by Andrew Short
Some of you will remember my dad, or at least his boat names. Being a WW11 fighter pilot his first one was called Kittyhawk after the type of airplane he flew and being a squadron leader his second one was named after his call sign, Red One (even though it was a blue boat). His father was an ANZAC wounded at Gallipoli and on his repatriation to Australia set up a vineyard near the shores of Lake Bonney.
Fighter Pilot to Sailor
Hence dad learnt to sail on the lake, and when I was a young boy and we were living in Adelaide, he introduced me to the fun of sailing at B&SYC. With ANZAC day having just passed I got to thinking about some of the things he taught me and did for me.
One of the most important ones was this: Back in 1967 my dad bought me a book called 'Paul Elvstrom explains the Yacht Racing Rules'.
The important messages in this book weren’t just about the rules, but contained in Elvstrom’s prologue titled 'The Spirit of Racing'. I herewith provide the chapter verbatim in full:
'The racing rules must be observed but you must also be reasonable about this. When starting in a race with a large number of boats they will often be so close together that small touchings will occur between booms or sails – and other such errors can occur – and there is no need to worry the jury or race committee with such small matters. But if people break the rules on purpose then you must put in a protest.
It is very difficult to make rules to enable starting to be really good and therefore we must try to help each other to make the start as fair as possible; but in open waters the rules must be observed meticulously. In any case, in my opinion, there is really no need to protest except over a gross breach of rules or if a dinghy has deliberately broken a rule.
During a race a boat on starboard tack is passed by another on port tack whilst going to windward, if the starboard tack boat is not actually affected by this boat then there is no need for there to be a protest. If there is some doubt whether the port tack boat can cross, he can shout to him ‘Pass ahead, if you like’, for if he does this, he will interfere less than if he had tacked under your lee bow. If a dinghy touches a mark and it is his own fault, then he must retire immediately (Note: Not the case under the current RRS). It is not necessary to go so close to a mark that there is a danger of fouling it. During racing we should always act with good sportsmanship.
'Why Do We Race?' - A race is, and always must be, only a game. Hard competition only gives more excitement to the game, and it is really exciting to find out who can win.
It is quite a problem that some people are able to spend a great deal of time and money on tuning their boats and making them go fast, whereas other people are unable to do this. But remember that man cannot get the speed only because of time and money. He must also be clever in order to get the best out of his new gear. Very many skippers have the best possible new boats and sails and yet do not know how to make them go fast.
If a yachtsman cannot afford to spend the same amount of time and money as his competitors it is not a reason for spoiling this man’s pleasure in racing, but it does of course give him a reason why he may be slower.
We all ought to be friends and glad we are sailing together in the same class. A helmsman in the Finn Class ought to be extremely glad to hear of any newcomer coming into the class – he will thus have one more friend to race with. (Elvstrom refers to the Finn Class as he won it at the Olympics in 1952, 1956 and 1960).
Before the Olympic Games there is usually a long series of trial races in each of the participating countries, and jealously and feeling between the competitors can be very fierce – so fierce in fact that favourites hardly speak to each other, sometimes.
Therefore, it seems we ought to be pleased to have other competitors to race with, but the opposite is sometime the case. It is quite normal to talk to yourself about beating the other competitors, but you must do this in a sporting manner.
I am sure it is more important to compete and enjoy yourself than to win.
After a race you cannot tell by looking at some people’s faces whether they have won or lost because the sailing alone gives them so much pleasure that their position does not matter to them greatly.
With other people you do not need to ask if they won or lost. You can see it in their faces straight away. To them I would like to give some advice. It is difficult to change your nature but you can help yourself by remembering that it is a greater satisfaction to give rather than receive, and here you have the chance to give the best form of compliment to the winner by your smile and also by your words ‘well done’.
Remember that if you show it in your face that you do not like it when certain of your competitors win they will have the same feelings for you when you win, and that spoils the racing for both of you.
When you feel that none of your competitors are afraid to lose to you, then you also will not mind losing to them. When your competitors are happy to see you win, you are naturally happy when their turn comes to win. This is an unwritten law common to all sports.
Also don’t forget to show your enjoyment during the race. For example, you only need to make just the smallest friendly gesture when you pass one of your competitors such as when crossing on port or starboard whether you pass ahead or astern. If you do not show you are enjoying the competition you can spoil the pleasure for your competitors.'
The Racing Rules of Sailing have not changed a lot since 1967, and people’s attitudes probably haven’t either.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this and can reflect on what is important.
Post Script: Dad died a few days after my 22nd birthday, both my WW1 veteran grandfathers died before I was born. I never knew them.
Lest we forget.