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The Right Call in Hobart

There are few things out there that’ll ruin any game faster than not following the rules. Not only that, but when it comes to a game like sailboat racing, not following the rules can also get people hurt, or even killed.

I found myself thinking these thoughts while reviewing video of the port-starboard incident between Wild Oats XI and LDV Comanche shortly after the start of last December’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. In the end, Wild Oats XI was penalized 60 minutes for not adequately giving way, which in turn, caused the team to forfeit both its dramatic come-from-behind line-honors victory over LDV Comanche and a new race record. This, of course, elicited a storm of wailing and gnashing of teeth, including apparently by at least one member of the Wild Oats XI’s crew—although not, I’m happy to report, by the boat’s longtime skipper, Mark Richards, who said he respected the jury’s decision.

Still, what I want to know is, what exactly are these complainers thinking? And for that matter, why did Richards and the rest of the Wild Oats XI crew ever allow things to get that close in the first place? These are, after all, massively powerful boats fully capable of being ticketed for speeding in a typical residential neighborhood. They’re remarkably nimble for their size, but not that nimble. We’re not talking collegiate 420s here.

I get it, you want to be competitive, but there’s all the difference in the world between being aggressive and reckless. When in doubt, get the hell out of there. Even when racing inshore, a single tack or windward-leeward situation isn’t going to make an entire regatta.

Unfortunately, in today’s “extreme” sports environment, there are all too many who believe that if you don’t have on either a helmet, Kevlar body armor or ski goggles you aren’t taking things seriously. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s OK to be wantonly dangerous. You get caught pushing your luck too far and things don’t go your way in the committee room afterward, that’s too damn bad. Be a sport about it, take your lumps, the way Richards did. And if it causes you to lose the race, the regatta or a line-honors record, well maybe you’ll be a bit more careful next time around.

I distinctly remember a heavy-air race in Chicago when a 40ft PHRF boat absolutely refused to give way after getting caught early at the line. I’m sure the skipper thought he was simply giving it his all as he went reaching toward the pin end accompanied by a chorus of angry bowmen to leeward—at least until he was hit by a right-of-way boat that hadn’t seen him coming in the melee.

To all those who think Wild Oats XI was judged too harshly, this is sailing, not Ultimate Fighting. Again, when in doubt, get the hell out of there before it’s too late, and live to fight another day.

As for LDV Comanche’s line-honors victory, not only did she come by it fair-and-square, her victory was as honorable as any victory out there—not just because she’s a hell of a fast boat with a hell of a crew, but because she played by the rules. For complete results, go to rolexsydneyhobart.com

Images courtesy of Rolex Sydney Hobart

March 2018

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