Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness

Why do so many multiple World Champions seem to get grumpy and leave Mothing? Boredom perhaps. Or maybe it's that they hate losing so much they can't stomach the fact that someone may come up with something on the design side that no amount of good sailing can overcome.

The pop psychologist in me attibutes this phenomenon to the fact that it must take a hell of a lot of effort to win a Worlds, and even more to win multiple times. So the thought of losing on the design side, rather than the sailing side, starts to seem like an unreasonable chance to take, and even more so if you are involved with building or selling a particular design.

It brings me back to the Fall of 2001, when I had some cash and looked at buying a Hungry Tiger from Mark Thorpe. We chatted back and forth a bit, but then 9/11 happened and it got put on the back burner. I do however recall it seemed obvious to both of us that two foils on the midline was the most likely way forward. He clearly saw the light at the end of the tunnel...and decided it was a freight train.

I wasn't privy to much of the discussion surrounding the adoption of hydrofoils, but there was a lot of discussion back and forth about whether to allow them - for the usual reasons: expense, practicality, decimating the fleet by putting it out of reach of mere mortals, etc. We all know where that led: foilers everywhere, but no more Hungry Tigers (apart from Scott's). The dominant class boatbuilder and three time World Champ, who even beat a foiling Rohan with a lowrider Hungry Tiger in Les Sable d'Olonne, decided he wasn't playing the foiling game. I have to give him credit for going out on a high note.

Rohan then went on to win in 2005 and 2007, affiliated with Bladerider in the latter event. Again not privy to any details, but the end of that story was basically that Bladerider was outclassed on the design side, and is no more. You'd think someone like Rohan would just move on to a Mach 2 and keep sailing, right? But after all that went on, and being so immersed in Mothing for so long, one can hardly blame him for wanting to do something else. Another boat and another multiple World champ sidelined by better hardware.

Fast forward to 2010 and history seems to be repeating itself: a multiple World champ is marketing the dominant boat, and yet another round of technical development threatens to knock it, and the Champ, off their perch. Having witnessed the rise and fall of Rohan on mainly technical grounds, and Thorpe before him, the best stragegery (to quote our 42nd President) for a sitting Champ and manufacturer rep is apparently to make it as hard for anything faster to get to the starting line as possible. Which is relatively easy to do when you sit on the Class Executive Committee.

Thusfar, we've seen the class Constitution invoked against the class rule, basically arguing that the first rule defining the class violates its own Constitution. This seems like kind of a scorched earth approach to winning, but whatever. Not entirely convincing in any event. This argument having failed, the discussion has shifted to Rule 4.2, and the responsibility of the measurer to report  "anything which he may consider to be unusual or to depart from the intended nature of the boat, or to be against the general interest of the class." The Rule states further that "a certificate may be refused, even if the specific requirements of the class are satisfied." Unfortunately, the decision regarding whether to refuse a Certificate to a wing hinges upon a tricky, somewhat subjective judgment by the Exec: Are wings against the general interest of the class?

Suffice it to say the positions of interested parties are predictable on this point: boat manufacturers feel that wings are against the general interest of the class, pretty much, and the people building wings obviously feel that they are squarely within the general Class interest. Both factions have vested interests in the outcome. Which is, well, interesting, as the very next Rule, 4.3, quite presciently states the following:

A measurer shall not measure a boat, spars or equipment owned, designed or built by themselves, or in which they are an interested party or have a vested interest.

So, if I follow the news properly, measurers are banned from measuring equipment they have an interest in, but Exec members are allowed to rule on how the measurement rules should apply to equipment that THEY have a vested interest in suppressing or promoting? Perhaps the Class should pass a rule mandating Exec members recuse themselves from debates in which they have a vested interest.

Impressively, the Exec is off to a good start: Bora has been booted from the Exec on grounds of vested interest. But now that the precedent has been set, it hardly seems reasonable to allow manufacturer representatives with equally vested, but opposite interests to remain. Let the standard be applied uniformly.