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Olympics: On the "unseaworthiness" of certain Olympic classes, a brilliant essay by Michel


SAN FRANCISCO (#1212) – "The fact remains that the "Unseaworthiness" would not seem a great achievement for sailing, as well as the need for an almost one-to-one relationship between coaches and Olympic boats. The ability to face and hold the sea safely has always been one of the characteristics of sailing. The new SSL, foiling of Imoca or Figaro 3, shows that you can fly even between ocean waves. It seems strange that they cannot do it of the Olympic drifts in the Bay of Palma, Balearics, in April 2019."

The foregoing is the final paragraph of a brilliant article by Michele Tognozzi (ITA), esteemed Italian sailing journalist and FOSI ("Friend of Sailing Illustrated") posted today on the Farevela website.

Read the original in Italian here, but for the edification of our (largely) English-language readership, below is a Google-trans of Michele's entire article. It is a MUST READ for everyone involved in, concerned about, or just a fan of Olympic yacht racing.

The one person who for sure should read this, and probably won't, is World Sailing's non-sailing CEO Andy Hunt (GBR), whose main interest in his current (and hopefully soon-to-end!) role appears not be the basics and beauty of proper yacht racing, but the pursuit of the almighty pound Sterling for the organization that he has, by most accounts, led to the brink of bankruptcy....

Palma de Mallorca - The Medal Race day was discussed at the recent Princesa Sofia Trophy in Palma. Saturday 6 April, wind at 20-25 knots in the Bay of Palma, a significant wave. Finn, Laser, 470 and windsurfing races. Nacra 17, 49er and FX remain on the ground.

The regatta offers a true spectacle, with glides, splashes, duels between the breakers, moaning muscles and boats that turn into human prostheses. The paradox is that the boats defined as "old and slow" are all in the sea, the "modern and fast" ones all on land. Is that seaworthiness , translatable into Italian as an adjective "marine boat", no longer a value of the new sail that World Sailing is trying to offer? Or rather, is an " Unseaworthiness " chased by very fast boats but which cannot sail with just two meters of wave?

Olympic sailing, and sporting in general, has grown into the myth of great businesses and legendary places: the Star World Championship in Laredo, Cantabria, the Busan Olympics, Korea, the World Championships in Cadiz or Cascais, with the ocean waves that they threw all the mighty breath of the Atlantic into your face. The Soling World Championship in La Baule, Brittany. The waves of Anzio. Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne. The America's Cup in Fremantle. The currents of the English Channel or La Rochelle. Epic feats and tough regattas, where a test lasted almost two hours, with sides in the wind of almost two miles. Or the old Olympic triangles, with the slivers that massacred the arms of the crewmen. The world changes and that's okay. The sticks in the wind have shortened. The abandoned leaves.

Then someone thought that the sail had to be changed again to become attractive. More and more fast boats, flying, but that have less and less marine. Extremely enjoyable attractions, but suitable for flat-watered lakes or sheltered bays. And so on, more and more in the warm shelter and less and less in the open sea ... The sail must be brought close to the people, they say. Mah ... Only those who have never sailed can think that sailing is a discipline to see and not to do. That its charm lies in seeing it rather than trying to embrace the wind or the sea on a boat and a man in symbiosis. The kites, really cool, are clear, they come out of the sea and slide over it. Water turns into a playground and loses its meaning as a vital element to interpret and live. The sailing videos are more and more centered on scuffles, glides, circus tumbles. Ephemeral enjoyment from youtuber of the duration of an early orgasm.

The absurd was reached at the Rio 2016 Games, when the ocean races in front of Copacabana were among the most beautiful ever seen in recent times. Wind at 25/28 knots, waves over two meters: Finn, 470 and Laser gave a show but, apart from a few dozen sailors, trainers, photographers and journalists (including the writer) nobody noticed, because so much sought after televisions had decided to resume skiff regattas in flat water and unstable winds within the Bay. The most beautiful images that could be desired, an exceptional spot, simply missed because someone had considered that a weather report could not give valid indications to the effectiveness of a schedule. A unique opportunity. Persa. A bit as if the amateur videographer who resumed [captured - TFE] the Kennedy murder in Dallas, after the first shot, had turned away instead of resuming [capturing] the historical sequence.

A curious fact is that it seems that the lesson is not served. Rather. We continue in the fall, increasingly redefining a sail in which the seamanship and the ability to face the sea are secondary to the ephemeral speed. Mind you, foiling is an exceptional innovation and is fine. Passionate and entertaining, but it cannot be considered the only "new" way to go sailing, as if centuries of sailing evolution were simply considered as technological residues of the last century.

The best sailors in the world, those of the Olympic classes, can and must sail and race in extreme conditions. There are boats that do it, see Finn, 470, Laser or windsurfing as happened in Palma. Others that objectively would be at risk, like the Nacra 17 foiling, which in fact (and appropriately) also want to change some racing rules in order to ensure greater safety, or the 49er. Or take away the Finn who made the history of sailing to put a mixed boat for offshore racing, posing as a coastal with restless calm for the course au large that is so passionate about it. Business is business , but ... is it appropriate for the whole movement?

We remember the historical Medal Race of Qingdao 2008, where the Sibellos lost the Gold for a cap. The monsoon beat hard and all the skiffs overturned at least once. Or another Sofia Trophy a few years ago, when the Nacra not yet foiling before puking at the windward mark waited for the right wave, with surreal seconds on the starboard tack before the decisive moment. Vittorio Bissaro was a master in the maneuver, others ended up diving in the bow. In short, the speed is beautiful. There is no doubt. But also the boats that know and can cope with rough seas are safe.

Andy Hunt, the non-sailor CEO of World Sailing certainly will not be interested in these considerations. He would probably consider them a nostalgic remnant of some sailing enthusiasts at an advanced age. Who knows' .... If, however, we also analyze the numbers of the basic sail, in Italy the Optimist class seems to have lost only about 201 practitioners in 2019, or the numbers of the most widespread classes, we discover that marine sailing still exists, and is the most practiced , but risks being reduced in direct proportion to the advancing age of its practitioners.

The myth of sport also consists in emulating the companies of the great champions. It is no coincidence that the medium and long range offshore sailing continues to have excellent numbers or that in the circles, the real vital center of the sailing chain (much more than the marketing agencies dear to Hunt), the companies of the great sailors were told and learned. Will it be less and less? Will the sail lose its charm by dint of going fast? Certainly it seems strange that well-prepared Olympic sailors cannot navigate in difficult but not extreme conditions, with boats with Olympic status. And, mind you, the decision not to let them race was also right. The exit from the beach of El Arenal was objectively difficult (but the 470s were launched from that same beach) and there would probably have been many caps and failures.

The fact remains that the " Unseaworthiness " would not seem a great achievement for sailing, as well as the need for an almost one-to-one relationship between coaches and Olympic boats. The ability to face and hold the sea safely has always been one of the characteristics of sailing. The new SSL, foiling of Imoca or Figaro 3 shows that you can fly even between ocean waves. It seems strange that they cannot do it of the Olympic drifts in the Bay of Palma, Balearics, in April 2019.

Michele Tognozzi (ITA), the author of the foregoing easy for Farevela, understands that sailing in windy, rough weather is a central and beautiful part of the sport, whether in big boats offshore, or Olympic Class racing inshore.