Last weekend I sailed in a small local regatta with two of my regular sailing buddies, Judy (the Center of Effort blogger) and Eric (Apparent Wind author). We are all about the same skill level and usually take turns beating the other. We all went to Cabarete last January for some coaching, and we all hoped to somehow make a quantum leap in our performance this year. Until last weekend, there were no leaps.
Then on Saturday, Judy leapt. Her speed downwind was blowing me away, and she was clearly the fastest sailor in the regatta off the wind. Center of Effort has recently featured interviews and advice on downwind sailing from two of the country’s top laser sailors, Clay Johnson and Ben Richardson. I read the blogs, but so far, no leaping on my part. Judy must be a better reader than I, because she has figured out how to transform words into boat speed.
She beat me by one or two places five out of seven times on the weekend. The last race on Saturday was out of character with all the others. I was lucky enough to win the start, get to the first mark with a lead, and hang on downwind, beating a “clearly better sailor” who won all of the other races. Judy, who had finished second in all of the previous four races, worked the boat a little too hard downwind, capsized, and finished 6th.
With a 5 point spread in one race our scores suddenly became close. Judy wasn’t worried because she thought she could throw out the bad race. I clung to hope by recalling that the sailing instructions had said that all races would be counted. None of us could find our copy of the sailing instructions, but we were all clear that Judy had beaten us on the day by either scoring system. The only question was by how much. The next morning we checked the interim results, and sure enough, there was a throw-out. I didn’t know whether to doubt my reading skills or doubt the race committee who demonstrated problems with their scoring in previous years.
In my competitive spirit, I told myself all I needed to do the second day was beat her every time and hope there were a lot of races. It turned out there were only two races on Sunday. I beat her in the first race by two places and she beat me in the second by what seemed like ¼ mile, but only one place. I congratulated Judy on her second place finish in the regatta. (The “clearly better sailor” had first place locked up.) I was both happy for her and envious in terms of her substantial improvement in sailing skills.
I didn’t stay for the awards. Last year, it was a two hour wait. Judy didn’t stay either and apparently, there were no awards. Judy watched the internet for final results and on Friday, they were finally published. There in black and white, the results declared that Judy finished third and I finished second. Say what?????? How could that be? For five days (and to this day), we all agreed Judy had sailed a great regatta and had beaten all except the superstar who won 6 of 7 races.
It was as if the Russian figure skating judge had given me an obviously biased perfect score that vaulted me to an undeserved silver medal. I’m sure we all looked for some giant mistake in recording one of the races, but they were all correct. But, unlike the interim results, all races were counted in the final scoring – no throw-outs. The results for second were a tie between me and Judy, and according to the RRS tiebreaking system, I won the tie.
This was disconcerting in two ways. The first was that, with the exclusion of throw-outs, the rules of the game seemed to change after the fact, and the second was that it is unusual and perhaps unfair that one sailor can beat another 5 of 7 times and lose.
For a race committee to say one thing, do another, and then go back to the first option is unusual (fortunately for me) and gives the appearance that they make up the rules as they go along. Also, in this case, the scoring system seems arbitrary. We sail the races, and then someone makes up scores.
The rules in one sense ARE arbitrary. I coach high school sailing and have some familiarity with college sailing, and each of these have somewhat different methods of keeping score and different methods of breaking ties.
The first difference is the inclusion or exclusion of throw-outs. RRS has them, high school and college sailing don’t. (RRS also allows for no throw-outs if stated in the sailing instructions.) More often than not, throw-outs do not alter the regatta finishes, but sometimes they do.
The next difference is the varying tiebreaker hierarchies.
1. Number of firsts, number of seconds, etc.
2. Score of last race
1. Head to head
2. Number of firsts, number of seconds, etc.
3. Score of last race
High School tiebreakers
1. Head to head
2. Number of firsts, number of seconds, etc.
3. For first place, there must be a sail-off. For all other places, the tie remains.
Thankfully, most of the finishing places in a regatta are determined on the water and remain the same regardless of the scoring system used. Beyond that, it would be nice if we could all agree how to score close racing, but we can’t. Different rules will declare different winners.
RRS has no place at all for head to head results, but they are the first tiebreaker for high school and college. With no throw outs, head to head seems like a just, clear and decisive way to pick a winner, but when there are throw-outs, there are fewer head to head races and perhaps it is not so clear.
It was very clear in our regatta last weekend. The outcome of the battle between Judy and me was determined by rules more than better sailing.
RRS with throw-out – Judy wins by 2 points
College Rules – Judy wins head to head 5-2
High School rules – Judy wins head to head 5-2
RRS with no throw-out – I win it in a tiebreaker with one first and one second to her four seconds
This doesn’t feel like winning.
I can’t even think about high point scoring (AC 45 fleet racing), the high point percentage system, the Cox Sprague scoring system, and the low point bonus point system.
Then there is the Olympic scoring system which shortens the last race (medal race) and counts it double. The result of the last race is also the tiebreaker. In a ten boat medal race, the winner would get two points and the last place finisher would get 20 and not be able to throw it out. Consider an18 point swing when Anna Tunnicliff won gold with a regatta total of only 37 points. A gold medal winner could conceivably lose more races head to head, have fewer first place finishes, and win the gold medal based mostly on this one race. The gold medal winner will be famous, and his/her life will change forever. The silver medal winner will likely think about scoring systems.