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The Realities of Spring

November 13, 2001

The keel we’re fairing doesn’t look like the Farr 395’s space-age foil shown on page 40. In fact, the lead for our Shields keel was poured almost four decades ago. Our spinnaker pole’s just been tuned up, but it’s still tried-and-true aluminum–per class rules–not a featherlight carbon model such as those described on page 42.

Yet even though I’m coaxing a classic displacement hull back to winning form, reading about new technology inspires fresh ideas about each piece of equipment on our boat. And seeing that new technology in action, as in the cover story of transatlantic record breaker Bernard Stamm and his Open 60, puts me in the mood to grip the tiller on the face of a wave. Sure, compared to Stamm’s 60-footer, the boats most of us sail might as well be on another planet, but no matter how modest the improvement in speed each of us seeks this season, we can enjoy being part of a sport that’s steadily improving the breed. And in some small way we can each benefit from the innovation we’re seeing.

Yet there’s a downside to technology and our steadily increasing understanding of how to gain an edge. To keep the competition fair, we have to keep writing new rules and regulations. This is a natural and inevitable counterweight to development, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating. The net result is a more complicated, expensive game.

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As an example, just look at one tiny piece of the regulations–crewweight limitations–discussed by Editor at Large Peter Isler on page 19. Sailors are pushing the weigh-in process so hard that one weigh-in at the beginning of an event doesn’t work anymore; Isler suggests two weigh-ins, with graduated penalties. While I’d prefer no weigh-ins at all, I agree with his logic; yet for sailors and organizers, this makes competing that much more difficult.

We have an increasing number of codes and regulations that classify sailors, regulate advertising, and demand membership in fleets, clubs, classes, and sailing associations. We may have shaved a page or two out of the right-of-way rules, but with all the other rules we’ve added, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them all, even for those of us who make our living knowing about this stuff.

I’d like to suggest what should be done once and for all, but I find my attention drifting. The realities of spring are calling me back to the boatyard. The deck hardware’s in place, but our rudder was last seen in two pieces, and there’s more fairing to be done on our keel.

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It’s true that once we’re afloat we’ll benefit from advances in the sport. We’ll have a fresh set of sails to hoist and a few hundred feet of Spectra-cored halyards and sheets to rig. We’ll head for the starting line and take advantage of the new shorter starting sequence ISAF’s instituted around the world. And when the breeze fades on the run and our large fleet compresses, we’ll appreciate our leeward gate marks.

But the greatest benefit I’m looking forward to is timeless. At the end of a hard-fought race, I’ll slouch on the leeward side of the cockpit, put my feet up, and accept the day’s results, good or bad. If I happen to think of it, I’ll smile as I realize I’ve stopped listening to the noise and passion of the offseason debates about the mistakes in the eligibility code. But more likely, I’ll simply point our boat toward the harbor and zip up my jacket against the cool, damp air pouring in off the ocean. In time we’ll do our best to answer the sport’s tough management questions, knowing that new, more difficult questions are bound to follow. Meantime, though, the wind beckons.

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