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Can the Volvo Ocean Race be the same without a Southern Ocean and what makes a professional yachtsman?

Friday June 30th 2006, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
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Yesterday we wrote about the wranglings Nick Haigh has been going through with his status in ISAF's eye as a professional or an amateur yachtsmen. Read the article here.

Today ISAF send this rather benign response:

Thank you for giving ISAF and the ISAF Classification Commission the opportunity to comment.

The ISAF Classification Code is detailed in the ISAF Regulations which are available on the ISAF website, via the Regulations section of the site and available directly on the Sailors’ Classification section of the ISAF website.

Supporting the ISAF Classification Code, ISAF also publishes on the same part of the website a set of FAQs to help sailors understand the Classification Code. ISAF believes you will find that the FAQs answer the questions posed.

The ISAF Classification Code and the FAQs have existed since November 2002. The ISAF Classification Code is a successor to the RYA and US Sailing codes previously applied, and the principles are therefore well established, with the ISAF Classification Code used in many countries. The Code came into existence at the request of sailors and event organisers who wished for a clear, world-wide single system of defining sailors.

Close to home the Classification Code has been used in the Rolex Commodores’ Cup, Cork Week and the Mumm 30, Farr 40 and Swan 45 classes.

The use of the ISAF Classification Code, if any, at an event is determined by the Organiser or Class, not ISAF, and they set the limits on each group and publish them in the Notice of Race or Class Rules.

The FAQs are updated and added to each year and revisions to the ISAF Classification Code are recommended to ISAF each year if they are thought to be of benefit. Over 25,000 sailors have applied or renewed their classification since its start. It is free to sailors.

The FAQs cover the most frequently raised issues but, as is explained in the Introduction to the FAQs, they cannot cover every situation and ISAF encourages sailors to seek advice if in doubt.

Most, but as indicated in the Introduction not all situations in respect of chartering are covered on page 14 and 15.

Sponsorship of a boat does not impact a sailor’s classification provided certain criteria are met and compliance with the ISAF Advertising Code.

Classification is based on financial involvement in boat racing (whether direct or indirect) and/or the use in the sailor’s work of knowledge or skill capable of improving the performance of a boat in a race. It is not based on racing success, prowess or talent.

ISAF gives an undertaking of confidentiality to each applicant and we should not and will not comment therefore on any individual case.

The above documents are available online via the following links:

ISAF Classification Code (ISAF Regulation 22)
ISAF Classification Code FAQs
ISAF Advertising Code (ISAF Regulation 20)

ISAF Secretariat

From Holland Jasper Heikens sends this:

I myself am a group 3 ISAF classed sailor and regularly sail in the solent. Having had a look at the crew lists with their classification denoted I came across a fair amount of 'colleagues' that are classed as group 1. Clearly as you mentioned with your story the rule has limitations but that is evidently not the only problem. I wonder how much bending and actual breaking of the rule happens.

A reader based in China who wishes to be called 'Shanghai Sailor' sends this:

If Ron Dennis wants to drive in a celebrity motor car race I wonder what the view would be from FIM, I hardly think they would put him in the same category as Michael Schumacher OR if the guy who tunes his engine gets behind the wheel is he a professional race driver? I don’t think so!

So why should someone who builds the engines of a sailing boat (sailmaker) be considered a professional.

My daughter passionately loves sailing, because of that she took a maritime degree and now works in the Admin Dept of one of the world’s top sailmakers - so is she Cat 3?

Why don’t we just keep it simple - if you earn your living from yacht racing you are Cat 3 - and always Cat 3, you don’t lose the skills you spent years building while doing the sport full time (sorry Lawrie). BUT if you pay the bills of daily life by means other than yacht racing and I would include boat building, sailmaking, owning a yacht charter or brokerage business. These are business around the edge of yacht racing. ISAF control yacht racing - they don’t control yachting - or shouldn’t. It would be like FIM determining who can drive down the M6.

So if you drive Ferrari’s truck from Grand Prix to Grand Prix - using ISAF’s definition you are a professional motor sport competitor - mmm - interesting concept!

Difficult to police I know - when is a sailmaker paid to build the sail and when is he paid to trim it in a race. Difficult to police - but that is ISAF’s problem.

A blanket ban is an abdication of responsibility and they need to remember as those who not only govern but promote our sport - disenfranchise the rich guys who so often fund the pinnacle of our sport and they may just decide to find their adrenalin rush somewhere else, I know if I was Nick Haigh I would not be happy sitting on the dock and watching my boat head off to the race course.

To take the whole thing to the ultimate ridiculous extreme our club is entered in the China Club Match Race Challenge and my Quarter Ton yacht (the only private racing yacht in China) is being used by the club (no payment made) for training for the event. If one of the guys buys me a beer at the end of the days sailing and says: “Thanks for the sail!” does that make me Cat 3 - it’s preposterous!

The message looks quite loud and clear: “Hey rich guys of the world don’t lend your boat and then let the borrower thank you with a present (a pint or even the offer of a cigarette as you return to the dock) or you will now be Cat 3".

I feel for Nick Haigh as whatever he received or didn’t receive for the 'charter' of Dark & Steamy, it will surely be a small fraction of the purchase and/or running costs so how can he be classed as professional - he’s lost money on the deal.

Something needs to be done.

Agreed - Nick told us that he reckons he will be about £12,000 out of pocket for entering a boat in the Commodores' Cup that he is not now sailing....

Mike Dawe writes:

I have no problem with Lawrie being reclassified as an amateur (group 1) he has not sailed competitively (or at all for) some time, but the position for Nick Haigh is a nonsense and using the rules in the wrong way. Does this mean he will still be Group 3 for Cork week, for example, thus limiting the choice of crew he can have? Since he does not own the boat where does this leave others who go out on charter with someone else's boat as the 'owners representative' to ensure the charterer knows how to use the boat and protect the owner's boat. Are they to be classified as Group 3?

As we understand it Nick is only Group 3 while he sails on a boat he owns and is receiving a fee for having chartered. We believe that he could sail on any other boat at the Rolex Commodores' Cup and remain a Group 1 amateur.

We want to say we absolutely disagree with MIke's comments that Lawrie should be a Group 1 amateur because he hasn't sailed for two years. Sailing, as our China based correspondence above points out, is like riding a bike, so once you get good you are likely to remain reasonably good. However in making such observations we risk crossing the thin and decidedly unclear line over whether the ISAF classification should be used to limit 'good sailors' or 'professional ones'. We'll ponder this some more...

Simon Nearn writes:

As you have pointed out, the classification of Nick Haigh is completely wrong. Nick is the epitome of an amateur sailor who takes nothing from the sport except enjoyment and, as well as the money that goes into the sport and industry, he selflessly gives of his time. Not a professional as defined by the ISAF categorisation and a travesty that his own sport should treat him like this. Whatever the outcome he will never get those races back that he missed this week.

It seems from the definition in the article (I have not looked at the ISAF original) that he does not fall foul of the law as written, but there has been no due process. If a protest was made then there should have been a responsibility to have a hearing to establish the facts before Nick missed race. This should have been enough to clarify the situation and throw out the protest.

The categorisation should be altered to change the compensation as you suggest but not if it leads to undermining the principles that the coding attemts to enforce.

As far as Smith is concerned, if he is category 1 as defined and not 3 as he has been through the 24 month qualification for change of category then there is no case to answer. In fact by helping out Haigh and the team and highlighting the injustice he is doing a service to the sport.

Cheers, and keep up the good work. Great to able to follow the goings from afar through your excellent site

Mark Barnes writes:


On a point of view I can understand the ISAF's point with regard to levels of professionalism in yachting, but as Nick rightly says, the implications regarding his situation (Neither owner nor director of holding company) is a little worrying to say the least.

The backlash of this is that we may potentially have people like Nick, syndicate co-ordinators or even owners who wish to remain Category 1 removing the option of using their boats (no fee changing hands) from the equation rather than disadvantaging themselves to the point of being excluded from participation in other events.

With potential restrictions like this, we may see some events devalued to the point where they disappear from the calender.

What makes a mock of it is that Lawrie is able to now race as a Category 1, whereas he is one of this country's most successful Category 3 helms.

One can only hope that the ISAF resolve this issue and Nick is back onboard tomorrow.

Bye for now

Niall Myant sends this:

I learnt a lot (if not all) of what I know about yacht racing from Nick Haigh (and his wife Annie) while sailing with him on his Farr 40 Too Steamy.

He has, more than any other skipper i can think of, welcomed new young sailors onto his boat in an effort to give more people a great chance to experience some great racing. The face that the sport has let him down in this way is amazing. He is truly passionate about the sport and forcing him out of the competition is forcing out the very kind of focused, friendly and talented amateur sailor that this event is supposed to attract. Surely if things continue like this, Nick (and others) will stop being able to bring so much to the sport, simply by being forced out.

On the subject of the future Volvo Ocean Race Tony Harris, Cowes-based yachtsman, former publisher of madforsailing and now publisher of the Boat International group of magazines, sends the following:

I have been enthralled by the drama and heroics of the Volvo Ocean race this time around. It is sad that it has cost a life, but all sailors who participate know the risks better than the rest of us armchair followers.

Volvo, Glen Bourke, Andy Hindley et al all deserve congratulations for the move to the radical Volvo 70s and also for supporting the VX40s, which are also astonishingly quick and visually exciting boats. They held their nerve, and rightly so,in the early stages of the race when some (none of the competitors) were calling for the race to be cut short or at worst cancelled.

I am also delighted that they have chosen to announce the next race at the end of this one. But, and its a big but, to consider a Volvo Ocean Race without the Southern Ocean is, I think, a serious error of judgement.

I understand the commercial realities of keeping sponsors happy (I am after all a magazine publisher, it's what I do every day of the week), but has anyone bothered to ask the fans what it is that so appeals to them about this race?

Surely it is these fans, that sponsors, especially one assumes Volvo, want to be enthralled by the thrills and spills of the teams that partake in this event. It would be like me launching a magazine designed by advertisers, with no thought given to what readers may want. the first issue would be a big success (full of ads), but those advertisers would soon disappear when they realised that nobody was interested in actually reading the magazine.

Let's hope the 'new look' Volvo Ocean Race doesn't go the same way, but might I suggest that the powers that be at Volvo invest in some good old fashioned consumer research before they commit themselves to a race that ignores the attraction and the magic of the Southern Ocean legs and their ability to draw in and sustain a worldwide fan base.

Andre Peixoto, a Brazilian living in the US, who followed the Volvo Ocean Race feels:

I think no Southern Ocean is going to turn down the race to more a circuit than an adventure, and that's what the public around the world want to see - adventure. One positive side for the sponsors, but not for the teams because of the costs, is to include more stops, to open up to more markets for media and public, increase the budget for transportation of the shore crew.

For me the ideal course is:

1. Spain to Cape Town,
2. Cape Town to Dubai,
3. Dubai to Singapore,
4. Singapore to Yokohama,
5. Yokohama to Sidney,
6. Sidney to Wellington,
7. Wellington to Rio,
8. Rio to New York ,
9. New York to Portugal,
10. Portugal to France,
11. France to England,
12. England to Netherlands,
13. Netherlands to Germany,
14. Germany to Sweden.

With that the race would have some long legs, with the Southern Ocean, race and sprint legs at the European part.

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