2013 Queen’s Cup: Hurling and Furling

July 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

Chris Gribble: Rafiki sailing the 2013 Queen's Cup

Rafiki sailing the 2013 Queen’s Cup
Photo credit: Chris Gribble

This was no Sidney-Hobart. But the 2013 Queen’s Cup was tiny reminder of the toughness of sailors.

Queen’s Cups are usually downwind and flat. Recent races have been warm and generally dry. I like to recall the year we wore shorts all night and flew kites exclusively by moonlight.

This year race organizers picked Ludington as a finish destination adding distance and northing to the course to shake it up. It worked. A solid and cold north wind came on with an icy rain burst and then the wind built and clocked east during the night, knocking the fleet onto 30 degrees of heel. It wasn’t unruly, but it was cold and wet enough to cause blue lips, shivering and some to wonder why they had eaten that last dockside burger with onions. The sea-state gradually built to 4-6 footers (late finishers said 8) with the gradient neared 22 knots at about 3 am. If you had chosen left, you could crack off a couple of degrees, but if you were south of the rhumb, you were close-hauled all night. Cooking, eating, dry clothes, or napping in a warm berth were mostly wishful thinking. One friend deemed it “hurling and furling.”

The on-the-water highlight, if you were lucky to have been looking up, was the brief appearance of ghostly white dancing spires of the Aurora-Borealis. One sailor said it was the best 15 minutes in 22 hours of misery. Shortly after the first finishers tied up at Ludington (where organizers had organized well) Facebook lit up too with tales of cloudbursts and fog, wind and spray, sleeplessness and vomiting, and a general agreement that next year would be just as much fun.

Talk about tough.

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Congratulations to the winners.

Sailing isn’t a sport

August 16, 2012 § 22 Comments

Sailing isn't a sport

Look it up. According to my dictionary, a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” And while many sailors I know will say that they enjoy racing sailboats, sailing is so much more than just a lowly sport.

When was the last time you saw tennis played in a pelting, thundering rain squall?

Sailors do it all the time.

When was the last time a basketball player studied emergency and rescue procedures to keep fellow teammates safe and secure?

When was the last time you saw soccer players standing by quietly for hours and sometimes days, waiting for mother nature to join the game?

When was the last time you saw a hockey player invite grandma onto the ice?

When was the last time you saw a quarterback use a star to navigate, the moon to light the field, or pause to gaze upon the aurora borealis during a game?

When was the last time you saw a sprinter stay on the field for hours and hours after the race just to be on the field?

And when was the last time you heard any of these sports-people say that they would play to the very end?

Sailors do it all the time.

No, sailing isn’t a sport. Sport should be so lucky.

– Nicholas Hayes, 2012

Olympians need you to #GoSailing

August 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Olympic sailing success depends on a robust intergenerational recreational sailing population. Period. These data confirm it.

Recreational Sailing and Olympic Medals

After popularity grows, we earn more medals. Soon after popularity falls, we earn fewer.

If you compare the number of recreational sailors in the US to the number of medals earned per recreational sailor, you learn that one short generation (15-25 years) after sailing was at its peak popularity in the US, the US was fielding its most talented Olympic sailing teams. Soon after sailing began to fall in popularity, we began to perform more inconsistently, and eventually, we struggled to represent in international competition. Sure, some individuals have been stand-outs, but broadly, our Olympic team needs a much stronger foundation. And sadly, these data confirm that success takes a longer time to cultivate than failure.

Medals vs sailors

It’s a bit easier to see the relationship by using polynomial trend lines to smooth the data.

Granted, we outperformed between 2000 and 2008 in terms of medals earned per recreational sailor, due, in part, to hangover effects: many Olympians take part in more than one of the games and modern professional training got more from some athletes. But this also means that in those odd years, we were effectively concentrating the most skill in the fewest people. If you had to invent a formula for eventual collapse of a team, that would be it.

So this year’s medal shut-out was to be expected.

The way to earn more Olympic sailing medals is to build at the base; to share sailing broadly with as many people at the local level as we can reach. #GoSailing.

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