Bold Racing Or Bad Seamanship?

13 Jan

So it seems that some of the sailors aboard other Volvo Ocean Race boats are not happy that Team Sanya's Richard Mason and Jared Henderson were honored with the Seamanship Award at the Abu Dhabi prizegiving (for climbing Team Sanya's mast after a rigging failure, and saving the mast).

Team Telefonica's Andrew Cape, in particular, appears to be derisive of the choice, and Team Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson, apparently because he feels the only reason Mason and Henderson had to put themselves at risk up the mast is that Sanderson and his navigator, Aksel Magdahl, chose to sail Team Sanya into a tropical storm, hoping to steal a march on the rest of the fleet. 

Cape reportedy left the prizegiving in protest, and told The Telegraph: “If I had asked my crew to accept that decision, they would have laughed at me. When I saw them go, I thought good luck. They do not deserve the seamanship award."

The critcism of Sanderson and Team Sanya is absurd (and, of course, Sanderson's crew would have been free to laugh at him, protest the decision, and even now could walk off the boat if they have a problem). The Volvo Ocean Race used to be about balancing risk and gain. In the storied Whitbread days (cont)…

…skippers and their crews would dive south into the Antarctic ice fields hoping to shave miles from the track. Paul Cayard agonized over whether to fly a spinnaker in 50 knots. Yes, it was dangerous. Extremely dangerous, and sailors died. That was what made the Whibread/Volvo different. That was what made it extreme sport.

I don't wish death on any sailor. But if crews are going to be criticized for sailing into a tropical storm (winds were forecast up to maybe 60) to try and win a leg (these are supposed to be elite boats and sailors, aren't they?), then the Volvo Ocean Race surrenders any claim to being the "Everest Of Sailing."

Sanderson made a logical (his boat is older and slower), though risky, decision. If he had pulled it off it would have transformed a snoozer of a leg, which was already undermined by the incomprehensible "Stealth Zone," into something special.

We've already got the VOR routed around the globe in a way that appears to maximize the number of shopping opportunities (and minimize the epic conditions Sanderson drove Team Sanya into).

We've already got fragile boats which can't seem to keep their rigs up even when they are not sailing into a tropical storm.

Do we really want to further suck the guts and glory out of a once-great race with criticism and protest when a skipper and crew make a ballsy move that could result in an epic leg win?

I hope not. 

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