Quick Follow-Up to A Question of Morals

In my last post I posed a question on the rights or wrongs of a particular situation that occurred at a regatta I sailed at. You can read the full post here if you missed it the first time round.

My mum and dad moved house a couple of years ago and came across the glass that I won that day. They kindly returned it to me and when I showed my wife I can honestly say that her response was so underwhelming as to be almost non-existent. She clearly doesn't understand the significance of winning an Optimist Open Meeting 25 years ago. I look forward to telling my children about it regularly over the next few years so at least they appreciate the achievement.

Anyway, getting the prize back immediately reminded me of the scenario I described. I was the Green boat. The Red boat was sailed by a guy I only knew from having done a few regattas with him over the previous few years, but we got on well. I think the reason I even remember the incident is because his reaction was so strong it took me by surprise.

He was genuinely furious about it.

He was insistent that I wasn't allowed to sail him behind an "obstruction" and threatened to protest, although he never followed through with it. Even if he had, I was fairly confident I hadn't broken any rules and I'd have won.

But the bit that stung was that he suggested that I shouldn't have pulled off the move, whether it was strictly legal or not. He felt that I shouldn't use a back marker in this way.

I think there are a few reasons it stung me. The obvious ones include:

  • No-one likes to be accused of doing something that is morally wrong. I really love this piece - it reminds me how important it is to me to be remembered for the right reasons. And how easy it is to be remembered for the wrong ones.
  • Whilst I wouldn't say we were exactly friends (I didn't know him well enough for that), we were more than just acquaintances. An accusation like that hurts a bit more when it comes from someone you respect, and who you think respects you.
  • It takes the shine off your first regatta win when an accusation like that is left hanging in the air.

There was also a less obvious reason:

I could kind of see his point.

We were sailing in an Optimist event, which meant there was a range of skill-levels and ages. We hadn't sailed up behind the back-marker yelling and screaming, but it could have been intimidating to a young kid, perhaps taking part in his or her first ever event, to see the two leaders bearing down on him. Of course, he or she could have been oblivious to the whole thing too.

The thing is, I know what I'm like. I'm competitive, and I like to win. Especially something I perceive to be valuable like an open regatta (unlike my wife, apparently). So I knew that my point of view would be clouded by my wish to be right, and I couldn't help worrying that I was justifying my position because I wanted it to be ok, because I wanted to win.

Tillerman makes the point that, as a back-marker, Yellow should have tacked off and got out of the way, which is very true. But I'm not sure a back-marker in an Optimist fleet will necessarily know of this etiquette, or see such a situation developing. In my experience it was good when they did, but they certainly couldn't be relied on to get out of the way.


Funnily enough, a few of weeks later Red did win his first Optimist Open.

I wonder if I'd even remember the incident if he had won his first event before this happened. Maybe there'd have been less riding on it for him, and he'd have taken it less dramatically, meaning that I didn't take it so dramatically myself.

One thought on “Quick Follow-Up to A Question of Morals

  1. I can understand your dilemma. It’s an uncomfortable feeling when you are trying to balance your wish to win, your almost certainty that you won fairly by the rules, and the shame that Red was trying to lay on you for an alleged breach of ethics.

    Of course the unwritten Rules of Ethics aren’t written down anywhere and so a young sailor accused of breaching some unwritten rule would be worried if he had perhaps inadvertently crossed some line. With the benefit of a few years of racing experience I can say you really didn’t and I expect you know that now.

    So shame on Red for unsportsmanlike behavior. If he really thought you had won unfairly he should have protested you. I hope he knows now that when you lose a closely fought regatta, the right thing to do is to congratulate the winner, not to whine or make allegations that you are not prepared to argue in a protest room. Maybe it would have been better for all concerned if he had protested you. Then he would have learned the error of his ways.

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