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Posted by on Nov 21, 2010 in Racing Sailboat, Sailboat Racing, Sailing, UK, US | 5 comments

Sailing Competition: Business or Pleasure?

The Snipe Womens World Championship was my final 2010 regatta, and after a slow start and a strong finish, we finished fifth. On the way home, I started wondering: Why do we compete, anyway?

“Is your trip for business or pleasure?” the airline agent asks.

Seems like an easy question, but for me (on my way to another international regatta), it’s a complete conundrum.

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Moments after the start of race 4 at the Snipe Women's Worlds, which the author (30860) went on to win. Photo credit: FRIED ELLIOTT / friedbits.com

“Business” would imply I’m getting paid to go sailboat racing. And whatever my motivation for high level competition, money ain’t it.

“Pleasure,” on the other hand, implies vacation. Sleeping late, a mid-morning breakfast that morphs right into an early lunch. Naps under a beach umbrella, afternoon cocktails. None of those will be part of the week ahead.

“Is there a third option?” I ask the agent.

(Hopefully this question doesn’t automatically land me on some terrorist watch list.)

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2008 Gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe and teammate Molly Vandermoer stepped into the Snipe for their first time and won the Women's Worlds - their first victory at a world championship. Photo credit: FRIED ELLIOTT / friedbits.com

Looked at rationally, the high level sailing I do makes no sense. I take off time from work and home life to travel to events that offer no financial reward, adding stress to my otherwise quiet life. The night before racing starts I’ll have trouble slowing my heart rate below the revved-up thumping of a sneaker in a dryer. The next morning, I’ll wake up way too early, my brain churning through stupid questions. Will we have time to get the boat launched ahead of the crowd? Will I get off the starting line? Will the new mainsheet run smoothly? Will the conditions be in line with the forecast? What should I wear?

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25 boats from ten countries competed in St Pete, FL, where light air dominated the nine race event. Photo credit: FRIED ELLIOTT / friedbits.com

The thing is, all that lost sleep is totally worth it. Because only a few hours later when we push off the dock, those stupid questions will be left ashore with all other non-racing aggravations. My brain will start to tingle with the focus of sailboat racing, anticipating all the day’s decisions—good, great and otherwise. I revel in pure single-minded potential, every race morning.

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Anna and Molly with game faces on for racing... Photo credit: FRIED ELLIOTT / friedbits.com

Competition gives me the chance to measure myself against others. Rarely does the rest of life offer us such a hard and fast numerical value for our achievements (we finished X out of Y). That’s what brings on the night-before stress, but also what makes sailing well such a satisfaction. And when I don’t sail well, there’s always a cold beer ashore and the promise of doing better the next day.

Best of all, no matter how old I get, nothing will make me better at sailboat racing than more sailboat racing. There’s no such thing as a perfect race, and I learn something new every time I leave the dock. The challenge is taking the time to digest that new knowledge, and using it to do better the next time.

Yes competition creates stress, at least if we care how we do—and why else would we bother? But it’s stress in digestible doses, which helps us learn and grow.

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...and Carol and teammate Kim Couranz enjoying their first race victory. Photo credit: FRIED ELLIOTT / friedbits.com

I heard a quote recently that rang true: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” And maybe in that lies the answer for the airline agent:

“Business or pleasure?” I smile back at her. “Let’s see: I’m going to spend the next seven days in a very small boat with only one other person to talk to and nothing to eat besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Most of the time we will be soaking wet and either too hot or too cold, and all of the time there will be several people trying to beat us. I’d call that pleasure, wouldn’t you?”

Snipe Women’s Worlds 2010 Results

Snipe International website

Carol Cronin

5 Comments

  1. Great article… thanks for sharing.

    Yes, despite all the trials and tribulations and stresses of a regatta, there is the sense of accomplishment at the end which is terribly rewarding. Sometimes it’s the positive component of a great finish… sometimes it’s the ‘lessons learned’ from a poor result… sometimes it’s the drive to improve before the next outing… whatever the case might be, it is an accomplishment, and it is pleasure… and for some (arguably insane) people like me, it’s a ton of fun!

    Thanks again for the article!

  2. And thank you for spelling out the true reward of competitive sailing, which is the sense of accomplishment once it’s all over. I forgot to spell that out and it’s an important piece of the whole answer to “why we do this.”

  3. You’ve done a great job of summing up why many of us sail. Racing sailboats is the only “hobby” I ever found to clear all the cobwebs and stress of work and personal issues and leave one reinvigorated to return to real life. In many years of sailing I’ve befriended many competitors and never found out what they did in their other life. Sailors seem to like it that way. Guess that’s why we continue to return to the seas, wind, rain, sunshine and worthy competitors that make sailboat racing so addictive.

  4. Thank you Carol for making me smile.Best of all, no matter how old I get, nothing will make me better at sailboat racing than more sailboat racing.Nice Job at the worlds

  5. David: I think it’s the intensity that makes sailing so all-engrossing. Other sports may be more accessible (both mentally and physically), but I agree none provides the same rewards. Another example of getting out what you put in.

    Ralfy, it was great to see you in St. Pete. Good luck with the paddleboard racing!