Scuttlebutt Reaction

The Editor's May Letter provoked many responses in the Scuttlebutt newsletter

From Diane Swintal: The relative merits, and lack thereof, of PHRF versus one design have been hotly debated here - but John Burnham brings an interesting perspective. I find I have to agree with him. I sail on a J105 in Southern California - we're not the best team, but we work really hard and are quite serious - and usually too exhausted at the end of the day to do more than sit at the yacht club bar, count bruises and ponder the winch that will be required to get us out of bed the next morning. I also race in Thursday night summer series races - I'm never really sure how we did in the standings and I usually don't care. I learn a lot, have a good time and meet new people each time I stop at the yacht club bar - I've used my 'bag 'o boats' much more often at the bar than in the protest room. So which is better? Neither. Or both. And I'd hate to give up either.From Peter G. Kremlick: Reading John Burnham's recent editorial in Sailing World I wondered what was so different between one design sailing and other types (presumably handicap racing). As I looked over his "hell of a lot of work" issues for one designs, I could find nothing that was not also true of other sailboat racing. In all cases you have to know the rules, get a skilled crew, and get a good start to do well. You also better spend some time watching the wind shifts, getting your sails up to snuff, the bottom smooth and keeping the equipment functional. All too often there are much easier things to do than race a competitive boat (any type) with a crew. It is easier to blame the wind, the course or the competitors than it is to get off the couch, get dirty and sand the bottom. Also fleets fail because there is a real lack of leadership at all levels of the sport. I am now sailing radio controlled boats and enjoying every minute of it. The fleets are one design, the time and cost to be competitive is reasonable, and most of all the racing is FUN. Where else can you get in 8 races in two hours of fierce competition and leave feeling good about the day. Every top skipper goes out of his way to help the ones in the back of the fleet improve. And every good pond across the country provides a venue. AMYA actually listens to membership input. Both the top skippers and the AMYA provide true leadership. That is why RC sailing is growing while conventional fleets are losing participation.From Bruce Kirby: You have to read right through John Burnham's column in the May Sailing World before you realize he is doing just a bit of leg-pulling when he suggests that one-design racing is "totally overrated." Unfortunately a lot of hurried readers are in the habit of not reading to the end of many articles, and in fact the other day a friend and fine sailor referred to John's column as "that anti one-design article." It is more a dissertation on sailboat competition that points out there are ways other than strict one-design to enjoy life racing around the buoys. It was gutsy of John to open his column by biting the hand that feeds him, but it certainly focused a lot of attention on the point he was making. And he did admit towards the end that he is personally addicted to and regularly involved in one-design competition. His jab at boat-for-boat racing is particularly amusing when one is old enough to remember (and fortunate enough to have a memory!) that Sailing World began life in 1962 as One-Design Yachtsman. It is still the bible of those who prefer to know how they finished when they cross the finish line.From Geoffrey Emanuel: I have read John Burnham's article in its entirety. He definitively does not condemn one-design racing. Rather he simply and clearly states that to achieve success in one-design racing requires time consuming and arduous technical fine tuning, sail and crew testing that most of us lack the time and stamina to handle in today's fast paced, multitasked world. As John and the rest of us age, there's alot to be said of PHRF racing in weekday evening beer-can races that don't require such a commitment. The great news is there is an outlet for every kind of sailor today. The glass is half-full!!From Arthur V. Strock: John Burnhams's criticisms of one-design racing are in fact validations of the sport. Anyone who intends to win in any fleet of consequence, be it one-design or handicap, will learn the rules, meticulously prepare the boat, and enlist a good crew. The distinguishing characteristic of one-design competition - even equipment on the line with no special advantage earned by depth of pocket - is a distinct positive in my view. And I seem to be in good company: the growth of one-design sailing, and the corresponding decline in handicap competition, result from free choices made by sailors with both options open to them. With regard to the growth of the sport (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) it is the lack of public, convenient and economical access to the water that is the primary, root cause for the stagnation we see in sailing, competitive and otherwise.From Chris Ericksen: My first thought upon reading John Burnham's "Editor's Letter" in the May edition of Sailing World magazine (as excerpted in 'Butt 1059) was of the courage shown by the editor of what used to be "One-Design Yachtsman" speaking what he himself called heresy. But I strongly disagree with the thrust of the letter. First, I don't see one-design sailing as an example of "the stunted growth of our sport:" one-design racing at all levels, from juniors to J/105's, is growing. And the fun which absence he decries is there to be had. In our harbor, at any rate, one-design boats participate in weeknight "beer-can" races as enthusiastically as do the PHRF boats. It is true that our weekend fleet races and regattas are the "hell of a lot of work" that Mr. Burnham characterized; but we toss and old suit of sails on the boat, a couple of six-packs into the cooler and head out for an evening of fun. The point is, it isn't one-design sailing in general that is not "fun:" it is the approach too many one-design fleets and one-design sailors take to racing that is not fun. Fun can be had if it is sought--and it isn't hard to find. You can prepare the boat, race hard and work hard, but you can still have fun if you care to. And isn't having fun why most of us got into this sport in the first place?From Peter Huston: John Burnham has opened up perhaps the most important topic in the sport. Are one-design boats the problem, or is it that we typically only embrace a single racing format? Even if it's Portsmouth ratings as John suggests, all too often the only type of racing format this is offered is "King of the Hill". Might the sport would be better served if we created a wider variety of racing formats - used more pursuit starts, downwind starts, or even Le Mans starts? Circular courses, perhaps. Does every race need to be held to an Olympic standard? Why not create an ability based handicap system so that crews can be mixed and matched by skill level from time to time, and scored accordingly. If sailboat racing is declining in participation, it's probably due solely to the fact that the fun factor isn't there when weighed against the time required to be competitive. So why not take the premium off of competitive and replace it with fun. For a bunch of really wealthy, intelligent people, we sure have been amazingly dumb in the way we construct alternative ways to have fun with our toys.From Richard Hazelton: I don't think John Burnham's article on one-design racing is talking about one-design or PHRF racing - he's talking about people. It's the people that make racing fun no matter what the system is. Most are great fun and good competitors that smile graciously when they win and shake your hand when you win, no matter what the level. But there are always the zealots that take the fun out of it, throw a lot of money towards the trophy thinking that makes them better sailors, and push things to the limit of tolerance. They read way too much into winning that $25 worth of hardware. They put enormous pressure on themselves, which radiates as tension throughout the fleet. The weeknight beer-can races are usually full of racers who have raced "seriously" for a while and just want to enjoy being out on the water, and those who have never felt the need to go "serious" but enjoy the competition and camaraderie of a weekly outing. Not to mention it's the best way to learn about your boat. All competitors enjoy winning, but if it's the winning and not the sailing that's your only reason to be out there, stay home.From Howard Paul: I read John Burnham's Editorial and was shocked! Yes, shocked! In his statements that one-design is overrated and one of the causes for the decline in participation in yacht racing is ridiculous. The decline is from a lack of and/or poor leadership in our sport. For Mr. Burnham to take an aggressive negative stand towards the single fastest growing segment in our sport is plain irresponsible. As a leading magazine in yacht racing we should be applauding the success of growing segments of our sport and aggressively trying to bolster those segments not experiencing the same success.From Fred Schroth: Howard Paul finally mentioned the key ingredient that is needed to lead sailboat racing into the next many years. He mentioned "leadership." The sport will roll foreword again whenever all of you get off your lazy rear ends and do something about recruiting, teaching and most of all making friends with as many new sailors as you can. A very small number of us have started the process in the Laser Class and we are growing. We have grown virtually every month since I got off my lazy butt and started actually doing something about building the class myself.A few others have joined in the process and we have seen growth in many small areas around the continent. The way I see it, the game of Laser racing developmentally is where it was in about 1973. Today, we have a few advantages. Our boats are better as is our equipment, clothing, lines, trailers, roads, buoys, committee boats, clubhouses, cars, phone system and now we have an internet. Here is my suggestion for all of you. Quit writing your whining emails about the sport falling apart for a while and use the time to invite someone out to play with you.From Alex Arnold: Following up on John Burnham's thoughtful article: Why don't those who might have tired of the "one-design grind" of boat preparation and expense volunteer to serve on race committees. Race managements populated by non-sailors are one of one design sailing's oldest and most serious problems. You do not need to be a sea lawyer to run a chase boat!From Bob Knowles: I'd like to comment on the second paragraph of Arthur Strock's email on the John Burham's Editorial. He notes, with acuity, the lack of growth in our sport is often due to "the lack of public, convenient and economical access to the water". For many non-sailors I know the sport is viewed as a rich man's game, apropo the old saying "Sailing: An experience not unlike standing in a cold shower tearing up 100 dollar bills"! Up here on the Chesapeake Bay we have one answer to this dilemma. It's called Baltimore's Downtown Sailing Center. We maintain a fleet of 30+ boats, from Australian access dinghies used by disabled & able-bodied sailors, several J22s, Sonars and 4 or 5 cruisers. We're located right on the Inner Harbor, offer sailing lessons and skipper certification, provide our members the opportunity to cruise & race, have Friday night social sails and after parties. As a non-profit entity, we do lots of community outreach, from disabled kids at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute to inner city kids in our summer sailing camp programs. We must be doing something right; at last count we had 650 members. Access to sailing without the expense of owning a boat!From Tony Castro: John Burnham's article, which I totally subscribe to, was really telling us about people. The "psychology of people" has to be understood to be able to manage the sport as a whole. This understanding is, in my opinion, sadly missing in my generation of leaders. I have always said that it should not be a question of One-Design against another forms of sailing. Most kinds of sailing have their "good" reasons to exist and we have to manage them better - in all their forms. Instead we have let ourselves be driven down this path in the last 10 years, at the exclusion of other forms of sailing and, yes we are now worse off (unless you designed those One-Designs). One -Design racing is something that most of us can cope with, but only in a relatively short period of our lives, (and a selected few can cope all the time). The majority of sailors take up the sport to nourish their inner-self ambitions and needs, it's normal. Most need a "excuse to lose" to be able to live with themselves and face the office on a Monday morning when the weekends results are not worth talking about. For our sanity we need "excuses" to feel good. That is life. Those who pushed either One-Design or any other kind of sailing at the expense of all others are wrong, and responsible for the current state of affairs. That is what I think John Burnham was trying to explain.From Garry Hoyt **(re John Burnham's editorial): We face a series of paradoxes: 1. One Design racing is the fairest kind of racing. It observably produces the best sailors, so that's a keeper. 2. But One Design concept freezes design which inhibits the innovations we need to progress. 3. The alternative of racing boats of differing design poses the problem of equitable ratings systems--a baffling challenge that has yet to be satisfactorily solved. But imperfect competition is better than no competition. 4. Effort, intensity and expense are an inextricable part of winning. Complaining about that suggests the only fun comes from winning, which is neither true nor constructive. That people find different levels of pleasure in different kinds of sailing is a plus to be preserved. A more logical worry is today's obsession with windward/leeward race courses, which perversely removes the reach--the fastest point of sailing. Our fixation with windward starts is another complication that wastes committee time and denies competitors a pleasing variety of starting situations. We continue to fashion the racing rules along the IRS model--incomprehensible to most and rewarding to those best able to manipulate its nuances. The whole process of protests is a drag on amateur enjoyment of the sport and needs simplification or removal. It is important to remember that the fun of sailing goes well beyond the thrill of racing. Removing the complications that interfere with the fun and bringing in new features that add more fun, should be the focus for growth.From Jim Champ:** I have to dispute that one design is the fairest form of racing. Every crew, indeed every sailor, has their own set of talents and physical attributes. In handicap rating or box rule classes the crew can use design and development skills to optimise the boat to give them the best chance of winning. In one design one has to optimise the crew to suit the boat - hence the endless round of crew weight limits, new sails every six races and goodness knows what else. And the strange thing is, if you actually sit down with major event results and look at the spread of finish times, as I did a few years ago with some major multi class events in the UK, you'll find it impossible to distinguish which classes are the tightest one designs and which have the most open rule sets. So actually all racing is fair and all is unfair. Just pick what you enjoy and enjoy it...From David Bishop: On the question of one design racing v. fun. I have been crewing on racing yachts for about 30 years in IOR, PHRF, IMS, and arbitrary handicapped fleets as well as one-design. I don't get paid for this, I do it for fun; and nothing is as fun as winning a one-design race. Given the choice between furniture racing with a convivial group of alcoholics, banging around the course from one screw-up to the next, and the full court press of one design with a crew that knows what its doing, I'll give up the beer every time. Crewing in one design means making a commitment to your teammates that extends beyond the race course. You have to be willing to practice, study, stay fit, stay sober, and stay quiet. Almost sounds like a real sport, doesn't it.From Tom Hubbell: Fred Schroth has it right. We build the sport by inviting new people in and helping them climb the learning curve. It's hard to excel in one design (or other) sailing, as John Burnham says, but that is exactly the number two reason most of us like it. The first reason is that we like being with those nutty people who also enjoy the wind, water, weather, self-reliant experience. Seems to me that growth comes from new people who are welcomed as "worthy" individuals and coached and coached and coached so that they do not succumb to the frustration that Burnham addressed. For example, I urge readers to become more aware of the extraordinary series of USA Junior Olympic Sailing Events. These reach thousands of young sailors. In a different venue, we have reached adults and some teens with Coach-TCA, a week long learning experience woven into the Thistle Midwinters East Championship. Training, mentoring, and socially drawing-in new sailors can be done and is being done in many different ways.From Ron Baerwitz: I never heard anyone say they quit racing because it was too complicated or the rules were inappropriate for the sport. However, I have heard many say they quit because they ar not having fun. Why? Yelling Yelling Yelling. Skippers yelling at crews, Skippers yelling at skippers, crews yelling at crews, etc. So many take this sport too serious. A skipper yelling at a crew who makes an error at a mark rounding that cost them one boat conveniently forgot that his poor driving or bad tactical moves cost the team 5 boats on the last let. Bottom line is, that 99% are not professional and errors are part of the game. Additionally, the "yellers" in most fleets are usually the newer or less talented skippers. Those boats are the only ones taking on new, "Green" crew because no one wants to stick around a screamer. The seasoned skippers almost never take on a "Greenie" since it could cost them first place. So, the new person in our sport never gets to graduate from the Cap'n Screamer to the Cap'n Winner. So, Cap'n Screamer quits because he can't find a steady crew and the Greenie quits because they have the opportunity to sail with a fun team. The point is, screaming skippers have no idea how much they hurt this sport. And, unless you train your crew and take days out to practice tacks, gybes and roundings multiple times you have no right to criticize anyone.