Moral Dilemma at the Windward Mark

Key West 2011: A sticky situation encountered on the starboard layline has me questioning my obligations as a team member.

January 21, 2011
Sailing World


Very weird day today. We postponed onshore for an hour because of no wind and fog, then the race committee sent us out, even though it was still really foggy, sometimes visibility of 100 meters or less. Most of us eventually found the RC despite our total lack of navigation equipment (herd mentality). They started a sequence but then realized they could not see the other end of the line! Eventually the fog cleared, and we had two light races.

My boat was involved in an incident yesterday at the first windward mark. It raised some issues for me. We had overstood coming into the mark on starboard, and one of our competitors (and my friends) were coming in on port. They tacked to leeward just before the mark. I thought they completed their tack in time, and anyways we would’ve rolled them during the offset leg, so it’s not like they hurt us. But my helm yelled “360,” and they promptly did one without complaint.

Legally, we were within our rights to protest, but somehow it really did not feel right to me. I should’ve said something, and tried to dissuade my helm from making an issue out of it. But I realize now, he has a different attitude about how to conduct the race. For him, racing is war, and any advantage must be taken. I’m sure this is partly why he’s so good. But for me, racing is much more about testing your skills against other people that you like and respect, and not necessarily pressing every possible advantage. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I would’ve handled this incident differently and wish I’d done more to avert the situation.


The windward-mark incident also brings up the issue of team vs. individual. We’re all part of teams, and as such we subjugate our individual attitudes to that of the team. In this case, I really had no choice but to go along with my skipper, even though I now wish I had offered a contrary opinion. But, inevitably, our identity becomes connected to the team we’re a part of, which can be a very positive thing. However, sometimes you’re not proud of what your team does, and you don’t think the team identity fits you very well. So your choices are to try to change things from within (never easy, often impossible) or to find a new team that better suits you.

Complete coverage of 2011 Key West Race Week.


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