ Did the same thing happen there?

HENDERSON: The 470s proved to be a real shocker. Everyone gets in position at the line, then, just before the gun goes off, they let their rudder float up. At the gun, they start sculling like mad-directly upwind! In the one race I watched, the fleet was sculling so hard that seven guys broke their rudders at the start and had to drop out. These same sorts of things-rocking, pumping, roll tacking, and sculling-were all common on the FD course as well.

YR/C: Did you attempt to do anything at the time you saw these things going on? Did you say anything to these competitors ?

Advertisement

HENDERSON: Yeah. When I saw the guys rocking and pumping their 420 offwind, I yelled at them. And they stopped, which indicates to me that maybe they think that sort of thing is wrong, too. After the race, I talked to them about roll tacking their way ahead of the other boat at the weather mark. I asked the skipper why he did that, and he said that he couldn’t get around the mark ahead of the other boat any other way. He said, “lt’s a tactical maneuver.”

I also talked with some of the upwind rockers and pumpers. I said, “Look, you’re pumping upwind. That’s illegal.” But one person replied, “No, I’m not pumping; I’m just quickly trimming.” As for the rocking, the same person justified his actions by saying that the rocking was due to the change in apparent wind caused by going over a wave. But when I think back to the conditions in that race, I get more waves in my bathtub.

YR/C: So what you’re saying is that these “illegal” movements are common in practically all classes, and that most of the sailors who utilize movement think they have a reasonable justification for it?

HENDERSON: That’s basically it. My point is that there has not been an active sailor who has legally sailed a race in the past couple of years. And it’s at all levels. We had an Optimist Pram North American Championship in Toronto a while back, and I see this 11 year-old kid walking down the dock with two rudders. I said to myself, “My God, things have become sophisticated around here.” So I said to the kid, “Why do you have two rudders?” And he replies, “One’s for light air and one’s for heavy air.” Then I asked, “What’s the difference between the two?” And he answered, in the truth of youth. “The light-air rudder’s designed so I that I can scull better.”

YR/C: And by your proposal you intend to see that all of this is outlawed?

HENDERSON: Not necessarily. We got to do one of two things, as wrote in my proposal. We’ve got either let it all go, or we can’t allow any of it. As it is right now, we’ve got some sailors who are sailing by the rules and not doing any of this body movement stuff, and they’re being taken advantage of by guys who’ll do practical anything-all of it illegal. They sail the “anything goes to win” rule, and if they get caught, they can usually come up with a defense to baffle the race committee, as many of the sailors I talked to did. But the problem is that this sort of attitude is starting to become more widespread-it even permeates the building of boats.

YR/C: But isn’t there a problem enforcing such rules, especially in large fleets?

HENDERSON: We’re the only sport that doesn’t have referees. If that’s what it would take to reverse the trend, then that’s what we have to go to. They’d go out on the course close to the competitors, they’d be paid, and they’d blow their whistles when they had to.

YR/C: Some of the young dinghy sailors have said that an “older” keelboat sailor couldn’t possibly understand the “aesthetic” relationship between body movements and modern dinghy racing.

HENDERSON: I think that originally the younger sailors, particularly, said, “Oh, he’s out of touch, etc., etc.” But as they got to know more about me, I’ve sensed a bit of a change. Now they say: “Look, he’s very abrasive, and he’s very outspoken, but he really does know what he’s talking about, and you should talk to him.” As far as the relationship between movement and racing goes, none of this is really very new. Marchaj listed them all in his book [Sailing Theory and Practice] over 20 years ago, and I learned a lot of them in junior sailing when I was about nine years old.

YR/C: What about some of the arguments sailors use to justify kinetics?

HENDERSON: I’ve had a lot of good discussions with a lot of these guys, and I’ve given solid consideration to what they’ve said. But there seems be a lot of changes in their stories, and I get the definite feeling that, as I initially suspected, they’re simply trying to justify something they know will make them fast, even though the rules specifically outlaw it. For instance, some of the justifications for pumping were interesting. I spoke to one of the leading “pumpers” early on, and he said that he was allowed to pump once on every wave pattern to promote planing. And I said, “even upwind?” “Oh yes,” he said, “I’m allowed to do that. We plane upwind, you know.” But I think I caught him there. “Read the rules,” I said. “The rules say you can pump to take advantage of the energy of the wave. And there’s no way you can take advantage of the energy of a wave by pumping when sailing upwind.” So later on I talked with thc same guy. He had changed his thoughts a bit. “What’s happening,” he said, “is that the wind direction is changing, and I’m really just sheeting quickly for the wind.” It’s kind of like them saying, “OK, pumping upwind won’t work to take advantage of the wave energy, so we’ve got to think of something new.” The answer, of course, was the apparent wind change. And I still don’t buy that. In a six-inch chop, how much is the apparent win changing one foot off the water? It not changing at all. And the speed of your boat isn’t changing, so your apparent wind isn’t changing.

YR/C: Some of these same sailors are also asking why kinetics should be banned when the sailors are in favor of it?

HENDERSON: Actually, not all sailors, not even all top sailors, are in favor of kinetics. One top singlehanded sailor told me he hadn’t sailed for a year because he didn’t have the time to prepare. He said that to win he would have to practice every day for six weeks to get his body in tune with the boat. Another time, a Windsurfer World Champion asked if there wasn’t something that could be done about kinetics. He said that he had a job and could only sail on weekends, and to at all competitive, with all the body energy being used, he would have give up everything just to get ready compete.

YR/C: Is it really possible to outlaw movement?

HENDERSON: I agree that saying you’re going to outlaw movement is extreme. Maybe the problem lies in definitions. It’s not so much the individual movement that bothers me-hiking out hard for a gust, moving aft for waves. What does bother me is the blatant repetitiveness. It’s simple harmonic motions-you know, like when you are pushing a kid on a swing. If you hit the swing at the right time, each time, the energy built up in that kid’s swing will be incredible. So any motion in a boat that’s repetitive and harmonic has got to go, whether it’s unweighting or something else. Unweighting, for instance, is not truly unweighting; it’s an absolutely straight harmonic motion. The same with pumping. That has nothing to do with the apparent wind or the waves; it’s just harmonic-building on energy. And rocking doesn’t even work right unless you do it in an absolutely harmonic, repetitive situation. If you rock out of harmony with the wind or the waves, you’ll do more harm than good.

YR/C: Do you think that some of the current definitions and interpretations of the rules might be at fault?

HENDERSON: In a lot of cases the rule is so wide you can’t enforce it. Nobody wants to enforce it. Who wants to sit around in a protest room for three hours? What it all boils down to is that the IYRU has to specifically state that this is legal or illegal. If the decision is to make it legal, then fine. Let everyone know, and let the races go on, whether there is wind or not. If the IYRU decides it’s illegal, then they simply have to do everything within their power to eliminate it. But either way, something’s got to be done.

YR/C: Well, where do we go from here?

HENDERSON: I think that what’s happened is that the gauntlets have been thrown down. Basically, since they passed my proposal through the Class Policy Committee, everything is illegal right now-pumping, ooching, rocking, torquing, roll tacking, the works. Now they’ve referred it back to a technical committee, and who knows what will happen. I think we may come to the conclusion that there’s 10 methods of propelling your boat by kinetic energy and then define, say, six methods as illegal and the other four as legal. Personally, I think it would be sad to stop athletic energy from being put into a boat on one of those absolutely beautiful downwind planing days. I love to get out there and kick and shove and fly down the waves just as much as anybody. What I’m absolutely against is the attitude of “Aw, the hell with it, let’s let everything go.” In the end, everyone wants the same thing-to clearly understand the rules so that they know what they can and can’t do on the race course.

Advertisement

More Racing

Advertisement