Sailing one design is supposed to remove the boat from the equation making performance all about the skill of the sailor. Sadly, it doesn’t. Newer boats and sails probably perform better than older ones. Properly tuned boats and properly trimmed sails also probably perform better than the improperly tuned and trimmed. However, we all know that an experienced sailor in an old boat can beat an inexperienced sailor in a new boat. And therein lies the problem.
When you lose to “that guy” who you thought you could beat, you want to know if it was the boat or the sailor. This nagging question can turn sailing into an ugly sport with suspicions and accusations of cheating. The only real solution, of course, is to rotate boats and have enough races so that everyone gets to sail every boat in every condition. Then, it’s easy to determine if the same boat or the same sailor comes out on top more often. But that doesn’t happen so the same nagging question gets asked over and over again.
We sail Butterflys with Eric Faust’s father (Eric is the ILCA General Manager). The senior Faust is one sailor I know where the question is never asked. He has won multiple national championships, is very competitive and a super nice guy. He comes out on top more often than not and he isn’t afraid to get on a pig of a boat and race it. I’ve watched him do this several times. He takes the pig out, loses badly then returns to the dock and gets to work. He has a very natural eye and feel for the boat and will tweak various things and then returns to the race course and wins. And the question is answered, yet again, ‘it ain’t the boat.’
This boat or sailor question has been a nagging problem for Doug and the Dallas Laser Fleet for years. By believing that he will not learn anything at the front or back of the fleet he has figured out how to handicap himself so that he sails in the middle of the fleet and then works his way to the front. Being Canadian, he didn’t want to offend anyone by making his handicaps obvious. He often sailed an old hull with a few gallons of water in it, or he used equipment that regularly failed and required him adapt on the fly or he ‘made mistakes’ that allowed others to catch up. He did this for years and it kept him sharp while still challenging/encouraging others. But after years of sailing down to the level of his competition he had become “that guy” who many thought they should be able to beat because they finished so close and they were getting frustrated with not being able to beat him.
This caused friction in the Dallas Laser Fleet that manifested in numerous ways and turned ugly when the competition left the water. There were false accusations and illogical justifications for decisions that ended with Doug being banned from sailing with the local fleet. Men make little sense to me and it very much looked like an alpha male of a pack that had gotten older and perceived to be weaker and it was time to attack and push him out of the pack.
First, we waited for common sense and time to prevail but that actually seemed to embolden many to be even more inhumane. So, then I suggested that when Doug sailed against these folks at the circuit stops that he quit handicapping himself and sail his hardest. He ended up so far out in front that their backward progress sort of surprised him and also embarrassed him and he reverted to slowing down after he’d get a leg or a couple of minutes ahead. The fleet gradually began to soften their overt hostilities toward Doug and he has begun to shorten the distance of his lead. This is not a problem most of us will ever have and I find it sad that in his efforts to do the right thing, it actually backfired and turned out to be the exact wrong thing.
Doug now has to travel to get any decent Laser competition (thank goodness for Austin and Houston) or he sails with the local Butterfly fleet. This is a fleet where age, experience and maturity show up every Saturday all year long and announce, we’re still here and we’ve still got it … it ain’t the boat!.
As I said before, we all know that an experienced sailor in an old boat can beat an inexperienced sailor in a new boat and therein lies the problem. Really, the problem is when a very experienced 'old guy' in an old or new boat beats an experienced young guy in a new boat. I mean, seriously, why doesn't he have the decency to get old and go out to pasture?
My brother, Robert, is a tennis pro. He’s 57, still fit and has a head full of grey hair. He was at a tennis league competition recently where the team he was coaching didn’t have an experienced singles player so he said he’d play singles. Their competition was a bunch of young guys and Robert overhead a young, fit, 20 something tell his teammates that he hoped he got the old guy with the grey hair. Sure enough, Robert played the young guy. He was a good player and Robert couldn’t even return his fast serve. After the 2nd set the score was 6-2 in favor of Robert and he overheard the young guy’s teammates jokingly asking him if he still wanted to play the old guy. Age and experience won the match … it wasn’t the racket.