Summertime, and the Racing is Easy

The ’EasyRace’ format would clearly stand apart from traditional sailboat racing.

For a while my father thought his kids would never grow up to be sailors. Sure, we learned how to steer his dinghy and trim the sail, but then moved on to dozens of other youthful pursuits. Then, when I was 11, he and my uncle each bought a Sunfish and let us loose! My cousins and brothers quickly realized we had the ultimate swimming platforms.The next summer we began to use the sails, too, and soon we were starting informal races between the end of the dock and a nearby lobster pot buoy. We quickly learned where in the harbor to find the best patches of breeze and how to coast past an anchored boat’s mooring line, not to mention the best time to board an unsuspecting competitor for a routine capsize drill. We had a good time, and although I’d never thought much about sailboat racing beforehand, one race led to another until it became a full-fledged passion.All this came back to me recently while thinking about how to make it easier to get started in sailboat racing. What holds back people who otherwise have access to sailboats are things like not knowing the rules, fear of collisions, fear of being shouted at, and finishing last and looking bad. They end up missing out on having a compelling reason to go sailing, on improving their skills, on feeling a little flow of adrenalin while physically and intellectually stimulated, and on socializing afterwards as the adrenalin subsides.Could we reinvent the way we race at the informal level to maximize the benefits and minimize the barriers to participation? Why not create a format that would deserve the title "EasyRace" and clearly stand apart from traditional sailboat racing, complete with all its wonderful, confounding intricacies of signal flags, rules, customs, and procedures.To qualify under the EasyRace format, organizers would enforce five simple precepts. First, boats need not be one-design or cannot have handicaps. Second, races start on a reach, one boat crossing the line at a time. Third, right-of-way rules fit on a laminated card (see "A Better Approach to the Rules," Oct. ’01) and if there’s a collision between two boats, both are penalized. Fourth, races are scored against a timekeeper’s clock. Last but not least, so that the results may be properly interpreted and crews can publicly disqualify their skippers if they shouted at them, attendance is required at a post-sailing social event.Maybe your fleet already has experience with an EasyRace format such as this and you can tell me how it really works. If not, I have a couple of cousins and maybe a stray daughter or nephew who will run some experiments off the end of the dock this summer, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Closer to the office, the SW staff will also stage an "Editors’ Cup" EasyRace--although I have to admit that sounds like an oxymoron. You’ll read about that, too, but don’t be surprised if there are several versions of our report--each of us will certainly be claiming victory.