Is cheating common in sailboat racing? Are some coaches teaching kids to cheat? Do you have to cheat to win these days?
I am prompted to ask myself these questions as a result of some of the comments and debate swirling around in response to my post calling to Ban Mommy Boats NOW. My intent in raising the subject of the activities of coach boats on the race course was to draw attention to something that I find annoying and that gives some sailors what I think is an unfair advantage over others. But, as long as the coaching only happens before or after races it is within the Racing Rules of Sailing, and I would not describe such coaching as "cheating". However, as often happens, the discussion veered off into describing other actions that could be defined as cheating: illegal propulsion, not taking penalties after infringing rules... and even of coaches teaching such behaviors.
I don't like to hear such stuff. I don't want to believe it's true. I think that sometimes we are much too ready to accuse fellow sailors of cheating. Am I living in a dream world by thinking like this?
First of all let's define what cheating is... and what it is not. In the context of sailboat racing I would define cheating as deliberately breaking a rule in order to gain some kind of advantage, or accidentally infringing a rule and then deliberately not choosing to take the appropriate penalty. There has to be some element of malicious intent.
What so often happens when racing is that different sailors see or remember the facts of what happened in a particular situation differently; or the sailors have different understandings of the relevant rules or how to interpret them. In such circumstances it is ridiculous and unsportsmanlike to accuse a fellow sailor of "cheating".
Let me give you a couple of examples...
When I wrote my review of the Advanced Laser Boat Handling DVD a few weeks back, an anonymous commenter immediately pounced on the video clip from the DVD of a light air gybe...
It’s interesting that the clip you chose to show (the light air jibe) shows the sailor violating the rules of propulsion, by coming out of the jibe faster than going in. I have several other training DVD’s and they all seem to train and advocate the same thing. (One even says to do this carefully so as not to alert the refs.) What gives?Shock horror! Coaches are teaching illegal propulsion! Deliberate cheating!
Not so fast. Thanks to the power of the sailing blogging community, fellow blogger and International Judge, Jos Spijkerman soon responded...
I'm at the Delta Lloyd Regatta and just showed this Video to the current ISAF rules 42 specialist, Sofia Truchanowicz. She informed me that the gybe is within the current interpretation of rule 42 and this manoeuvre is legal.A great example of how different sailors interpret a particular action differently. Many of us might see gybes on the racecourse like the ones one in the clip and be quick to think we are seeing an example of "cheating". Not so, according to the ISAF expert.
Or what about the incident I described in No Go? A starboard tacker responds to a hail of "Tack or cross?" with an answer of "Go!" and then protests the port tacker for trying to cross ahead of him. Absolutely shameless behavior! Definite cheating!
Actually not so. Read the full story and you will see that it's actually a comedy of errors by both sailors. Stupid maybe. Laughable certainly. Not cheating.
So let's agree that lack of knowledge of the rules, not knowing how to interpret the rules, honest mistakes, different perceptions of the facts of an incident, poor boat-handling etc. etc. are not "cheating".
But still the question remains. Is there much cheating at sailing regattas these days? Does Tillerman need to get his head out of the boat and see what's happening all around him?
Perhaps. Maybe I am too ready to give the benefit of the doubt to my fellow sailors. Here is how I try to deal with rules incidents as they occur on the racecourse...
If I see you infringe a rule I will tell you... once, and only once. If it's a typical boat-to-boat rules incident I will simply hail "Protest" possibly with your sail number if there's any doubt which boat I am protesting. If it's what looks like a blatant illegal propulsion issue I will simply tell you to tone it down. Then I will forget about it and move on with my race. I won't get angry. I won't scream and shout. I will not get into a slanging match with you about the incident. I'm here to sail my race and enjoy myself. If I'm spending time arguing with you about the rules I'm not concentrating on my own race.
And here's the dirty little secret I don't actually want you to know: if you don't do your turns I won't actually file a protest against you after the race. Life's too short to spend my evening in the protest room instead of the bar. If you know you infringed a rule, do your turns. If you don't, then you are a cheat, and you have lost my respect for ever. If we have a genuine difference of opinion about the facts or a different understanding of the rules, then we may have a polite discussion after racing about the incident. As a result one of us may decide to retire from that race. Or maybe not. I hope that at least we can shake hands and part as friends and that neither of us will be tempted to use the C-word.
So am I letting cheaters get away with it by not following through on protests? Am I living in a dream world in not wanting to believe that cheating is going on all around me on the race course? Is cheating in sailing as common as some people claim? Do some coaches really teach cheating?