Monday, January 03, 2011

Mommies Gone Wild

We've had a good rant intelligent rational discussion here before about the topic of Mommy Boats, the pestilence of so-called "coach boats" that infest an increasing number of Laser regattas these days. In the comments to my previous posts Mommy Boats and Ban Mommy Boats NOW the discussions were lively and heated.

Some agreed with me, that the "mommification" of our sport has gone too far. The practice of certain sailors having Mommy Boats bringing them warm coats and hot drinks between races, and of course towing them to and from the course area, is undermining the spirit of independence and self-reliance which is the very essence of our sport of single-handed sailing.

Others pointed out the unfairness of a competition in which only a few competitors have Mommy Boat drivers to provide them with physical and moral support, not to mention passing on information obtained by radio from other Mommy Boat drivers of what the wind is doing around the course.

Of course access to a Mommy Boat gives a sailor an unfair advantage. That's why, at the highest levels of competition, the major international Laser regattas, almost every sailor has a Mommy Boat. You can't hope to compete at that level without your Mommy to help you. US Olympic hopeful Clay Johnson reported that at the Laser World Championship in England last year there were over One Hundred Mommy Boats and, in a wry understatement, that the chop from all these Mommy Boats "doesn't help". Crazy!

And it's getting worse. All these Mommy Boats get in the way of the competitors and interfere with the racing. Sometimes race organizers try and write Sailing Instructions to keep the dratted Mommy Boats away from the race area but it's not working. A case in point was an incident that happened at Sail Melbourne a few weeks ago. There was an SI (#14 here) that specified that Mommy Boats must NOT be in the race area after the first prep signal of the day. In spite of that the following incident (as reported by the International Jury) happened...

When starting in the afternoon on Charlie Course the Laser Standard class and their coach boats caused problems by going through 2 course areas whilst earlier fleets were still racing. The jury were requested by the Charlie Race Officer to assist in clearing the boats, especially near the inner loop gate.

This was done but numerous competitors were intransigent and the jury were moving close to one Laser when a fast moving coach boat came towards the jury boat and Laser. The driver had to make an immediate fast turn to port to avoid a collision which would have ended in damage. In doing so, the other judge who was sitting on the sponson talking to the competitor ended up in the water under the hull. The driver responded very quickly in turning off the engine preventing serious injury.

There is another account of the same incident as reported by one of the sailors (and which differs in some details) at Unruly.

It's bad enough that some Laser sailors were "intransigent" in not responding to requests from jury boats to clear the course area on which another fleet was already racing. It is unforgivable that their Mommy Boats were on the course at all, in clear violation of the SIs. And it is absolutely shameful that one Mommy Boat driver almost caused an accident that could have seriously injured one of the judges.

What can be done to deal with this menace? Clearly it is not enough to state in the SIs that Mommy Boats must not be on the race area after the first prep signal of the day; in this case the Mommy Boat drivers just ignored the SIs. What sanctions can be used to enforce such a rule? Can the Mommy Boat drivers be penalized if they are not actually competitors in the race? Can the sailor associated with a badly behaved Mommy Boat be penalized even though he or she is not directly responsible for the misbehavior? Can SIs be written in a way that will keep these damned Mommy Boats off the race area and stop them getting in the way of competitors?

Seriously. This is beyond a joke.


Baydog said...

In the very beginning, if I were racing and my Dad were watching, he did it from his Penguin, simply because he never owned a motorboat,
and he would have rather done it while sailing anyway. Later on, he was always racing while I was, so we'd catch up afterwards. No pressure, and it was better that way. I was always by far a better crew anyway. Just ask that Sunfish sailor from HSC.

Tillerman said...

I have never owned a motor boat either. I took my kids to Optimist regattas and stayed on shore. When they moved on to Sunfish and Lasers I either watched from shore (if a junior regatta) or raced with them.

But then you and I are old school Baydog from the days when real sailors roamed the seas.

Baydog said...

:) Agreed

Sam Chapin said...

Put up with it guys and gals. It is not a perfect world. Coachs have just come along in the past few years. Kids with a lot of expereince sail against those with less. We try to keep the motor boats off the course. Bouy off an area for them. Some places where the racing is a long sail out, it makes it possible for some to sail that might not make it out and back. When we have trouble, we have more help from the coach boats. The Coach boats are also giving advice to other sailors they are not hired to advise. Go to smaller regattas with less coachs if you need to.
Yes, you will get some different options!

Bursledon Blogger said...

you could always switch to sailing a Solent SCOW - given the average age of most of the fleet any Mommy's would be aged around 140

Neil W. Humphrey said...

The problem is containment and patrolling of the coach/mommy boats. Rather than tell them to get off the course tell them and mark where they must be during races.

What the sport needs to do is create technical areas or marked areas the the coach boats can only be in when any racing is going on. Any coach boat that goes out of the area and interacts with their team between the technical area and the course is give a penalty or DSQ. Coach boats can interact with their teams between the technical area and the beach as they are out of the sailing area.

Coach and crowd containment is easy when it's a marked and patrolled area.Coach/mommy boats should only be a marked area with buoys that forms a corral or technical area. End of story!!

Tillerman said...

Thanks Neil for that constructive suggestion. I think having a marked area in which the coach boats must stay is a great idea. The instruction to keep out of the race area is sometimes too vague. They often get in my way during the starting sequence when they are technically not on the race course, but still in the bit of water I want to use to approach the start line.

I'm not entirely clear what you mean when you say that a coach boat who leaves the designated area should be given a penalty or DSQ. Are you saying that the competitor they are associated with should be give a DSQ? If so, what should happen if they are supporting multiple competitors. Do we DSQ them all?

Baydog said...

How about coaching during practice sails, but spectating from the stands during competition like tennis coaches do? Let the athletes compete using their own experience and intuition!

Brass said...


The question arises, is the advantage that having a coach boat gives an unfair advantage over boats that do not have one. I suggest that it is no more an unfair advantage than that gained by a boat buying new sails for every second regatta, new foils every year or any one of the numerous ways that wealthy sailors attempt to gain a competitive advantage.

Sailing never has been all that egalitarian. Sure you can have class rules that attempt to take away the money advantage: Classes like the Farr 40 ‘button’ sails so that there is a limit to the number of new sails they can have.

The fact is, that at Olympic and World standard, every competitor has a coach-boat: that is seen as an essential and reasonable support for high performance.


It is often suggested that Mommy Boats facilitate cheating: coaches signalling wind shifts, preferred side, tide and current and so on.

Arguably, the occurrence of cheating is much exaggerated.

We should not assume that because cheating is possible it is taking place, and that the way to prevent cheating is to ban support boats: Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol, why should it work with support boats?.

If anyone around a race course sees anyone cheating like this, then protest for breaking rule 41, and if you feel like it rule 2 and rule 69.

Tillerman said...

Baydog, I completely support the use of coaches for practice, i.e. at times other than regattas. Regular readers of this blog will know that I occasionally attend group coaching seminars myself.

My objection to Mommy Boats at regattas is based on...

a) "mommifiication" - degrades the spirit of independence and self-reliance which is, for many of us, the spirit of Laser sailing.

b) nuisance - the coach boats get in the way of other sailors, create more chop etc.

c) unfairness if only some sailors have them

d) repeated failure of coach boats to obey the rules specified for them by the regatta organizers (as in this incident.)

e) safety - too many small motor boats buzzing around in a large Laser fleet in between races is potentially dangerous (as in this incident.)

f) they are totally unnecessary. I'm pretty sure that large Laser regattas back in the 70's did not have 100+ coach boats.

I guess I'm just old school?

Tillerman said...

Brass - your comparison of coach boats and new sails is such a good point that I will address it in a separate post in the next few days.

And I tend to agree with you that the frequency of using Mommy Boats to cheat by receiving outside aid while racing (an infringement of Rule 41) is probably very rare to non-existent in the Laser Class (although I have heard of alleged incidents within the Optimist Class.) My opposition to Mommy Boats in the Laser Class is not based on any suspicion of Rule 41 violations.

Anonymous said...

Tillerman said...

Thanks Anonymous. Yes, I am aware that Scuttlebutt has republished this post as did Destination One Design. For some reason my annual rant against Mommy Boats always strikes a chord with these folk.

Anonymous said...

Tillerman, good topic. I have been one of the guys in the "mother boat". The coaches that do this professionally understand how it works. The overzealous parent new to the game or a really keen summer instructor tends not be very self aware. A well written and thought out "coaches code of conduct" can explain the acceptable behaviour. Coach boats are here to stay, need to explain the parameters of their behaviour. ML

Tillerman said...

Good point ML. There is certainly a wide range of skills among Mommy Boat drivers. If we have to put up with them at all then a code of conduct might make them less of a nuisance.

bonnie said...

No mommy boats at Sebago. Nowhere to launch 'em. If you can't put it on a hand dolly & wheel it down the ramp to our dock, you can't use it.

Tom Donlan said...

In answer to the comment that all Olympic competitors have coaches and coach boats: That's a good indication that sailing should remove itself from the Olympics and return to its former status as an amateur sport.

In answer to the comment about cheating, I think Tillerman is too trusting. Coaches whose kids don't succeed don't get hired; all the incentives are in the dangerous direction. Most coaches are honest; that's not good enough.

Of course coaches are valuable in practice sessions; a regatta is a test of sailors, not coaches.

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