Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mommy Boats - What Real People Say

In polite society it's called "regatta coaching."

Most ordinary sailors refer to the phenomenon as "Mommy Boats."

Whatever you call it, there is no doubt that at major regattas in certain classes, especially Lasers, it has become commonplace for some sailors to have people driving around in powerboats in order to provide those sailors with such services as carrying their snacks and drinks and spare clothes, towing them to and from the course, and even providing them with advice on how to sail better in the regatta. Not only is this grossly unfair to the sailors who don't have Mommy Boats, the drivers of the Mommy Boats often behave very badly, getting in the way of the other sailors and interfering with the racing.

I've been ranting on about the evils of Mommy Boats on this blog for almost six years now.

But more recently it's not just this crazy old geezer Laser sailor who has been drawing attention to the problems caused by Mommy Boats and arguing that they need to be better controlled or banned altogether. Real people who are actually respected in the sailing world, real people who actually have some authority are also speaking out.

At the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta in 2011, Gary Jobson (at that time President of US Sailing) took to the air in a helicopter and observed Mommy Boat drivers behaving badly.

A group of Mommy Boat drivers (Jobson diplomatically calls them coaches) would take off to one side of the course and create waves that would "dramatically affect" the boats on that side of the course. Gary was bothered seeing how the waves from the bad Mommy Boats would cause the racing sailboats to lose distance and speed as they pitched through the waves.

A few days later Terry Bischoff wrote an excellent piece on this topic on Scuttlebutt. (See second item headed PUSSES AND WUSSES.) In the article Terry describes his philosophy of banning parents and coaches from the course in junior regattas, and explains the reasons for his thinking. He also added...

"If you need a coach to help you at your Championship, I don't think you're ready to sail in it! One more layer of cost to a struggling program. What's happened to self initiative?"

At Sail Melbourne in 2012, the inconsiderate and dangerous behavior of Mommy Boat drivers came to the attention of the International Jury who reported...

"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."

And in Scuttlebutt today, professional sailor and sailmaker Dave Ullman reveals his feeling about professional coaching during regattas...

 "When a regatta gets inundated with coaches and support boats, the result is a divisive environment of haves and have nots. For all types of racing short of the grand prix level, the emphasis should be on fostering a community atmosphere. I am not even sure there is enough value in event coaching to outweigh the expense."

You see?

It's not just me.

Real people who know something about sailing, real leaders in our sport, people who are respected see the problems that Mommy Boats cause.

So when are we going to do something about it?

Related Posts
Mommy Boats
Ban Mommy Boats NOW
One Hundred Mommy Boats


JP said...

Wait: what happened to the story about the Playboy Para? Have I been made to click on this post under false pretenses?

Tillerman said...


Nor is there anything in this post on the story about My Mate Boiled My Willy or even the story about how Hula Hoops Made Me a MUMMY! You will just have to shell out the 67p for the magazine to read those stories.

Erin @ SAILING Magazine said...

Chris Caswell's column on Mommy Boats drew more comment (mostly negative) than almost any other column ever to run in SAILING Magazine. Only Bill Schanen's column on PFD wearing has drawn more response (we still get letters on it almost a year after it ran).

Tillerman said...

There you go. Even real journalists at real sailing magazines write about this issue.

Anonymous said...

I am involved in full time coaching and quite honestly I don't see many examples of the issues you mentioned. There are far more sailors behaving poorly and in an unsportsmanlike manner than coaches. And when you can get the current ISAF Sailor of the Year behaving perhaps worse than nearly anyone and Jury are Federations accepting poor behaviour and breach of rules or etiquette, then this should be first place to level any attention to make sailing fairer.

Tillerman said...

Well I don't often sail against Ben Ainslie (actually I have never sailed against Ben Ainslie) so I can't comment on his sportsmanship or lack of it. And I know there are many professional coaches who are considerate of other sailors and who are respectful of the ethics and rules of our sport.

I also know that at almost every major regatta I have sailed at which there have been more than a handful of coach boats, I have come away annoyed and depressed at the behavior of some (not all) of those coaches. Probably they are not full time coaches like yourself but they are still giving the coaching profession a bad name.

Noodle said...

World class sailors surely should set the standard. No doubts there. however, it is important to remember what made Ben do what he did. He was provoked by a - sadly not a mummy boat, but a camera boat. It's not an excuse, but it is an explanation.

What can be done? You mention it yourself in your post, using the term
"Grossly unfair". That smells like rule 69 to me.

Derick said...

I've been involved in both sides of this issue for years, and there are coaches who are disrespectful of other boats besides their charges; but as someone who has sailed lasers internationally for a few years, I can honestly say that the people most guilty of these violations are members of the jury and race committee. I guess they believe that because they are "doing a service" they have no responsibility to minimize their impact on the sailors. I've seen juries drive at maximum displacement through a fleet in under 3kts, and I've seen a mark boat physically hit a sailor during a race. Banning coaches is not the answer.

Tillerman said...

Hi Derick, thanks for joining the discussion.

Well, taken with the comments from the Anonymous full time coach, it would appear that sailors, coaches, juries, and race committees all behave badly at times. I'm sure that's true.

But bringing other parties into the discussion reminds me of what my grandkids say sometimes when their bad behavior is pointed out: "But other kids do it." Not really an excuse for the transgressions we were first discussing.

I think the coach boat issue really breaks down into two kinds of problems...

Firstly some coaches behave badly in a way that is disruptive to the racing. The examples described by Gary Jobson and the IJ at Sail Melbourne are examples of that. To say that race committee boats and jury boats also do stupid things at times doesn't really change the truth about what some coach boats do.

Secondly there is the issue of whether coaching at regattas is good for our sport or not. Does it inhibit the learning of independence and self-reliance among young sailors? Does it make the sport unfair? Those are the kind of questions raised by Terry Bischoff, Dave Ullman and Chris Carswell.

These are really two totally different topics and I think I will write two posts in the next few days addressing each topic separately by brainstorming some possible solutions. I feel that after six years of ranting and railing it's about time that I started being a bit more constructive about this.

Dallas Dude said...

The problem starts on the dock early in the morning with parents helping young people rig their boats. No advice or help anywhere near the water except from fellow competitors would change the atmosphere to an environment promoting self reliance and self relating.

Tillerman said...

Exactly Dallas Dude. It always astonishes me when I see some small middle-aged woman helping her hulking 16-year-old son to rig his Laser. Why the kid isn't totally embarrassed I never understand.

And when I was working as a sailing instructor and running practice races for the kids, I even had one father come out in a motor boat and start coaching his son while he was racing in practice races in my lesson! Does he go along to his school and help his son in maths classes too?

Helicopter parents are certainly part, but only part, of the problem here.

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