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Scuttlebutt News:

Conversations within the sport of sailing - December 2008

It is often said how sailing is unique as a sport, where the opportunity is readiliy available to compete against the very best in the sport. Occassionally we get the chance to chat with them too.


Bob Dill - Luiz Kahl - Peter Harken - Thomas Coville - Dean Brenner
Charlie McKee - John Harwood-Bee - Rob Douglas
Martin Kullman - Dave Perry - Greg Fisher

Bob Dill: King of speed

Bob Dill
(December 22, 2008) Luckily for Bob Dill, his claim to fame is not just being the world's second fastest land sailing pilot. Dill designed the land sailing yacht that Bob Schumacher piloted nearly ten years ago to the current record, and provides some insight into this area of sailing:

  • Why has there been so much time between land speed records?

  • Previous attempts were with racing boats (Nord Embroden, 88.4 mph in 1976) or modestly modified racing boats (Bertrand Labmbert, 94.7 mph in 1992 on sand). These racing boats are optimized for sailing in a wide range of wind speeds and courses of sail, and most people are focusing their design and sailing effort on racing and only occasional serious attempts to just go fast (and many of those were not successful). The Wood and Iron Ducks we built were among the first boats designed with only speed as a goal, eventually permitting Bob Schumacher to set the current record of 116.7 mph on March 20th, 1999.

  • How was the Iron Duck able to increase the wheeled yacht speed record from 94.7 to 116.7 mph?

  • A Speed yacht only needs to be fast in a lot of wind on one tack on a near beam reach. Speed potential comes from low drag to keep the amount of drive needed as low as possible combined with high stability and traction to handle the high lateral forces needed to generate that drive. Compared to the fastest racing dirt boats, the Iron Duck has a similar sail area but it was much bigger and weighed over twice as much. It is fully fared and uses aerodynamic asymmetry to point its fairings into the apparent wind at speed on port tack. In addition it uses a wing instead of a soft sail and has no shrouds. It would be hopeless on a racecourse on all but the windiest days. But when the wind gets to 30 mph, the Duck comes into its own while most racing boats are struggling to control the power. (
    Click here for complete details and photos)

  • What is the history and current state of ice and dirt speed sailing?

  • I presented a paper at the Chesapeake Sailing Yacht Symposium in 2003 that covers the history of speed on ice and dirt as well as reviews the technology that let us be successful. There is a section near the end that covers other speed programs up until that time (click here for the paper). Since 2003, Steve Fossett expressed an interest in trying for our record but never pursued it. Richard Jenkins (Windjet/Greenbird) has built two more boats, the last of which has been significantly modified this year. I have gotten to know Richard well over the past few years. He has been a prolific and innovative designer. The boats he is sailing now are both capable, given the right conditions. I expect he will achieve speeds over 117 mph on both dirt and ice in the next year or so.

  • What is being done to maintain the validity of speed records?

  • At present the North American Land Sailing Association (NALSA) provides a clearing house for landyachts and is willing to do it for ice (at least as a moderate scale). For example NALSA will oversee Richard Jenkin's Greenbird exploits on dirt and ice over the next year. The system NALSA has set up is well suited to the special needs of dirt and ice. From a technical point of view I believe the NALSA measurement process provides better protection from spurious results and, overall, is simpler and less expensive to administer. (Click here for land speed record rules)

    Click here to submit your Letter to the Editor


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    Luiz Kahl: IRC in the USA

    Luiz Kahl
    (December 18, 2008)
    Luiz E. Kahl, Executive Director of the US-IRC, provides an update on how this handicap rule is progressing within the United States:

  • Where are the IRC hotbeds in the US? Has IRC become the default system anywhere?

  • IRC has been pretty well accepted in the USA. Starting with the BBS in 2004, it really picked up steam the following year on the East Coat and the Great Lakes. Today, IRC shares the handicap system with PHRF at various events around the country with IRC prevailing for the main racing classes. In the Great Lakes, primarily the Detroit Area, IRC has been the predominant handicap system since 2005 when it was originally adopted by the Bayview Mackinac Race and it runs alongside with One Design and a much smaller PHRF class

  • Any misconceptions for a newbie that has resisted so far?

  • I don’t think that there are many misconceptions per se as much as there are misunderstandings about the rule. Let’s face it, a move to IRC is a change from a system that we have been using for over 20 years and, although we disagree with, we’ve been comfortable using it. Such change rattles the comfort zone we’ve lived in for so long. For example, we’ve grown accustomed to doing PHRF’s simple Time-on-Distance (ToD) calculation (handicap deltas multiplied by course distance), so it takes a little getting used to IRC’s Time-on-Time (ToT) where corrected times are calculated based on your time spend on the race course, and unknown until you crossed the finish line. With ToD, we would leave the dock and depending on the wind conditions, we knew if it was our day or boat XYZ’s day since corrected times were based solely on the distance of the course and not related to wind strength. ToT, since it uses your time on the course, is a fairer handicap system, but although very simple to calculate (handicap multiplied by elapsed time), it does take a little time to make the transition and get used to it. The best way to understand IRC – and ToT – is to try it. I can guarantee you will like it.

  • Any areas of the process that need improvement?

  • As with all Certification processes, there are always areas where improvements can be made. In the beginning and with the rapid spurt in growth of IRC in the USA, we had some glitches as we were all (US-IRC, US SAILING, RORC, Owners, Measurers, etc) trying to figure out how to best service the customer, how to work together while at the same time we were still developing our process and procedures. Today, we all work very close, are much more efficient as a group and do things much better and faster than in the beginning. And we absolutely continue to look at ways where we can improve the Certification process, accuracy and Communication so we can, as a group, better serve the owners.

  • The rule evolves each year. Any inkling on the direction for 2009?

  • Throughout the year, RORC personnel travel to various events around the world to observe the racing, the new boat developments, learn and discuss the results and in general make sure that the rule is applying a fair handicap to every boat racing. Any potential loopholes, advantages due to development, tricks, etc are taken note of. At the end of the year, the IRC rule (mainly its formula) is adjusted to compensate for any discrepancies noted and make sure that the rule continues to be fair to everyone racing, from an old 1960s 40 footer all through some of the latest designs just out of the drawing board.

    The other side of the system is the handicap rule, which handles how the rule is applied. This past October during the IRC Congress, there were two major developments worth noting. One of the major changes for 2009 is that the “extra spinnaker rule” (Rule 26.6.2.2) has been expanded to include events requiring compliance with ISAF Special Regulations Category 3 or above (previously Category 2 and above). This change opens the door to many other events in the USA to request approval from US SAILING to apply this rule. Given our constant mix of buoy and distance races in the USA, this change would allow for the owner to sail with the number of kites in their certificate in this week’s buoy races and next weekend be permitted to carry an extra spinnaker in the long distance race without a rating adjustment or certificate amendment. (Note: Owners should read the NOR carefully to ensure that this rule is being enforced for any specific event before carrying the extra spinnaker!!!). The other was the announcement that the International Maxi Association has chosen IRC as their official class handicap racing system for all of their events. The interest of IMA, which is for IRC what Formula 1 is for car racing, testifies to the confidence internationally given to IRC and the ability of the IRC Rule to contribute to the technical development of yacht racing and engineering for the benefit of the sport.

  • If someone does not have a OD, and have gotten tired of subjective PHRF rating changes, leading them to quit racing, how does US-IRC go about finding them and getting them going again?

  • We try to do everything we can to spread the word and reach the full breath of ownership in the sport. We have promoted IRC in magazines through ads, done seminar in all four corners of the country, we have a full web site (www.us-irc.org) which contains complete information and explanation of the rule, the system, how to get certified and the latest news and tools available are there. We have an e-mail list that anyone interested in any facet of IRC can subscribe to receive regular news and information. We have even gone as far as creating an IRC Group in Facebook to help spread the word!

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    Peter Harken: Regarding speed and ice

    Peter Harken
    (December 16, 2008) The upper management at Harken Yacht Equipment opens each issue of Scuttlebutt, worried if the iconic Peter Harken has been given the opportunity to rant about something. We like Peter, not just because he produces great products, but because he is often right, and he is not afraid to say it how it is. Here he comments about speed and ice:

    “I've been asked to respond regards the speed of iceboats in regards to the controversy surrounding what are legitimate sailing speed records. The Kiteboard controversy has been settled as a legitimate "sailing" (as we know the term) record of 50 knots plus … and good for them! I have read in Scuttlebutt that the kite and windsurfer runs are in very shallow water, where they also may possibly gain a ground effect. True or not, makes no difference in that the record stands, a truly great effort on those people nuts enough to stand on a wee board going 50 knots - especially in very shallow water, because what if you do a face plant, ugh?

    “Okay, the E-Skeeter, the Ferrari of ice boats, is an open builder’s class designed for coarse racing and not speed records, of which I have at least 4 plus one busted good along with me in it resulting in a 6 month bone repairing rehab program. None of them are now fast enough to be on the podium, or far more likely and truthfully, my incompetence of getting them there.

    “We have been clocked by police radar, yes, curious cops who couldn't quite believe what they were seeing blazing across the ice. Anyway, they've read 120 mph as we bored down towards the leeward pin. It's not the speed getting to the leeward pin that makes me change my pants between every race, it's my outright fear of rounding the pin with several other boats all aiming at the same spot and no one letting up on the gas pedal - insane idiots!

    “For all the years I've done it, anywhere between 90 mph and upwards into the leeward pin with other boats alongside makes my heart pound bloody hell! For example, I once had my starboard runner break off as I was rounding the pin and the next nano instant I had spun 180 degrees and was facing 4-5 oncoming going likety-split boats aiming at me sitting dead on the ice next to the pin! I had resigned myself to a Sitka Spruce and carbon fiber crashing death, but the big ice kahoona in the sky made my executioners all miss, bless their terrified souls! There are lots more of these type of stories from my comrades in this idiotic sport that we usually embellish with copious amounts of beer while racing our sport in a Wisconsin tavern because conditions outside stink which is normal, but I'll save you from them!

    “Have these boats gone faster? Probably as they can do 5 to 6 times the speed of the wind, but I haven't seen it in all my years because we're not really interested in records, we're coarse racing and that for me is fast enough, thank you! There have been faster claims, but accurately measured, uh maybe! Hey, our speed is greatest when there is a little water on the much deeper "hard water" to juice up our runners - so would that count as a legitimate "sailing boat" speed?”

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    Thomas Coville: Taking it as it comes

    Thomas Coville
    (December 16, 2008)
    Thomas Coville aboard the 105-foot maxi-trimaran Sodeb’O has reached the midway point in his solo circumnavigation, now entering the Pacific Ocean. Despite setting a new record holder for the most distance covered in 24 hours*, his attempt to set a new around the world record has been thwarted by unfavorable weather in the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Now nearly 1700nm behind Francis Joyon’s record pace, Coville comments on his situation and the Vendee Globe:

    Your reaction to Mike Golding being dismasted in the Vendée Globe.
    “We all live with the fear of breakage. I can feel that my boat is suffering, so I’m obviously tense, wondering ultimately what is going to give up the ghost. Sailing is a mechanical sport above all else. Knowing when you are just on the limit and when you’ve gone beyond it is very tricky.”

    Your analysis of Michel Desjoyeaux’ startling comeback.
    “An irritated, angry Michel Desjoyeaux is forearmed! Having been neck and neck with him, it’s difficult to keep him behind. He was shrewd and benefited from some very favourable weather conditions. He is capable of being above average for the duration. He knows how to be a machine and make headway without asking himself too many questions. For me, this viewpoint is often a source of reference.”

    Why are you maintaining such a northerly trajectory?
    “Last year, an enormous sheet of ice measuring several kilometres long came free from the Antarctic bound for the Pacific and it has since split up. We aren’t gladiators. We aren’t in a circus and when we have information about a risky zone we seek to avoid it. This is one of the reasons that I’m making a more N’ly course than that of Francis at the moment.”

    How will you tackle the second stage of the circumnavigation?
    “I’ll take it as it comes, with this deficit. We knew that Francis’ trajectory up till now was exceptional and that the second half is where I’m going to have to make gains. Doubtless there’s fairly little I can do in the Pacific but it’s on the climb up the Atlantic where I have a chance of making up my deficit. We estimate that there is between 3 and 4 days to be gained over this section. The boat will have to be in perfect condition and I will have to be in sufficiently good shape to get the most out of her.”

    What is your psychological state?
    “At times we had a tendency to say that all you have to do to succeed is to attempt these records but the performance to beat today is indicative of the sporting value of this record. Ellen and Francis had a big lead over me at this stage. Unlike me, they didn’t have to battle with the deficit, which is making me work a great deal on myself so as to continue to be as determined as I am. To have the strength of character to come back is the sign of great champions and I’m telling myself that it’s worth hanging on in there and gritting my teeth.”

    How’s your boat prior to entering into the Pacific?
    “Sodeb’O is my primary satisfaction. I feel very good aboard. The better it is the more we become one. We have become good friends who are keen to complete this circumnavigation together! Both of us are in good condition despite this chaotic sea. I get a real sense of pleasure at having brought this boat to life with the whole team.”

    * 628.5 covered by the Maxi Trimaran Sodeb’O at an average speed of 26.19 knots on 7th December 2008 in the Indian Ocean.

    Coville's comments were from a radio session today - Translated by Kate Jennings.

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    Dean Brenner: On developing the best Olympic sailor

    Dean Brenner
    (December 15, 2008) US SAILING Olympic Sailing Committee Chairman Dean Brenner comments on some of the big picture issues as the new Olympic cycle begins:

  • Regarding recruiting sailors vs. developing campaigners:

  • We only have interest in developing sailors who have the right combination of talent AND commitment. For the sailor with the talent and some results, we’ll meet their commitment with our commitment. We are now reaching down further than ever before, looking to develop Olympic sailors at an even earlier age. But it will all still rely on commitment. We talk to kids all the time who already have their hearts and minds set on the Olympics. We need to nurture their talent in their younger years until they can make an Anna Tunnicliffe-type of commitment when they get a little older.

  • Most Americans begin to seriously train after college. Is this a good age?

  • I don't think there is an easy answer. But we do know that kids need to start sailing internationally in Olympic equipment before they graduate from college if they want to succeed on the Olympic level. Waiting until after college is over is not a recipe for success, unless that athlete plans on starting at the ground floor in Olympic sailing at the age of 22, and spend a minimum of 6-8 years training for the gold medal. So an athlete can certainly wait for full-time training until after college, but there needs to have been a lot of good work done in Olympic-style racing and Olympic equipment before that, so that when they make the full-time commitment they are already pretty far along the path.

  • What about Olympic classes that are not well established in the U.S.?

  • We don’t have the means to do class development in the US. But more importantly, even if we did, we don’t have the interest. It is a bad investment from an Olympic budget. Look at the Yngling. There is not much of a class here in the U.S. What if we had spent money and time building a network of events, promoting the class, giving out starter boats to young female athletes, having Sally Barkow teach clinics, etc? What if we did all that and we started to have a fledgling class? Where would we be now, with the class no longer in the Olympics? We'd be feeling like we just wasted a lot of time and money. Ideally, we will build athletes and then move them around in the equipment. It is not about developing the best Finn sailor or Yngling sailor. It is about developing the best Olympic sailor.

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    Charlie McKee: The rise of Moth sailing in the U.S.

    Charlie McKee
    (December 11, 2008) Three Americans Moth sailors made the trip to Sydney, Australia last week for the ISAF Grade 1 OAMPS Sydney International Regatta, which hosted 220 entrants amid the Olympic and invited classes. The 19 boat Moth fleet held plenty of talent - including the current World Champ John Harris - but the American contingent garnered three of the top four spots. Tops among the group was event winner 2000 Olympic 49er bronze medallist Charlie McKee, who provides Scuttlebutt with this update on the rise of Moth sailing in the U.S.:

    “The Moth Class is taking off in the U.S. Many talented sailors are getting boats because they are so fun to sail. Having the next Moth Worlds in the U.S. in August 2009 helps too (Cascade Locks, Oregon). Bora Gulari has been our leader; he is the most experienced and talented U.S. Moth sailor. He encouraged us to come down to Australia to sail; this is where many of the top Mothies are. So Bora, Hans Henken (16 year old from Coronado, CA) and myself made the trek down for OAMPS. Hans and I are off to Melbourne for another regatta this weekend (Sail for Gold), Bora is back to the U.S. but comes back down in January to contest the Australian Nationals in late Jan in Geelong.”

    “Training together, working together as a group, good regatta prep, and a lot of tuning and technique help from Bora has made a big difference. I am certainly not at the top of the Moth heap, but I can at least see it now. (I sailed a good consistent regatta in a place I know well and feel really comfortable racing in, had some very good breaks too). Hans is a rising star in this class; finishing 4th in his first international Moth regatta is an awesome accomplishment. With the talent and experience of the people we have getting into the boat in the US (Morgan Larson, Jonathan McKee, Dalton Bergan, etc.) and the energy of the young people it should be an exciting next few years.”

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    John Harwood-Bee: Regarding ice sailing speed records

    John Harwood-Bee
    (December 10, 2008) When the subject of ice sailing speed records surfaced in
    Scuttlebutt 2741, John Harwood-Bee, Chairman of Project 100 Ltd, offered to provide information that his company gathered for their client, noted adventurer Steve Fossett:

    "We at Project 100 spent some time researching and evaluating the three significant sailing speed records, those of land, ice and water. This was on behalf of our client Steve Fossett. As you know Steve was always looking for the next challenge and we presented this trio as a possible goal for him. He and Peter Hogg gave consideration to the project but it was shelved whilst Steve made attempts on the outright Land Speed record and the Oceanic Depth record.

    "Our research indicated some confusion in the verification of certain claims. With the water record it was and is easy to check for existing data. Similarly with the land speed record. What was most difficult to establish was an accurate and verifiable ice yacht speed. The fastest speed claimed was 143mph, supposedly attained in 1938 by John Buckstaff on Lake Winnebago. Buckstaff had a 60' long ice yacht carrying almost 1000 sq feet of sail. It is impossible to verify this now and there does not appear to be any record of the equipment used to measure it. The Guinness Book of Records did list it and they are normally very thorough. They however have only been around since 1955 so were probably working from historic detail.

    "There is controversy surrounding that claim and it is 'examined' in detail by modern ice sailors who, working with the latest GPS equipment etc, have only managed 84 mph. The biggest argument is based on physics. The claim is that the speed was achieved in 72 mph winds. Given the size of the vessel, the sail area and the venue modern thinking considers it would have been highly unlikely to have kept the vessel upright never mind on a record setting course. We consider that 84 mph can be beaten and there is a 'model' that suggests that given the correct surface and wind condition, this could be achieved by some margin. Theoretically, with lower friction co-efficient, it should be possible to travel faster on ice than on land.

    "Perhaps the WSSRC would care to become guardian of the records for all these disciplines. They have the expertise and the credibility to do so. If anybody fancies funding an attempt at any or all of these records, I should be interested to hear from them."

    Here is a report by Bob Dill, the designer of the current land sailing speed record, regarding ice boat records titled, "Reality and Folklore".

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    Rob Douglas
    Rob Douglas: Second fastest sailor on earth

    (December 8, 2008) American Rob Douglas briefly held the outright world speed record, setting a pace last October of 49.84 kts - the first kitesailor to hold the overall speed sailing title. Rob pushed the mark up to 50.54 knots, but on the same day Alexandre Caizergues (FRA) captured the current record of 50.57 kts, again using a kite. Politics and anti-kite sentiment led the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) in November 2008 to decide that kitesailors could not contend for the outright record, but this past weekend their decision was reversed. Rob Douglas, the 2nd fastest sailor on earth, comments on the news:

  • On the reversal by ISAF to recognize kitesailing for the outright speed record.

  • I had confidence that this issue would be reversed because I thought that there was too much precedence shown by ISAF and World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC) regarding kitesailing and speed sailing records.

    - ISAF had previously ruled that kitesailing was a class of sailing. The WSSRC had already declared that Alex's overall kitespeed of 47.92 in '07 was valid and that Sjourke was the fastest women under sail.
    -The kitesurfers and the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) kept up the pressure on ISAF.
    - The argument that kitesailing was not sailing was a losing argument.

  • What do you think led to this controversy in the first place?

  • The controversy started because kitesailors broke 50 kts first!!!!!! The controversy was pushed forward by some big boat activists outside and inside ISAF......one big boat has spent and invested a tremendous amount of money trying to be the first to break 50kts........marketing, equipment etc.....

  • What design areas of kitesailing still have room for design development?

  • Kiting and kite speed is in its infancy......the early stages of its evolution. Windsurfers have been holding records since 1986 and cats and tri's even longer. The kite itself can impove tremendously..... Cabrinha is working on this right now. Boards are getting better and faster by dealing with flex and bottom shape. There is another area in kiteboarding equipment that my team, the
    NASSP, is working on but that is confidential for the moment.

  • Is Namibia going to continue to be the speed record site, or are there other sites that can offer suitable conditions?

  • Namibia will be continue to be a great speed spot because it is consistantley windy with smooth water and the correct amount of angle. There are faster places that are too expensive, logistically difficult and are problimatic to run at. As Namibia matures as a speed spot there will be a need to compete elsewhere to reach higher speeds. The exceptance of GPS units for record attempts could solve some of these issues and open up other spots sooner.......

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    Marty Kullman: Remaining atop the Melges 32 class

    Marty Kullman
    (December 8, 2008) One of the growing classes at Key West Race Week has been the Melges 32, beginning with eight boats in 2006 and rising to 27 for the 2008 event. To encourage boats to begin coming south this year, the class held their
    Gold Cup event in Ft Lauderdale last weekend, where 20 boats and many of the sport’s prominent players gathered for the three day event.

    For a class that permits up to three Category 3 (professional) sailors aboard each boat, the crew list at the Gold Cup was a who’s-who that included the likes of Tommaso Chieffi, Dave Ullman, Jeff Madragali, Gavin Brady, Morgan Reeser, Andy Horton, Terry Hutchinson, Charlie Ogletree, and Harry Melges. With ninety percent of the fleet sailing with at least two pros, it was refreshing to see the winner - Marty Kullman & Mike Carroll’s New Wave - come from the remaining ten percent.

    The New Wave team has been in the class from the beginning, and in fact won that first class event at Acura Key West 2006. On what has kept this team at the head of the fleet, Martin Kullman notes, “We have had a very consistent team that goes back to when we had a Henderson 30. Most of these guys I have been sailing with for more than twelve years.” The team sailed a Melges 24 after the Henderson, and now with the Melges 32, Kullman observes, “I have always been drawn to one design sailing. The power and speed of the M32 is awesome, making it a fun boat to sail. The ability to trailer the boat around makes it easy to get to more regattas and we are sailing against some of the best sailors in the world.“

    Having been the bridesmaid at Key West in 2007 and 2008, the New Wave team is stiving to reclaim their 2006 title. Said Kullman, “We have had a very good development plan for our program. As the quality of competitors continues to increase we also have to continue to improve our program. We have always set goals to help improve our weakest areas and will continue to do so.”

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    Dave Perry: On a Mission To Change The Balance

    Dave Perry
    (December 4, 2008) Dave Perry won the Congressional Cup in 1983 and 1984, easily the most prominent match racing event in the United States. Family and work responsibilities have kept his name out of the headlines until recently, but in 2006, Perry returned to the national stage by winning the U.S. Match Racing Championship, a feat he repeated in 2008. In between, he was the Rules Advisor and Afterguard Coach for Victory Challenge, the Swedish America's Cup Challenge Team. While Perry has remained vested in match racing, the top match racers are now coming from Europe and AUS/NZL. How come?

    Said Dave, “Well, to be fair, the last winning skipper of the America's Cup is an American (Ed Baird) as is the tactician for last year's World Champion (Bill Hardesty). But Ed and Bill have done very little match racing in the US in the last few years. Regions such as New Zealand and northern Europe have done a great job building a buzz around match racing that has attracted not only their top sailors but also sponsors and the media. The result is they have sailing centers dedicated to match racing with boats and race officials running lots of events. It is relatively easy to sail in 10-15 match racing events a year, in addition to racing locally in ladder challenge matches. And the World Rankings are based very much on quantity of participation as well as quality of performance.”

    Are you on a mission to change the balance? “Absolutely, along with many others who have seen the benefits to the sailors, officials and to the sport that match racing can provide,” noted Perry. “Once people try match racing, or see it in the faster boats we are using now, they are easily hooked to the excitement and challenge. We need to create that buzz here in North America, establish a Tour of regattas and clinics so sailors in this region can build their skills and raise their rankings. And then some teams will want to continue to pursue their skill development by participating in Grade 1 events and the World Match Racing Tour around the world, and we will see more North Americans in the top seats before too long, including on the medal stand for the 2012 Women's Match Race event at the 2012 Olympic Games.”

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    Greg Fisher: Regarding one design sailing

    Greg Fisher
    (December 2, 2008) 2008 J/22 World Champion Greg Fisher (USA) has made a career focusing on dinghy and small keelboat one design classes, and replies to a few questions concerning this part of the sport. Greg works for North Sails, and is based in Annapolis, MD.

  • How do you feel about the grass roots level of the sport?

  • Obviously there's a lot of concern and discussion about the health of this sector of the sport..but my personal opinion is that the grass roots is as strong as ever. There certainly are some classes where the grass roots are not attended to as well as in others. But there are so many other classes and clubs who recognize that the families, the youth, the newer but enthusiastic sailors are what provide the "mass", the base and the future for the sport. There are so many great education programs and focused and engaging social functions being developed that involve everyone that I think the sport of one design sailing will see a resurgence in strength and energy once we get through all these tough economic times.

  • Has the need to succeed affected the bottom tier?

  • I imagine in every sport there are competitors who value winning, or competing at a high level so much that they sometimes forget where their roots were or where they once began. Maybe it’s difficult to play at such a high level and still maintain accessibility to the newer sailors. But the beauty of this sport is that there are plenty who do work hard to put back and make sure the newer, less experienced sailors receive the help and attention they deserve. As we know few sports involve the number of variables or areas that must be mastered to compete at a higher level. We all need help improving our game!

  • Do you think the top sailors are training more, less or the same as ten years ago?

  • I am sure the top sailors are training more...and unfortunately I think because of all the demands on our time these days the grass roots sailors and advanced intermediates, if you will, are unable to train or practice as much as they'd like. But I think that's just the way it is and not necessarily a bad indicator for the sport. There are many one design classes out there...all special in their own way and well matched to their demographic. My one suggestion may be that one design classes ponder their ideal sailor and position themselves to focus on attracting that group. It’s hard to be that one ideal boat for everyone.

  • Can older classes still sell themselves to youth, or is the segment all about hi performance now?

  • Certainly there are a number of "traditional" classes where their management is creative and extremely successful with promoting programs that encourage junior sailing in their class. They make boats and funds available so kids can actually campaign. They train and coach so they can compete, or win at all levels. I think success begets success and once that momentum starts rolling the health maintains. On the other hand we need to recognize, and embrace, some of the newer, faster and exciting boats that can attract kids to sailboat racing....and what that means to the future of the sport. Once they're hooked then we can hope they'll "come back" to the popular tactical traditional one designs where there is still so much great racing!

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