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Chris Metcalf

specialization is for insects

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I’ve been bouncing back and forth as to whether or not to actually bring light to this travesty by blogging about it, but after about the third or fourth time I’ve had the joy of discussing exactly why it is so much bullshit, I’ve decided its time that I comment on it.

Rum & Broke

For their May 3-9th edition, the “Seattle Weekly” (a local free paper) decided that they’d do a cover story on sailboat racing. Great! I couldn’t be more excited about more coverage about racing.

But they couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.

Where should I start?

With cigarette in hand and a bottle of Gatorade pressed against his crotch, Dave Marod squeezes his enormous yellow Hummer into a parking slip in Silshole Bay Marina's L-Dock at 7:45 AM on a cold Saturday morning in early March. A trifle hungover, wearing dark shades, rubber overalls, a black vest, and brand-new deck boots, the 37 year old Marod exits the Hummer and laughs about what a favored target his rig has become for eco-consous vandals who slap stickers on his bumpers. Best one to date: "I'm changing the Environment. Ask Me How." Having descended the pier to slip 30, Marod loads a passel of gear onto his 35-foot Carroll Marine One Design sailboat, a premier racing yacht that Marod scooped up for a cool $80,000 late last year.

Ok so we’re already off to a great start here in the first paragraph of the article. So far that I’ve learned that:

  1. Sailors are drunks
  2. Sailors don't give a flying shit about the environment
  3. Sailors are rich assholes

Ok, so you’ve got me on #1. The vast majority of the sailors I’ve met are quite the drinkers, and if they weren’t, I probably wouldn’t trust them very much. Fine, you win there Mr. Seeley.

On #2, I think you should start talking to the “pleasure cruisers” with 50+ foot powerboats that regularily fill up on 1000-gallon tanks of fuel just to go out for a nice weekend drive around the Sound. Most racers are pushing it if they burn a 30-gallon tank or two of diesel in a season, which I’m sure is less than what you burn in a month driving your biodiesel-powered Jetta.

3. Ok, so I will be the first to admit that owning a “premier racing yacht” is not a financial venture for the faint of heart. Congratulations to Marod who can afford to buy a 1D35, a boat that probably puts him in the top 5% (if not the top 1%) of boat owners worldwide, at least when it comes to those who race their boats. I’ve raced for two years with a very competitive 1D35 program - it is not a cheap venture. But that doesn’t mean that racing is merely for those who can afford to take a neatly piled stack of $100 bills and light them on fire. For a few grand you can buy a very competitive racing dingy. For free, you can race on “other peoples boats” (OPBs, as accurately described in the article). There is no need for one to sink a huge financial investment into the sport simply to go out on the water. I’d estimate that less than 1 in 20 competitive racers actually own a boat. If you want to get into racing, all it takes is dedication and a pair of shoes with non-marking soles.

It all goes downhill from there:

Today, during this 27-mile race to Posession Point on the southern tip of Whidbey Island and back - the second in the Corinthian Yacht Club-sponsored Center Sound Series - the crew is in go-like-hell mode, as helmsman Marod didn't drop all that dime to waste his Ferarri on a bunch of pleasure cruisers. "Some of my friends like the solitude and being one with the ocean," explains Marod. "All that shit's fine, but I just want to beat the other guy and his expensive boat."

Marod… Dude… seriously here, you’re not helping the cause. I love you, you have a kick ass boat and I’d be glad to come on and show you how to correctly race a 1D35, but you’re not putting on a good image here. First of all, you’re racing in Seattle. This is not San Francisco or LA or San Diego. Take a road trip and they’ll show you what real 1D35 racing is like. Second of all, even those of us who live for nothing more than kicking ass in grand prix boats also still enjoy just being out on the freaking water, no matter what the results are. Don’t make the rest of us look like jerks. Consider yourself an ambasador to the rest of the Seattle racing community. Make us look nice here…

They eventually cut us a break and interview a “blue-collar sailor” from Ballard, Garey Harr, who races on a “homey 27-foot Coronado” out of Silshole. He’s quite a nice guy, like most sailors I know. So apparently we’re not all assholes. But we’re still drunks. Not that I’m disputing that last point.

Then, ignoring Corinthian Yacht Club, even though they’ve just spent half the article on races run by them, they immediatly jump to the “jewel” of Seattle’s yachting community, the Seattle Yacht Club. Ignore the fact that Corinthian is nearly completely volunteer run and that you can be member for only $75 a year and (even without membership) you can participate in over 1000 races per year, they decide to focus on Seattle Yacht Club:

In the basement of Seattle Yacht Club on a tranquil, drizzly Portage Bay morning, a food service worker is spreading white linen over a a banquet room table... "Do you know where the silver polish is?" the worker inquires to no one in particular.

Ok, in six months of racing competitively in Seattle I’ve met one racer who actually is a member of Seattle Yacht Club, and he was 17. Seattle Yacht Club is the undisputed holder of the crown for the title of “most snooty yacht club in Seattle”. And they run less than 20 races per year. So why its suddenly been decided that they’re the authority on what a “real” yacht club is like, I don’t know. Its like going to Churchill Downs when you’re doing an article about rodeo barrel racing.

Here they interview the most eligible sailor of all those interviewed in the article, Brian Ledbetter, a silver medalist and an America’s Cup racer who now runs SYC’s racing program. He actually provides some great insight into the nature of sailboat racing and the sport in general, but of course that’s played down as much as possible.

The remainder of the article is spent mainly on fluff about the “schizoprenic nature of the sport” of sailing… a sport where the rich can rub sholders with the “surfer dudes” who seem to occupy its bowels. Only when they interview the naval architect Bob Perry does the nail get hit directly on the head:

"Sailing is an increcibly unifying thing... I can bump into any sailor anywhere in the world and have a lot in common. Parachute me anywhere there's saltwater and I've got instant friends."

To me, being part of this sport has shaped me more than any other individual experience in my life. With very little investment of my own - maybe a set of foul weather gear, shoes, and a pair of gloves - I’ve been able to experience things and go places I would have never been able to otherwise. It has shaped me as an individual and I’ve made lifelong friends. Anyone with the dedication to show up once per week and go racing can expect the same.

The author of this article could have spent his time highlighting the benefits that one can gain from being a part of the incredible community that surrounds sailboat racing. He could have spent his time interviewing junior sailors or members of community sailing programs. But instead he decided to reinforce the sterotypical negatives - the blazer-wearing, rum-drinking, whitebread image that most people already have of sailboat racing.

This, I feel, is sad and wrong. You cant go out sailing for one race, walk around one yacht club, take a few pictures, and expect to understand what it means to race sailboats. Until you fully understand that, you have no place writing an article about us. We’re better off without you.