Here’s the thing: Lately I got to discussing the growing professionalism in sailing as exists in our class as well. I found that this is mostly felt as negative and prone to criticism. However, let me try to put this in perspective as I feel that it can’t be all negative. If you want to win or, at least show a good effort, you must be well prepared and work hard to succeed. Time was that only the well-to-do had yachts and big ones at that. In order for them to sail and race them they had to be rigged, maintained, crewed, and transported which was no mean thing to accomplish, leave alone race them.
In those days – say, the 1920s, professionalism was normal as the yachts were huge, the efforts therefore big and needed a lot of hands which had to be paid. Later when more people got affluent and wanted to sail as a sport you did not want to have to wait to be a billionaire anymore and so the market became ripe for smaller boats like the Dragon. Easier to sail and man, cheaper to maintain and stow away during the winter.
As the sport of sailing evolved and also became Olympic, the competition stiffened. Count de Coubertin admonishing against professionalism made his famous vow that the Olympics should be a sporting feast, especially for the young where participating should be the main objective and winning was ancillary. Anyway, much later sponsoring in sport became ubiquitous and so the Olympics and his endaering ideal, however nice, proved to be very difficult to corroborate. A prerequisite to participate in the Olympics was that one should shed all direct connections with commerce and thus professionalism. In 1972 during the Olympic regatta in Kiel, Poul Elvsrom Buddy Melges and many others had to take the branding out of their sails and Poul and the other Elvstrom Solings even had to tape over the Elsvstrom branding, a crown, on their mast deck! To me this seemed rather silly and hypocrite at the time. However impervious this measure might have looked, when winning a medal, of course every body interested in sailing knows the materiel and brand used by the medal winners!
Tennis, another gentlemen’s sport at the time, became the embodiment of a professional sport but was eventually admitted nevertheless as an Olympic event. Still no branding on boats or sails in the Olympic regatta. A T-shirt with a commercial message, however, is OK. Just read the utterly complicated ISAF rules covering the what may’s and may not’s and in what type of event.
For some odd reason the Dragon Class is perceived as a Gentleman’s One design Class. It breathes chique and class and here, professionalism still seems an ugly word. However, the class is now so popular, especially in Europe, that winning has become the foremost desire and is zealously pursued. Success means sweat and is time consuming and some people really are making winning in the Dragon their main goal and with some it eventually becomes their existence. There are the sail makers competing in the events, the tuning and tactical experts, the jockeys lending a helping hand with about every thing from transporting to rigging and unpacking and packing the boat and rig and not least, the boat builders. Bringing their expertise actively to the participants goes for a decent fee, say, €.800 to 1’000 a day excluding living cost. Their service is mostly very good and for the busy business person wanting to make his mark, often a practical solution. Many a good tutorial can be had hiring a professional hand, as well. Also do they give valuable advice through Trim Guides and articles.
So what is my point here?
You can look at it as you like. The obvious positives are: as described above. The negatives, as perceived at will. For instance, am I unable? Lazy? Do I need a “butler” even during a regatta? Is there the danger of a small elite group nobody can touch, a class of it’s own? Etc. I don’t know about you but I feel very proud when having beaten a pro thereby acknowledging the level of my performance.
PS. Why is the Dragon often perceived as classy and elite? One reason and this may sound a bit silly, but could it be because of the rather lounging sort of position the helmsman is forced to take when he sits on his helm bench, back against the break water, one elbow leaning on the deck while holding the helm, head a bit up tending backward, seemingly looking at his crew, working hard? It keeps intriguing me, as you can see.
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