Sunday, September 23, 2007


I have a shelf full of awards in my office. Plaques, plates, cups, mugs, glasses. Some more esoteric items too. The tangible recognition of 25 years of Laser racing. Mainly trash really. Why do I keep them?

The object of a race is to win. But if that were the only reason we raced most of us shouldn't bother. Most of the time we don't win. I very rarely win.

Regatta organizers know people like to receive awards. So they find ways to give as many as they can afford. Top five in the regatta maybe. Then how about some prizes for special categories? First female. First junior. First old guy. We were having some fun a few days ago speculating on whether Laser regattas should have an award for First Fat Boy too.

But wait. Now there's a problem. What if someone in one of these special, "handicapped" categories happens to place in the top five? Should they win two awards? Or should we give the award for First Fat Old Guy With No Hair to the first gentleman in that category who did not succeed in winning any other award?

Some organizers go one way. Some the other. You can argue for both methods. Does it really matter?

Truth is that most of the Laser awards on my shelf are those special category awards. Lots of First Master trophies. Usually they mean, "first old geezer who wasn't good enough to win one of the real awards". Oh well. They still look good there on the shelf gathering dust.

In one regatta this summer -- in retrospect probably the event in which I sailed best -- when the dust settled on the last day I realized that I was actually the first oldster not in the top five. The Notice of Race said awards would be given for First Five and First Master. Woohoo. I'd better stick around for the awards ceremony instead of hitting the road and trying to beat all the traffic going home from the local beaches.

It was a long wait. As always the awards ceremony started later than expected. So I had to hang out at the bar and have a few beers. And it was a multi-class regatta so then we had to wait for the awards for the Optis and 420s and whatever. Regatta organizers give lots of awards in the kiddie classes. Quite right too.

Ah now we have the Laser awards. First of all the real winners. Real sailors. This year's College Sailor of the Year. Some guy who was in top 5 at CORK. A District Champion. Guy who came second in the Masters Worlds a few years ago. Real sailors. Totally out of my league.

Then on to the special awards. I edge to the front of the crowd so that I can leap forward and modestly accept my award for "first old geezer not good enough to win a real award". But they give the First Master award to the old guy who was also in the top five.

Momentary twinge of disappointment. Put a brave face on it. Smile and applaud the worthy winner. No big deal really. He sure deserves it more than me.

So is there any point in having these special category awards or should we all just race as equals for the top three or top five place awards?

I know some of the top female Laser sailors don't like winning the Top Female award. They want to be considered as equal to the men and find it patronizing when they are congratulated for being the first woman in the regatta. Especially if they are the only woman in the regatta!

Some of the kids sure are fast too. And some of the old guys can hold their own against almost any competition. So why not scrap all the special categories and just have awards for the folk who really are the best sailors on the day?

What do you think?


Tim said...

Maybe personal handicaps like golf would be a good thing to try, that way it rewards those who are making progress in thier ability.

Tillerman said...

Good point tim. My first club in England used to do that for their multi-day Easter regatta. And when my kids were in the Opti program at Rutland they raced with personal handicaps in the junior series.

Tough to do though away from club racing environment.

JSW225 said...

"If you stop getting better, you stop being good." -Lloyd Griffith.

Pat said...

Regatta organizers have a variety of goals in mind long before the prize-giving begins. They want their regattas to succeed and generate a good reputation, they want their volunteer work to be appreciated, they want to encourage spouses and family members to support their programs (partly so that families won't resent their sailors spending time at the club and on the water), and they want to beef up membership rosters and recruit volunteers so someone else can do more of the work.

So, the trophy ceremony may be used to reward hotshots, encourage kids, pacify spouses and family members, celebrate club traditions, and just generally sell a lot of people on the dream that they could someday be winners.

Carol Anne said...

Oh, my, I see that Pat has absorbed all sorts of racing-committee propaganda from his interactions with race-committee people on his travels.

My take: awards should overlap. That is, the best female sailor award should go to the best female sailor, not the best female sailor who otherwise doesn't get an award. Likewise for the best master sailor, the best junior sailor, and so forth.

So that means that if the best female sailor is good enough that she can win against the men, she gets two prizes, one for winning overall and one for being the best woman at the regatta. I don't have a problem with that.

On the other hand, some people have proposed that if a woman is good enough to beat the men, she shouldn't be scored with the rest of women -- that is, the rest of the women shouldn't have to compete against her.

Sorry, I don't buy that. All women should be competing against all other women. If there's a strongly gifted individual out there, she's the one to beat. A woman who is strong enough to compete at the men's level is still a woman, and if she's the best woman out there, she should get the women's first place, not the best woman who doesn't finish overall.

The same goes for juniors, masters, special-needs, economically-deprived, and other special categories of sailors.

To do anything less is to devalue the sailing ability of women, juniors, masters, and other minority categories of sailors.

Zen said...

I could say the Main thing is about doing your best, not the award, However I will not because I'm sure you all know that.

Anyone seen where my trophy polish went?

TeamSeacats Jake said...

Was this in Columbia? I made those awards and would be glad to make you a super special one for the Tillerman! I think we may know each other.

Chainsaw said...

I say let all same boats race for the one (or how ever many places) trophy. Wind doesn't blow less because you're a woman, or a junior. Sea doesn't become calm because you're tired out. The dynamics of sailing don't change if you have only one arm.

Best woman trophy plus best overall trophy is double dipping for feminists. You win or you don't, doesn't matter about your gender.

Keep personal political agendas out of the truth of sailing. It may be a tendancy of dinghy sailors to forget how serious sailing is, or the extent of it's beauty, because they can run for shore when things get sticky. Maybe offshore keelboat racing should be a prerequiste to dinghy racing to drive the point home.

Recently I raced against juniors who RC thought were good enough. I learned never to cut slack to a competitor just because they were junior. Whether they learned that life isn't fair or not remains to be seen, but the opportunity was certainly there.

If juniors/women/handicapped think they can challenge anyone outside of their chosen category then they must meet as equals and accept the outcome as a fair match - no moaning afterwards. If people want full and true equality they must give up their shorebased agendas and crutches.

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