Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Club Champion

Who can resist a Tillerman writing project – a tried and true cure for writer’s block? My nomination for the worst ever sailing invention is the concept of the season series Club Champion.

Most local yacht clubs run one or more regular series of races over the sailing season. They are convenient, usually great fun, and get a lot of us out for frequent sailing. It’s all good until there is a need to crown a winner for the series. Because the series runs for a substantial period of time, everyone misses some (usually quite a few) days of racing. All the players do not compete against all the other players throughout a season. So lots of people can qualify, there are usually numerous throw outs.. In terms of a serious competition, it is inherently an unequal playing field.

Does the randomness of it somehow level things out? Is there some kind of scoring system that can make this as equitable as head to head competition? Not in my admittedly limited experience.

Is winning a three boat race against a couple of second tier guys while the best guys are off at a regatta the same as winning the day against all the best ten guys? Should the light air wizard be the champ because he picks all the light air days to sail and goes white water rafting on the windy ones? Should the heaviest sailor or crew be the winner when he sails on days it howls and plays golf when the wind won’t blow his ball around? Is it a fair competition when some guys sail more often, get more throw outs, and more chances to do well?

So why do we need to call someone a champion in a series with all these screwy irregularities that we would not tolerate in a serious regatta? We seem so juiced on competition that someone has to prove his thingie is bigger than the other’s guy thingie, even if the other guy just got out of an icy swimming pool. Can’t we get more women in this sport to stop this nonsense?

It can’t be good to take this Club Championship with anything less than a whole shaker of salt. If the champ is so far superior to the rest of his fleet that he wins all the time at the local level, he should move on to bigger or more challenging events. Should we respect the narcissistic egotist who, year after year, aspires only to be the big fish in the little pond? And when the series winner is one of several relatively equal sailors, the issue is probably decided more by the serendipitous variations in attendance than any differences in skill. Is that a champion or the winner of a raffle?

Valid competition only exists when all competitors have an equal chance in equal conditions, an impossibility during an extended series. Winning the day (or the regatta) produces a great feeling for us competitive junkies. Can’t we be satisfied with that? Why can’t we just celebrate our moments?


  1. Great point. In most of the clubs and fleets in which I have raced, the system for scoring the series has been a bone of contention. You are right. There is no system that is perfectly fair. Some people take these scoring systems way too seriously. I have seen pretty much all the situations you describe... and more.

    I might write a post myself on this subject one day, perhaps along the lines of how the system chosen does usually represent some (perhaps unstated) aspect of the sailing philosophy of that club.

  2. Probably you have seen the US Sailing alternative scoring systems.

    I re-worked our club's scores from the past few years using the High-points Percentage system. (Yes I'm one of those people). I'd say it produced pretty 'fair' results in the face of vacation schedules, and variable attendance. But I didn't suggest the change to the club, partially because I sense that my club doesn't take the season trophy too seriously, and I see no reason to change that healthy attitude.