Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The F Word

Friendly. That's the word that's been getting under my skin this week. What did you think I meant?

Let me explain.

There is a long-standing member of our sailing club who has a small sailmaking business. Actually I think it's more of a retirement hobby but he makes a few sails for some classes locally.

He phoned my home last week when I was out and followed up with an urgent email. Apparently he was planning to make some "practice" Laser sails and wanted some measurements of various aspects of a Laser sail from me. And he asked a few other questions that revealed he knew very little about Laser sails.

Now the Laser is a strict one-design class and the only sails that are legal for racing are those sold by a Laser manufacturer - Vanguard in the USA who provide Laser sails made by North in Sri Lanka. There's the occasional bitching in the class about how a monopoly like this keeps the price of sails too high. But, all in all, it's a good system because it keeps all the sails as identical as possible. And it avoids an "arms race" where sailors compete by trying to find the best sailmaker.

If someone wants to use cheap knockoff sails for practice it does not infringe class rules or racing rules. But I suspect that there may be some issues of trademark infringement that Vanguard and Bruce Kirby, the designer of the Laser, might be unhappy about. In any case, I was too busy to respond to the sailmaker's request for information. And I didn't feel inclined to put myself out to help someone to cheat the system.

I thought no more of it until I discovered this weekend that the so-called "practice" sails were actually intended for two members of our Laser fleet to use for club racing. One of our new members has two kids who also sail Lasers so they have three Lasers in total. They bought old boats with old sails. They already upgraded one boat with a new, legal North sail. The other two knockoff sails were intended to upgrade their other two Lasers.

After he had delivered the sails, the sailmaker wandered across to me while I was rigging my Laser. He looked at my sail and went white. Turns out he had made the batten pockets on the knockoff sails all wrong. Clearly the guy has no idea of what he is doing.

But then we were faced with a tricky issue. Our sneaky sailmaker had conned a fellow member into spending several hundred bucks on sails that he cannot use for the purpose for which he bought them - sailing in club races. We talked to the club commodore. We checked the club sailing instructions. There's no doubt - boats racing at the club must meet class requirements. I expected nothing else.

And then our sailmaker friend - a past commodore of the club no less - dropped the F bomb. "Oh - it's quite normal to use knockoff sails for local, friendly fleet racing."

That put me back on my heels. Does that mean that if I insist that we all play by the same rules that I am being unfriendly? Is it really friendly to allow someone to use illegal equipment that could give him an unfair advantage? What am I supposed to do as fleet captain - turn a blind eye to a departure from the whole spirit of the strict one-design nature of Laser racing in the name of friendliness?

So that F-word has had me seething for the past two days. The claim that it's OK to break the rules in "friendly fleets" is nothing less than moral blackmail.

I still have to sort out this mess. My friend who was tricked into buying the sails is in a quandary. I'd like to help him. But I'm not sure how.

1 comment:

EVK4 said...

I would think the sailmaker should take them back since they don't measure in. How many times have you seen a loft selling cheap new sails since a batten didn't measure in by a fraction of an inch.

The sailmaker should take this pain, but the family really should have checked first. Maybe they can sail PHRF instead of OD with those sails.

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