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Corinthian Spirit

by Mark Jardine 11 Jun 08:00 PDT
2024 J/70 Corinthian World Championship © Hannah Lee Noll

Sailing has gone through phases of being professional and Corinthian. Originally a pastime for the rich, then becoming a sport for everyone during the boom in the 1960s and 1970s.

At the height of the boom, amateur sailors would often just 'rock up and race' at events with little practice, even less preparation, and very much be looking to have as much of a good time off the water as on it.

Then came the professionals again, and with it professionalism. Paid hands on yachts who brought their knowledge to help an owner win an event, or just beat their great rival(s). Much of this expertise is good news, as yachts would be better prepared, and the standard of sailing would generally be higher, but it also comes with downsides.

On the superyachts and maxis it's pretty much essential to have a professional crew. The teamwork needed, the complexity of the systems, and the loads involved means mistakes must be minimised to avoid catastrophic damage and tragedy. Each pro is highly specialised at their role, and working as one with their teammates they can make extremely difficult manoeuvres look majestic.

It's not cheap to run a yachting campaign at the best of times, so having one or more of your crew on the payroll soon makes costs spiral. In the heady world of superyachts that isn't such a problem, as the owners have the means to afford their pastime, but in smaller keelboat campaigns, professional crew can often be out of the question, as well as not offering the kind of sailing many owners and crew want.

Events with professional sailors can have a different feel to those with solely amateur sailors, which again isn't the atmosphere many are looking for with limited holiday time to compete, and those enthusiasts may feel locked out of the top places by teams who have a far higher budget.

The solution comes in Corinthian Championships, and with 109 yachts taking part in the inaugural J70 Corinthian World Championship, held last week in Denmark, it's a format that is popular.

Teams from fourteen countries, from as far afield as Australia, the U.S.A. and Brazil, took part with twelve races held over five days. With such a large entry, two days of qualifying were required before the split was made into gold and silver fleets.

In the end, Alberto Guarischi's Three Musketeers (BRA) with Antonio Moreira, Pedro Amaral and Felipe Rondina won the event ahead of Great Britain's Ian Dobson, Charlie Thompson, Oli Wells, Simon Potts and Margarida Lopes.

The top ten was truly international, with seven nations and three continents represented, demonstrating just how global the class has become. For teams travelling from afar, charter yachts are plentiful, and J-Composites, who build the J70 yachts, are relatively nearby in France for new boats.

I spoke to Ian Dobson to find out more about the event and what attracted him to it:

"It shows where the class is, that there is the critical mass to hold a Corinthian World Championship.

"I do a lot of Corinthian racing, the other big one being the New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, so I know what Corinthian events look like, and they're always miles better. The atmosphere of the event is always better, it's friendly and you get to chat away with a diverse range of people who do a lot of other interesting things.

"On the water it is relaxed(ish), good-natured, and the social on the dock is always good fun. It's a million times better."

On the social side Ian added:

"The Royal Danish Yacht Club put on a fantastic event, where they put on really good food, the beer was surprisingly cheap for Denmark, sponsored by one of the breweries, so it was good fun! We also spent quite a few late nights in the centre of Copenhagen - distinctly Corinthian!"

On the limited holiday time, Ian reinforced the point about amateur sailors wanting to feel like the event was fun as well as competitive:

"I knew a few people who'd done the Europeans, and they described the Corinthian Worlds as more fun, more enjoyable, with still a very good standard of racing. While the standard as a whole is a bit more mixed, the level at the top end is very good, as demonstrated by Sofia Giondi's Wanderlust team who won the Europeans this year as Corinthians.

"I run a business and am pretty busy at work. Time is of the essence, and it absolutely needs to be enjoyable as otherwise what's the point? It's only a game I say!

"The biggest difference between Corinthian and professional crews is hours on the water as amateurs haven't got the time to continually practice. Corinthian crews may not be quite as polished, not because they're not good enough, but because they can't quite find the time to do more."

The demand is clearly there for Corinthian sailing and it's great to see the J70 class embracing it. Professionals have a vital role in sailing, and it's great that people can now make a decent living with a career in sailing, but we need to ensure we don't lose the pastime nature of the sport. Other classes have recognised this a while ago, but there's no harm in highlighting an event which seems to have hit the spot straight off.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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