If you go into a race or a regatta, you have to do so with your eyes open. It's no use moaning afterwards about not understanding the flags (go and learn them, dammit) or not agreeing with the scoring system.
If it's all laid out in the Sailing Instructions, you have to abide by it – or don't join in. That's the way sailing works, and long may it continue so. No throwing the teddies at the on-water umpire please, and no nonsense in the Protest Room about how you didn't know this or that. As Jerry Rollin, one of the most visible and respected ROs in Asia likes to say (often!) at Skippers' Briefings – “It's all in the SIs.”
Having said which, if someone showed you a set of regatta results that looked like this:
Boat A - 1, 3, 1, 2, 4, 1, 4 Boat B – 8, 1, 6, 5, DNF, 2, 1
Which boat do you think might have won the regatta? Don't think too hard, just an off-the-cuff sort of an answer? Now I reckon 5 bob gets you 20 baht that you went for Boat A, right? Never mind the money, but a Royal Flush is always going to beat one pair and some other rubbish, right?
WRONG! - if you were competing in the America's Cup World Series in San Francisco last week, that is. Boat A is Ben Ainslie (J P Morgan BAR) and Boat B is Jimmy Spithill (ORACLE Team USA), and under the most cockamamie scoring system devised since Noah beat the dove on a countback, Jimmy Spithill beat Ben Ainslie in the fleet racing event.
Now here's another disclaimer: I am a huge admirer of Jimmy Spithill, so no diss to him. I first met him sitting in the Departures Hall at Kuala Terengganu airport in 2006, having failed to make the quarter-finals cut in the Monsoon Cup. I asked him what did he think of the event? “I should have taken Russell's advice,” he said, “and not come here.” Young Jimmy has done pretty well since then, and we know he knows how to sail. He was instrumental in the Republic beating the Empire a couple of years ago, and he looks pretty damn sharp wearing a pair of shades and a backpack – about 60ft up in the air.
So, just for the sake of handing out the benefit of the doubt, we re-scored those seven races as many different ways as we could think of. We tried Low Point Scoring (1st=1, 2nd=2) and Ainslie wins 16-34 assuming DNF = fleet + 1. Under Low Point with a 2x Medal Race, Ainslie wins 20-35. Low Point with a Drop Race gives it to Ainslie 12-23, and Low Point with Drop and Medal Race is Ainslie's again (16-24). We also tried High Point Scoring (Fleet = 10, so 1st=10, 2nd=9 etc). Ainslie again, 61-43.
In fact, the only way you end up with a Boat B winning is using the AC High Score/Quad Points Medal Race system. That's 12, 10, 9, 8 for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc, and 4x points for the last race – and then only on a countback with 79 points apiece and Spithill scoring the ‘last first'. What AC have done in their desire to make sure that sailing is intelligible to the general punter, is skew the scoring so heavily that it is almost impossible to lose the series – if you win that last race. Almost. But Ainslie came damn near!
So here's the question: did the best man win the fleet racing in San Francisco? Or is there something substantially amiss with the AC scoring system? In other words, does it stink?
Answers on an electronic postcard please to firstname.lastname@example.org, and before the next regatta starts (China Coast as far as I can see, 12-14 October) please read your SIs - and especially the scoring system - in order to avoid disappointment. And may the best boat win.
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