Scuttlebutt Today
  Archived Newsletters »
  Features »
  Photos »

Scuttlebutt Forum
For all your commentary, questions, and updates.

Click here to view.

Scuttlebutt News:

Has classic boat racing become too competitive?

photo courtesy of
(September 26, 2008) A collision on September 23rd in Cannes, France at the Regates Royales led to one death. When an 8-Meter and a 1912-built 65-foot Nathaniel Herreshoff design collided, the 8 Meter was dismasted, and its helmsman was thought to have died instantly, hit by the mast and boom as it crashed down. After reading of the event, Scuttlebutt received a letter wondering why terrible collisions (with serious injuries) happen with alarming frequency at classic boat regattas. Among the comments received came from Jim Cassidy. Read on:

“As an insurer of classic boats, organizer of classic regattas and an organizer of a series of WoodenBoat Regattas I have some very definite opinions on this topic. To recognize why some of the recent terrible collisions have happened is to review the history of such regattas and an evolution in the types of boats and the types of crew members they have aboard. In distant times, say the 1970's and 1980's, classic boat regatta fleets saw friendship sloops, gaff rigged cutters and schooners, work boats or work boat derivatives all. Then, slowly came the yawls, the CCA sloops, even some ketches. Slowly the faster boats, the Herreshoffs and the Sparkman and Stephens and the Fifes began, often after a complete restoration, to show up on the scene. The fleets then were extremely diverse. The proliferation of "performance" or more race oriented boats gradually drove away the slower, more wholesome boats, probably because, among other reasons, their owners felt outclassed speed capability wise.

“With the steady influx of faster boats came another factor. Younger, more aggressive crew members who normally raced on "go fast" modern boats and wanted to get on these classics, fly chutes and make them go, but with no real experience on the difference in handling characteristics between the modern and classic boats. The heightened level of aggressiveness on the classic circuit was more evident this year than ever before.

“I think you can add one other factor to the classic race collision issue. As so many boats, some famous and most pedigreed, have come to be restored at high (but worth it) cost, many boats were bought by people who had more interest in the status of owning them than in the joy and responsibility of doing so. Many of these owners are not experienced enough in the handling characteristics of these boats or their own responsibilities as skipper or, in some cases, even the basic rules. To suggest that there are no bad collisions in contemporary boat racing would be inaccurate. It''s just that, frankly, a collision that severely or totally damages a significant and irreplaceable classic, has more impact on the sailing community’s psyche than does, say, the dismasting of a J/24 or Etchells 22. And when there are serious injuries or fatalities, the sailing community must wonder, "why aren’t these people more careful with these classic boats?"

“While I can’t quote certified figures for fatalities or serious injuries during classic sailboat racing vs. those of contemporary sailboat racing, I am not aware of any serious injuries or fatalities resulting during classic racing in the last twenty years or more in the U.S. But I am painfully aware of the far too many collisions which have occurred. As an insurer of these boats, and regatta organizer safety, and even more importantly, the right skipper and crew attitude about the cardinal rule that "no boat is worth any race" is foremost in my mind and agenda for the future. The main objective of classic yacht racing, while enjoying the fun of friendly competition, should be the grand spectacle of these magnificent classic boats still up and sailing for all to see.

“Finally there is one other factor. USSA has recommended 5 minute rolling starts to expedite the starting of large fleets with numerous classes. This may work okay with contemporary boats, especially small boats, but it can be disastrous with the type of diverse fleets that classic regattas see. Race Committees need to be instructed to increase start times dramatically between classes, even up to as much as 15 minutes separation between start times.”

Scuttlebutt also conducted a reader survey and received additional comments. Click here for the information.

Scuttlebutt Sailing Club

GMT Composites

Team McLube

Lemon & Line

Newport Shipyard

Kaenon Polarized

 Latest Issue  |  Archives  |  Calendar  |  Photos  |  Classifieds  |  Extras  |  Forum  |   Scuttlebutt Sailing Club  |  Privacy  |  About  |