by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
My dad had this ritual while racing, and the instructions for the crew were quite specific. Once the race began, it was to be announced, “Nice start, Tom!” I can’t recall if bad starts earned that remark, but I also can’t recall any bad starts, and when you say things out loud they become more real.
While this ritual may have fed my dad’s ego (okay, it certainly did), it also beat into me at a young age the emphasis of a nice start. There was skill involved as the helm and crew trimmed sails and gauged the time and distance such that full speed, while crossing the line at the gun, was achieved.
So it is with disdain when technology replaces this skill in the sport. What makes sailing great is that it’s hard, and that no matter how long you’ve been competing, you never stop learning. But in competition, if equipment can guarantee a good start, and the rules allow it, people will buy it.
I received a product update from about the all-new Velocitek ProStart which claimed that “for the last 10 years, elite-level sailors have relied on the ProStart to balance time and distance to consistently hit the line with speed.” I suspect the new model, which they list at $895 USD, will be even better.
This is also how we make our sport more expensive, which is a point I made in The State of the Sport in 2020:
When we look at sails, cordage, electronics, hardware, everything has contributed to an increase in performance, but an increase in cost too. At some point people walk away for an alternative recreation, and for those that pull out the credit card to buy the better sailing stuff, they are all even again, having about the same amount of fun, but for more money.
I have an Alerion 28, which coincidentally might be the most expensive rocking chair racer for its size, but when a sailmaker called with an epic deal on some grand-prix black sails, I said no. My dad said I was a fool to pass up this bargain, but a boat like ours, which races against a bunch of sub $20,000 boats, shouldn’t be raising the bar.
Same goes for electronics. When you have to spend $1,000+/- on a compass that also helps you get a perfect start, we are replacing skill with credit cards which is not a growth formula.
Call me old fashioned, but when someone says to me “Nice start, Craig” I want to have earned it.