One of the best-known acronyms — keep it simple, stupid — should be used more in sailing.
This past winter I had the opportunity to serve as PRO [Principal Race Officer] several times for frostbiting at American Yacht Club, Rye, NY. It was such a joy, helped in part by the mild weather. But what makes frostbiting the most fun is the simplicity of it. There is no Notice of Race, nor is there a six-page set of sailing instructions written by a lawyer. Results are not prepared by an online scoring system, and there isn’t a code flag to be seen.
The signal boat is staffed by a PRO and two others who handle scoring, check boats in and run the automatic horn timing system. There are two support boats that set marks and act as safety patrol when a competitor has a breakdown or decides they want to spend a few minutes swimming beside their overturned boat.
In fact, it is so informal that the competitors want the boat at the pin end, which is not anchored, to call boats over early. Of course one competitor did complain when I went to change the starting line, yelling, “this is frostbiting, keep it going.” I didn’t bother to point out to him that if I didn’t reset the line, nobody would be able to cross on port. He probably wouldn’t have listened anyway.
What does the fleet get for their efforts? Well the first time I was PRO, we had nine races and the next time we had six. That’s the beauty of frostbiting: you get a chance to hone every aspect of your game each time you go out.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the fleet sails in boats that are virtually maintenance free and can be purchased used for less than $1,000. Better yet, when sailors go to sell them, they’ll get most of their money back.
And best of all, protests are a non-occurrence. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we had one, nor did I hear any screaming matches among competitors on starting lines and at mark roundings. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they were having too much fun to bother with those niceties. Having fun in a sailboat. Gee, what a novel idea.
But what’s the point? Much has been written by other writers that children’s sports have been overdone to the point where they would not even consider throwing a football unless the field was lined, they had the best equipment on and there was an electric scoreboard. How about adults?
Sailing continues to leave the impression it is only for the very wealthy. This is supported by the heretofore mentioned SIs drafted by a lawyer (usually of the sea species), expensive regatta entry fees, the matched crew gear that is de rigueur for the hot shot one-design classes, a sea of flags being flown on the signal boat and the expensive trophies that nobody really cares about and will only collect dust in the basement.
The most fun sailing I’ve had recently has had a direct correlation to the simplicity of the event. Frostbiting is one. Another is intraclub team racing. There is one boat that sets the mark and starts the fleet with the Ollie horn. No flags, no SIs, no protests, nothing but lots of racing and fun. Then of course there is the Friday night sunset series, that usually has 25+ boats on the line. Many clubs have their own versions and are equally successful. It’s nice to be able to sail with friends and family, rather than be introduced to the new crew members each week.
Let’s get back to basics and put the fun back into sailing. Who knows, we may even be able to grow the sport.