Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mommy Boats

It seems to me that at every major Laser regatta these days the race course is infested with Mommy Boats. Little and big motor boats buzzing in and out of the fleet of Lasers between every race, swarming around the course area during the race.

To be fair it's more often Daddy than Mommy driving the Mommy Boat. Daddy likes to drive the Mommy Boat, especially if it has twin 60hp engines. And even more commonly it's not Daddy or Mommy driving the Mommy boat, it's a guy (or gal) who goes by the name of Coach who is paid by Mommy and Daddy to drive the Mommy Boat. He gets paid even more if he has a New Zealand accent.

Oh yes, Coach is an excellent sailor. He was competitive in the class himself back in the day. But now he earns his living working as a sailing coach. And part of the duties is driving the Mommy Boat at regattas. Back home Coach teaches the kids how to sail better. He runs lots of drills and blows a whistle incessantly. But at regattas Coach is really just a surrogate Mommy and he gets to drive the Mommy Boat.

So if you're sailing in the regatta and you have a Mommy Boat what does it do for you?

Well, first of all it might tow you out to the course, just like Mommy used to drive you to school even though you only lived half a mile from school. God forbid that you might have to walk or bike to school yourself, or actually sail your Laser out to the racecourse like all the other competitors. You might get tired. Then of course the Mommy Boat will tow you home again at the end of the day.

Also, the Mommy Boat might carry some spare sailing clothes for you. Remember how Mommy always made sure that you had a warm coat in the winter or a waterproof if it might rain? The Mommy Boat will do just the same for you.

And the Mommy Boat will carry your lunch and your drinks. Good old Mommy was always there when you needed a cookie or a drink of warm milk wasn't she? So is the Mommy Boat.

And if you have a bad experience on the race course -- maybe you got black flagged or were OCS -- then Coach will provide you with moral support. Just like Mommy used to wipe away your tears if you got beat up by one of the big boys at school or fell over and grazed your knee in the playground.

So doesn't Coach actually do any coaching at a regatta? I guess so. Sail to the Mommy Boat between races and maybe Coach will remind you of what time the tide turns or what he thinks the wind is going to do. Just like Mommy was always there to wipe your nose or help you with your homework. Good old Mommy.

The Mommy Boat of course is just part of the trend in which modern parents structure the recreational activities of their kids. The kids don't go and play stick ball in the street; they are signed up for Little League. They don't kick a ball around on a local field; they have a soccer coach. Sailing is just going the same way. "Whatever happened to fun?" one veteran Laser sailor asked me at the weekend after hearing that Coach had told one of the kids to run ten laps after racing.

It wasn't always this way. When I used to take my kids to Optimist regattas I'd push them off the shore and then watch the races from the beach if practical or, if not, go and read a magazine in the clubhouse. Let 'em cope by themselves on the racecourse. Sailing taught self-reliance. Toughens 'em up. Nowadays sailing teaches that the Mommy Boat is always there for you.

And of course Mommy is always there these days. My son tells me that parents sometimes even show up at the initial screening interview when Junior is applying for her first job after college. Yikes.

But wait, I hear you say. The Coach Boat (as you call it) provides a valuable service. It helps a competitor to have the physical, moral and logistical support that Coach provides. If nothing else it's much better to dump all the spare clothing, food and drinks on the Coach Boat than carry all that extra weight on your Laser while racing.

And of course, you are right. The Mommy Boats do give an advantage to the competitors that have them. But what about the rest of us? After paying several hundred dollars for regatta entry fees, travel, hotel, food (not to mention that new sail that I should have bought too) do I also need to pay someone to drive a Mommy Boat for me? Where is this heading? Will we see the day when all 200+ sailors at the Laser North Americans have Mommy Boats?

I say ban the Mommy Boats. Let's get back to the good old days when the only motor boats on the course were race committee and safety boats. I'm going to start a movement. Dads Against Mommy Boats. DAMB. Sign up here.

39 comments:

Litoralis said...

I'd like to be a charter member of DAMB.

A simple solution might be to define "racing" in the sailing instructions for an event (it is not otherwise defined in the RRS) as starting on the first preparatory signal of the day and ending when the last boat has finished the last race of the day. Any contact with coach boats by competitors during the day's racing would then clearly violate Rule 41's restriction on "help from any outside source."

Another solution might be to protest any sailor who has contact with their coach during a day of racing under Rule 2 as a violation of "principles of sportsmanship and fair play." In any regatta, a part of the competition is the endurance required to complete each day's racing. If certain competitors are allowed to rest or receive food, water, clothing or advice from a coach boat, then they are clearly gaining an unfair advantage to which other competitors do not have access.

JSW225 said...

They are called Helicopter parents. They feel the need to do everything for their kids as they go through life. Many college campuses are having problems with it. Anytime the kid fails to perform, the mother calls the dean or professor (probably in that order).

Tillerman said...

Lito I'm with you in principle but I fear your first idea would not work. Racing is defined in the RRS. In the Definitons it says, "A boat is racing from her preparatory signal until she finishes and clears the finishing line and marks or retires, or until the race committee signals a general recall, postponement or abandonment."

And Rule 86 makes it perfectly clear that the SIs cannot change anything in the Defintions.

Feel free to try your second idea though at your next regatta.

Team Gherkin said...

GREAT post! [signs the petition happily]
Cyalayta
Mal :)

Tim said...

Great post!

Don't have this problem in the Enterprise class but our junior fleet at the club has its fair share of 'enthusiastic parents'.

When I was a cadet there were plenty of parents running after little Jonny making sure his boat was rigged for him etc etc.

Not like my parents; "Been sailing Tim?", "Yes Dad, I'm doing the Natioanls this week" "Oh".

At the time I wished I had a little more support but now I see the whole experiance as being a great opportunity to develop independance.

Litoralis said...

Oops...didn't realize "racing" was defined.

The other problem with my first idea is that all the other racing rules would be in effect between races.

Maybe a simple provision in the sailing instructions defining fair play as including "not receiving outside assistance, other than for emergencies, between the first preparatory signal and the last finish of the day."

Tillerman said...

Think that would do it Lito. There are certainly plenty of precedents for using the SIs to restrict activities while on the water but not racing, such as "don't sail in the shipping channel" and "don't remove your lifejacket".

Personally I'd extend the time limit during which the "no outside assistance" rule applies from the time of the harbor start signal to the time at which the committee boat returns to the dock.

Anonymous said...

And all those coach boats tend to motor around during the racing, messing up the waves for the people in the mid fleet. They should be outlawed!

EVK4 said...

Big thread on this over at Sailing Anarchy actually. A regatta tried to ban it and had a huge uproar.

I'm a parent of a kid who is just getting to the age for competition. She's developed this sense herself, paying attention to whether she's a faster/better swimmer than other kids around her. She's still too young to race but has a few teams wanting her to join.

The advantage she and I have is that she's a faster/better swimmer than I am. I am of no use to her other than I can go to her meets (some day) and cheer her on.

I am in such complete agreement with this post that I have nothing more to add other than I hope I'm never one of those parents.

EVK4 said...

One more thing...Mommy Boats is a very well-turned phrase. If nothing else, if this gets into everyday lexicon, it should shame a few dads/coaches from doing it.

Litoralis said...

"A regatta tried to ban it and had a huge uproar."

That's why you restrict coaching it in the sailing instructions, which are only handed out after registration and on the day of the event when it's too late to back out. If the coaches think their kids can't handle it without the Mommy Boat, then what good are they as a coach in the first place.

Evk4's point about shame is key...if an all out ban is not acceptable in some regattas with large junior sailing participation, then perhaps the notice of race should explain that scoring (or even the fleet itself) will be divided into two categories; the coached or outside help group (A.K.A the "Trainee Fleet", and the uncoached or independent group (A.K.A. the "Yachtsman Fleet").

Tillerman said...

Thanks Edward. I was also hoping that a heavy dose of ridicule might help advance the cause. Thanks for the tip about the SA thread -- I'll check it out.

Lito - That idea of two fleets for scoring is superb. I think we could approve on those names though. How about "Momma's Boys" and "Real Men"? Though I guess that would upset the female contingent. Then as awards for the Momma's Boys fleet we could hand out cuddly toys.

Tim, gherkin and jsw - thanks for your kind words and support.

Hey - why are you lot so agreeable? I thought this would stir up some controversy. Don't any of my readers want to say a good word for Mommy Boats?

EVK4 said...

I think this was the thread. There's an article on the front page that it references that makes the beginning make much more sense.

Tim L said...

Totally agree - its been something of a bizarre experience moving into the Europe class and finding seperate 'Support boat registration' at events and watching lads of 18 or 19 standing by while daddy pushes their 45Kilos of dinghy down the slip.

It in the start zone that the Mommy boats are a real meance, often sitting around on the windward layline or still following their sailor while assuming everyone is going to keep out of their way.

Its an irony that its the strict one designs where the real cheque book sailing goes on - coaches, personal trainers, a big Mommy boat plus fuel and a 4x4 to tow it. It all makes a different mast or centreboard (or even hull) in a development class look like small beer.

Anonymous said...

Have there been any fist fights between psychotic overprotective parents in their Mommy Boats yet?

DavidB said...

Perfect post tillerman. Could not agree more. Having said that, it is absolutely thrilling to watch your kid race a sailboat. I'll just do it from further away next time.

JSW225 said...

Actually, the post over at Sailing Anarchy didn't really have to do with allowing coaches on the course, but trying to restrict the coaches which could be there. It was a monopolistic scheme to only allow pre-registered US Sailing certified instructors on the course.

The fights and arguments wasn't FOR mommy boats, but AGAINST the regatta controlling which people could be mommy boats (and effectively cutting out 90% of the coaching fleet).

Peter Huston said...

I wrote the article in SA that is being referred to here. It was mostly about the restriction of private coaches by US Sailing, which is not allowed per the USOC at the Youth Champs, as this is a protected competition as the winner goes to the ISAF World Youths.

I made mention of the fact that I am not in favor of private coaches either - nor am in favor of this abundance of support boats - but - there are philosophical issues and there are policy issues which trump them.

Everyone in sailing is best served by doing it all for themselves. There is a time and place for private coaches, and support boats, but alot of this is just getting way out of hand.

Ulitmately, Gresham's Law will prevail - the bad will drive out the good - and the good will just have to find another class to sail in, or, run their own regatts which limit all of this stuff that isn't much fun for anyone.

Anonymous said...

How refreshing! I am so glad to see that I'm not the only one who has been bothered by the little league aspect of sailing. My kids don't race, they cruise with us.

Anonymous said...

After being subjected to this nonsense a while back, I simply won't do the "kid" events anymore.

Most of the dipstick parents were younger than me! I thought they were wasting perfectly good sailing weather in a motorboat, when they could have been sailing.

From now on Masters events only.

Maxfinn said...

Who said it's limited to Junior Sailing? Has anyone seen the starting area at a major Star Regatta? It's bad enough having to dodge the port tack boats, but to have to stay out of the way of some of the coach boats as well really kind of sucks!

Maybe it's a bit of sour grapes, as there are days when a tow out and back would be kind of cool, but overall, I sure wouldn't mind seeing a return to the day when we all had to figure it out for and support ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, a bunch of old guys bitching because the kids are beating them-and blaming it on coaches. . .

You're sailing in an olympic class, what do you expect?

Go sail a sunfish regatta, you won't have this horrible problem there.

Anonymous said...

"Ah yes, a bunch of old guys bitching because the kids are beating them-and blaming it on coaches. . "

NO, you are wrong...they were beating me 10 years ago too. So what? That is not the problem. It is the interference and generally unattractive activities of the parents and coaches

Anonymous said...

Having had the new RIB for a month now...and feeling pretty sheepish about it (being a life long sailor)--I was interested in the comments.

My kids are too young yet to be on the 'circuit' -- but we will probably be there in a couple of years... we are starting to sail the optimist in the harbor this summer

Having just begun to emerge into the world with our 3 kids (all under 6) -- we haven't experienced the crazed parent routine -- but I am sure it will raise its ugly head...

Hope we don't get labeled by being there for our kids. We'll be careful not to over do it.

Chris said...

I agree with Anonymous. Quit whining!

While many sailing parents are completely out of hand with the babying of their kids and there is a lot of merit to what you say, you completely denigrate your argument by indicting the very idea of having an on the water coach. In case you haven't noticed, they use "Mommy boats" at both the America's Cup and the Olympics. I think you will also find that on the water coaching is far more prevelant in the European and South American countries. If America is to catch up with our International competition, proper coaching and training will be a part of that.

As far as US Sailing trying to enforce their rules against non-USSailing certified instructors, this is just more of the same. US Sailing is out of control and is about as bad for the sport of sailing in the US as Barry Bonds is for the integrity of the record book of MLB. US Sailing has become a joke that is just not funny. The "guardians and promoters" of our sport place their bottom line and their personal "power" far higher on their list of priorities than any thoughts of what is best for the sport and its participants.

TomD said...

I cast my vote with the people who want to ban Mommy Boats for sailors of all ages, right up to the kiddies of the Olympic Classes and the professional children of the America's Cup.

It's all part of the relentless drive to make sailboat racing like other sports, where winning is everything and cheating is excused because the competitors have to perform at a high level. No they don't. They choose to put winning ahead of decency and they need the help of regatta organizers, race committees and judges to make better decisions.

No Mommy Boats. (Great name, by the way).

Litoralis said...

chris said:"If America is to catch up with our International competition, proper coaching and training will be a part of that."

I agree...but that coaching and training should take place before competition. Once a competitor is actually competing it is time to leave the coach onshore and compete on equal footing with the other competitors. This includes carrying enough water to get you through the day, as well as making your strategic decisions for yourself.

Anonymous said: "Ah yes, a bunch of old guys bitching because the kids are beating them-and blaming it on coaches..."

I don't mind if they beat me fairly. I think we can all agree that coaching during a race should not (and is not, as far as I know) allowed; this is not NFL Football where coaches call plays and players execute them. I also think that coaching should be excluded from between races because I see the time between races in a multi-race day as a necessary part of the competition. I can also see reasons to extend the no-coaching zone from the time of the harbor start signal to the time at which the committee boat returns to the dock. Even if we leave aside towing out to the course and back as an unfair advantage, the main problem I have with on-the-water coaching is the opportunity for coached sailors to receive last minute coaching on wind and current conditions once they reach the course that is not available to other competitors (such as information from their coach about what the tide is doing at the windward mark, etc.).

Coaches should stick to pre-event coaching, not acting as part of a sailor's on-the-water tactical and strategic afterguard. This obviously applies equally to junior sailors and Olympic sailors.

Oh, and watch who you are calling "old"; I may not be a junior anymore but I have a few years before I reach Apprentice Master.

Lido5110 said...

I couldn't agree more with this post Tillerman. I have 11 and 8 year old daughters who participate in a number of sports, including sailing. Primarily they race with me on our Lido 14, but my 11 yr old has participated for two summers now in the sailing camp at the local club in an old wood Opti. It's solid, rigged well, and goes fine. She likes to sail in shorts, t-shirt and bare feet (PFD and sunscreen of course). In addition to not having her Mom or Dad breathing down her neck for two weeks straight like many others, she gets some nasty looks from other kids and PARENTS because she has a beater boat and isn't outfitted in Gill, Musto, etc from head to toe...
The cool thing is that she doesn't give a damn what they think... she just loves to sail... oh yeah, and she's faster out on the course too! ;^)
Let kids learn out on the race course from their own experiences... sign me up for DAMB.

John said...

I have a 10 year old Opti sailor. My job as Dad is to 1) Make sure he is safe. 1a) Make sure he has his life vest on properly 1b) Make sure his mast tie down is properly tied. And lastly MAYBE move his dolly after he has launched up the beach, and then back down to the beach when he is done.

But that time on the beach is totally nerve racking, and then when they go off the beach, to the point where binoculars can't even make out sail numbers...does the RC have enough Safety boats ? Are they looking ? Is he going to be able to finish in the time limit ? Is he having a good time ? Sure some kids have the mommy boat, and some kids have the Yacht Club coach.. but what about that kid who doesn't - who is looking out for them ?

My opinion is that there should be no support boats that are not under the direct control of the RC. First and foremost there should be adiquiate safety boats depending on fleet size, then unbiased coaching should be available to ALL back half green fleeters, and then for every one else there should be a "lunch & gear" support boat operated by the RC.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I thought I was the only one who felt like this! Not to take away from the skills of the sailors but life is sure alot easier when someone can remind you what went right and wrong immediately after the race. And when you can doff on don gear at will without worrying about losing it. To make things even maybe regatta organizers should be arranging for mommy/coach boats for all sailors. As if it's not hard enough to get people to help with events. Better yet, ban'em and make the issue go away.

Larchmont Mom said...

I have three children in Optimists this year and I guess I drive a Mommy Boat...I want to defend us Mommy Boat folks...we are not all overprotective psychotic parents...some of us (me) just like to be out on the water...and yes, we can help the kids between races..but hey, I help ALL kids...if a storm comes through I check on my daughter and everybody else around her...I bring out people's nonboating relatives for a glimpse of this great life...and I am NOT overprotective...I agree that sailing is about independance...if my daughter flips or has an issue I PURPOSELY pretend to be watching some other part of the race...she solves her own problems, but secretly I am proud because I got a glimpse of her doing it. I am a sailor, I don't make a big wake, or cut off mid fleet, or block people's air...I am just happy to be there and happy my kids didn't choose ice hockey!

"Mommy" Boat Driver said...

I am a sailing coach and my RIB is bigger than yours. I tow my privileged little protégés out to the racecourse; I wouldn't want them to get tired or wear out their sails. After making sure they are all checked in at the committee boat, I head upwind to scout the course; I can't let my little racers go the wrong way upwind. On the way back to the starting area I make sure to check to start line bias; it would be embarrassing if my team started at the wrong end. I then have a few minutes to round up my little sailors and give them the benefit of my years of experience. They really enjoy the opportunity to rest on the boat and get a cool drink of the sports beverage of their choice before the start. After watching the start, I motor upwind towards the favored side of the course (shhh...only my kids know this trick). I take notes upwind on my sailors' sail trim and tactics to give them feedback after the race. After the race is over I let my little yachtsters rest on the boat while I adjust their rigs for the wind conditions and fix any worn parts. I make sure to let them know what to do differently in the next race. When my sailors are well rested, watered and fed, I give each of them my personalized feedback. I make sure to let one little hotshot know that I will have analyzed the foul he was involved with in the race so that he will be prepared for his protest hearing. At the end of the last race I make sure to tow my little guys and gals back to shore and de-rig their boats so they can get out of their wet clothes in time to meet their parents back in the club for dinner.

magnolia said...

My problem is with self rightious parents who rationalize not engaging in junior sailing because of potential problems. The effect is that those of us like Larchmont mom who are engaged end up helping everyone. I have lifted a thousand Optimists and Lasers up steep slipery ramps. I have held lasers for juniors adults and masters in freezing cold water up to my chest while sailors looked for dollys, I have towed lasers with broken rigs, scared cold opti sailors, the odd kite surfer and race committee boats back to the harbor. None of this directly helps my children. I like to think that when they seem be contributing to the sport the best way I can they will learn something about me that might be more important than the results.

Anonymous said...

"Many college campuses are having problems with it. Anytime the kid fails to perform, the mother calls the dean or professor (probably in that order)."

Yup, and it goes well beyond that. Now that Gen Y is out in the job market, parents have been following up on junior's interviews! I can't wait until I get my first follow-up call from a mommy-boat driver...

Last summer I saw a big SUV dragging a RIB with an Opti on the roof. I never realized it was so bad in sailing. I can't imagine how the child who does not have such ammenities feels when faced with such an armada. All you mommy-boat drivers ought to be ashamed. Stop pretending you are helping out because you are not. Rather, you are ruining it for the others.

Ban 'em all.

/Adam

Anonymous said...

Tillerman you are a bitter old man who is mired in the past. If you want your kid to do it like in the "good old days" then fine. The rest of us are just taking the sport to the next level.

Anonymous said...

last year at the opti nationals, when a big t-storm appeared on radar, the mommy boats were able to get 300 Optis back to shore in 30 minutes. This is my third post on this, I need a job

Anonymous said...

This might be an issue for areas where you actually feel safe with the RC security plan, the water and air temp is good enough. But when you go for racing where the water and air is cold, and the RC is understaffed - then I guess that all of you would be greatfull if your little sailor got support when they flip or have some material problem?

Another issue is when you go for serius racing, a coach should be at provider of information and use this information in a pedagogic way, NOT give them the answer! It should always be a discussion based on the sailors idea and experinace combined with the coaches information.

I talked to one of the skipper to a AC syndicate, I told him that my son get support and I was acting as his coach in my RIB! He laughed at me and said similar things about this that Tillerman do. Then I asked him why he has 4 people in the afterguard, one navigator with computer support, one man in the mast to spot the preusure, and a weathercrew with 4 RIBs on different locations monitoring current, tide, wind, wave and a team of weatherman on shore to analyse. Whay he actually was lauging at was something that he was supported by 10 times more!

Competetive national- and international sailing goeas in a very professional manor, the best nations have proffessional coaches on the regattas.

As a parent, I like sailing, I'm a former natiional team sailor, one of my best moments in life is to be out on the race course, watch the races, support my kids and friends kids. I keep clear of the race course, just watching from a distans. The interaction with my kids is something that I´m very happy with it has brought our family to three Optimist Worlds, and a lot of other competition.

Noodle said...

Never had a Mummy boat... what a crazy idea. Does it not kinda conflict with the concept, that you are not allowed to get help from outside? Not the rule though... as long they only operate in between races. Motering around during the race?? Coaching the "client" and disturbing the other boats? No way the RC should allow that.

Anonymous said...

I spend a lot of time in my zodiac watching my son race his opti.
I get your point about coaching or coddling but I love spending the day on the water without a phone/ email etc and no one to nag me.
No clients, spouses etc. or electronics its pretty hard to beat, and the racing is very good.

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