November 23, 2017

Thoughts from a Female Sailor at the Laser Master Worlds

Intro and Comments by Pam
We received an email from a sailor we met through the blog and then at the Worlds in France and again in Split, and she wanted to share her thoughts. The email made Doug a bit emotional because he's seen me deal with some of the same issues when I've sailed with the local Laser sailors. Not all of them, but enough that it isn't fun and it brings out a protective side of Doug where he drops the gloves and says 'it's on!,' and proceeds to school the offending party on just how not fun he can make sailing for them. Not the most mature response ... so I am adding my comments below instead of Doug.

by Ute
Some thoughts from a female sailor of the last third of the fleet...

What I describe below sounds very negative and this clearly is not my intention. First of all I want to emphasize that I enjoy going to big regattas, sailing with nice sailors from all over the world, and making friends. So the negative I describe, fortunately, is only a small part of what happens during regattas.

Sailing in the last third of the fleet is a completely different experience of racing than what Doug usually describes. And being a woman often increases the differences experienced. [I've often felt that sailing in the middle to back of the fleet is the most frustrating.]

I think, and I know that many women agree, that we sail against different "groups" of co-sailors: [Ain't that the truth.]

Other women: usually very competitive and at the same time nice, decent, knowing the Racing Rules of Sailing, and sailing accordingly. [So very civilized and fun.]

Sailors I call "men": fortunately the vast majority of the fleet, just as the "women" nice, decent sailors, competitive, knowing the Racing Rules, and sailing accordingly. When racing, they do not make a distinction as to whether they compete against a male or a female sailor. [Always such a pleasure to sail with them.]

Sailors I call "macho men": they act differently when facing a competitive situation with a female sailor in contrast to a male sailor. Whether you are in front or way back doesn’t matter. Just being in the situation where a woman sails as good (or bad) as this "macho man" makes him act unreasonably and forget the rules he usually knows more or less well. This group of sailors is often hard - or impossible - to distinguish from the following group, the

"stupid sailors": surprisingly many sailors that go to the World Championships fall into this group and are typically found in the second half of the fleet. These are sailors who don’t even know the very basics of the Racing Rules. They just think about their fastest and easiest way to the finish line. In 2014 in Hyères, and also this year in Split, I filed protests that I easily won. This year the sailor I protested really thought that - being the windward boat on the same tack - he could bear away and not give me my right of way just because he had a bad tack and could not build up speed afterwards. 'What could I do? If I had gone higher, I would have not been able to move upwind….' (His statement to the jury.) And this is just one example of many. Doug, I am perfectly sure that you do not have the pleasure of experiencing this kind of situation at the top of the fleet. It’s amazing to watch the jury more or less successfully trying to suppress too obvious smiles… [It is indeed a challenge to distinguish between the overly aggressive and the challenged sailor. I can identify with the challenged one because I've been there, sometimes still am, but I really dislike the overly aggressive one.]

Why is it that so many sailors just stop thinking after they get what they want. Firstly, this holds true at the starting line. With 60 to 70 sailors in each fleet and three to four fleets in one racing area, I think it would be nice that you don’t linger on the starting line. Everybody tries to get a line sight or to determine which end is favored. So why don’t we all leave the line after we have gotten what we want? And, secondly, why can’t the sailors who have completed the last race of the day go a little bit further upwind to not completely block the air for those sailors still in the race. In the last race of my fleet in Split, the boat end was favored. I had tacked accordingly on the starboard lay line - and finished about 3/5 towards the pin-end, just because of those sailors who blocked the wind and created wake after finishing and directly heading home to the harbor. [Being on the finish line boat, I am always amazed at how many sailors at the front of the fleet turn and sail right into those finishing. I've seen the finish line boat repeatedly holler at them to go around and it always catches them by surprise and seems to have really never crossed their minds because they are so tired. Only the very, very top sailors seem to have the muscle memory to turn the opposite direction from home to avoid the finishing fleet. Brett Beyer comes to mind. He never turns into or interferes with the finishing fleet.]

Why is it that so many sailors just push their way through to get in the water in the morning or back on land after the races? In Split we had only four small ramps. So, coming back from the races was always a challenge. And you could count on the fact that, when several sailors came in at the same time and had worked out in what order to use the ramp, another sailor would aggressively come in, passing everybody else and being on land and dry within a flicker of an eye. This was, frustratingly, the case the one day the Bora came in at the end of the racing day. The harbor was packed with boats, what was described as the first motor boat blockade ever was set up so that not all boats jammed the ramps at once, boats where ramming each other or capsizing, one woman basically hung in the mooring lines of big boats secured in the harbor. And some young, strong standard sailors just passed them…. [Watching this dynamic of getting in and out is truly fascinating. So many different personalities at play. What I have observed is that the more people you know, the more considerate they are or the more willing they are to apologize and tell you why they need to jump in front. Doug spent more time patiently waiting than I would have, mainly because he observed a lot of inexperience and he didn't want to get tangled up and tipped by one of them but a few times someone he knew saw him waiting and knew he had broken ribs and would holler at him to go ahead of them.] 

If everybody thought a little bit ahead, if people knew the Racing Rules better (my American husband insisted that I learn the Rules when I started competitive sailing and we still learn by discussing different situations after regattas and checking carefully word by word what the Rules say), if people talked more to each other on the water, the races would be so much nicer! [I couldn't agree more. The longer you attend these things, the more you learn and the more people you get to know. Doug has introduced me to many a person that he has met on the water or in the protest room in less than desirable circumstances and went on to become good friends with them. Another thing I find fascinating and encouraging.] 

Some thoughts recently shared by Lyndall Patterson, multiple Laser World Champion, and top female sailor in the Radial Grand Master fleet in Split...

"I have found over the years a lot of respect and camaraderie amongst most sailors. I do find as a female sailor that the diamond is a disadvantage in a fleet especially in the latter part of a race as basically many competitors will choose to be ahead of a diamond if they can be. I have become aware of this and best way is to be clear ahead if possible and certainly not take it personally. Leave it on water and share support on land."


  1. Excuse my ignorance, but why the diamond in the first place? Sailing seems to me to be one sport where gender does not play a role, so why discriminate?

    1. I haven't been with the class long enough to know the answer. You make a good point though. Why not treat everyone equally? Doug believes (but can't remember) that the diamond was initially supposed to be an indication that a female was on the course which was more of a badge of honor and to remind men to be a gentleman. Instead, it seems more like watching a little cottontail bunny. Whey they run from predators, their tail flips up and the while cotton tail serves as target. For some men, that diamond is like that little white tail running away. They just can't help themselves and must give chase and conquer.

    2. The diamond is meant as an aid to women racing in a mixed fleet. At regattas like the Masters Worlds, placings are typically determined by extracting the female results from the overall fleet. So it's important to be able to identify who your key competition is from one side of the course to the other to guide fleet positioning and so on.

    3. It might be time for a rule change. In talking with Doug, he believes a woman is perfectly capable of keeping track of her competition on the water without a big diamond on their sail. He sails in a mixed fleet of experienced and less experienced sailors and has poor vision but is able to keep track of 'his' competition on the course either by their sail number, clothing, or sailing style. He says it is condescending to think that women cannot do this without a big diamond on their sail.

  2. Hi Pam & Doug & Ute,

    I guess I am dissapointed by your post. Not that you posted it but that this sort of stupidity goes on at the Laser Masters Worlds.

    First, I thought that all the sailors had to earn their place from their national association, so they must be the best handful of ageing laser sailors from that country right? I am thinking of trying for the Worlds myself next year but as a UK sailor its clear that I'd have to beat a lot of good sailors to get in the UK team. Unlikely to happen at my first attempt.
    So if these are the best from every country, why are there sailors there who don't know the rules?
    Or do other countries not select a team in the same way?

    Second, sailing is a sport and people like to win at sport. Some win because they are gifted and work hard. Some think they ought to win because that is what they always do, probably by climbing over other people to achieve that. Ive sailed against a few like that who can't stand to be outpaced by a talented youth or someone they normally beat, or a woman. They are the kind who, when you cross tacks and they are on port, they will never duck under you or ask to pass ahead but will always carefully tack in your lea!
    Just as there are white supremacists, there are also male supremacists and some of them are sailors. As Harvey Wienstein and many others have demonstrated, these guys can get up to some bad stuff. Of which bullying women on the water could be one. The thought of not beating a woman on the water is too much to stomach so they resort to dirty tricks and active persecution (probably to the detriment of their own ranking). People are stupid. Even some Laser sailors.

    But its still a puzzle to know what these guys are doing at the worlds. Is that how their countries want to be represented?

    1. As I understand it, this year in North America, entry was not based on merit but on the first to sign up. Some very good sailors were late to sign up and did not get in. However, I'm not aware of any obviously under-qualified sailors that did get in. But perhaps other regions experienced the same type of change and some less experienced sailors made the cut.

    2. I think many countries do choose their sailors based on "merit" - as did North America in recent years. But "merit" meant having achieved good enough results in certain regattas, or having sailed in the Master Worlds recently. If I recall correctly the system was introduced in North America to stop people going to the Worlds when their sailing ability was not up to the minimum standard needed to handle racing in winds up to 20 mph. It didn't mean you had to be as good a sailor as Doug and his buddies at the front of the fleet.

      Unfortunately there are some masters sailors who are both reasonably competent but who are also total assholes on the race course. Maybe they are not racing in the top ten with sailors like Doug but you certainly find them in the bottom half of the Masters Worlds fleets. I have encountered one particular sailor (not from North America) at international Laser Masters events who sailed like he had no knowledge of the rules, or didn't care to follow them.

  3. So sad that this sailor had such bad treatment from some fellow sailors. Unfortunately the Laser class does have a few bad apples - and they are not all in the bottom half of the fleet. Fortunately there are not too many of them and after a while everyone knows who they are.

    One observation on her experiences...

    I was at a major Sunfish event ( a North Americans I think) once where several of the leaders of the fleet. after the finish of the last race, just sailed back through the rest of the fleet which was still racing giving bad air to multiple competitors. One brave sailor did protest one or more of the lead sailors doing this. This is not just a breach of etiquette; it is against the RRS and you can be penalized for it even though you are no longer racing. See Rule 24.1 and the preamble to Part 2. As I recall one of the "defendants" was a current or former world champion. The protest meeting dragged on for hours until the protestor withdrew his protest after he felt he had made his point. Maybe there needs to be some similar protests at the Laser Masters Worlds.

    1. You have a point. Many do it without even thinking about it until they are in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time. The way the course is set, it is always the last race of the day and sometimes the finish line boat will see it with the first fleet then and start directing traffic but they are also very busy taking scores. Since I am often on the finish line boat, armed with a video camera, I'll make it a point to get some video of this because I don't people realize how often it occurs. If someone wants to protest, come find me. I'll will probably have video.


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