Tomorrow is practice race day at the 2009 Melges 32 World Championships from here in beautiful Porto Cervo, and nearly every team will be out racing to get ready for the big dance. That includes the Czechs on Black Mamba, who tore a softball-sized chunk out of their bulb on one of the sharp rocks that lurk at the edge of the harbor today. It also includes most of the folks who came here to sail, no thanks to the moronic witch hunt conducted by ISAF classification enforcer Anthony Matusch who has already reclassified one sailor, while others wait to see if the other shoe is going to drop.
With the Italians’ legendary ability to push rules to the edge, Matusch clearly came here to make an example of someone, and he found his fall guy in an unexpected place – a British crew. The young, affable British motor boat captain Tim Edwards was reclassified as a Cat 3 today, which sends him off the boat for the week, as the Melges 32 Class only allows three pro sailors aboard. Let’s take a look at the decision:
Edwards is the captain of one of "Red" owner Joe Woods’ motor boats, and he’s sailed on Woods’ 32 for ages, always as an amateur. He doesn’t set the boat up, he doesn’t deliver it – all the kid does is pull on strings. Yet Matusch’s idiotic inquisition somehow couldn’t separate Edwards’ pay as a motor boat captain from his position sailing as an amateur sailor; never mind that Edwards’ salary is perfectly in line – if not discounted – from any other captains of similar-sized yachts; never mind that the going rate for captains is a simple thing to prove; and never mind that he’s not a tactician, bowman, or main trimmer – he pulls up the bloody spinnaker. Any lawyer worth his bills will easily overturn Matusch’s decision on appeal, and we hope to see a public apology to Edwards and the Red crew when it happens. But that takes weeks if not months, and for now, Edwards is S.O.L.
The truly pathetic thing is that the crew lists were submitted almost a month ago, and that if ISAF were even remotely competent, they’d pick up a fucking phone and interview sailors with questionable status with at least a few days to spare. That way, crews could save themselves from destroying their vacation to sit on a dock, and skippers could save themselves from having to fill vacant spots the day before one of the biggest events they may ever sail. But ISAF would rather come to town two days before the event, guaranteeing that anyone wrongly reclassified has no recourse at all. Maybe Matusch enjoys his free trips to Porto Cervo a little too much…
Between the unethical ISAF/Alinghi agreement and now this terrible administration of the Classification code, the sport’s governing body is proving itself to be the bumbling organization that some of its detractors have been complaining about for years. Too impotent to deal with rogue billionaires on a level playing field, it takes out its frustrations on young motor boat captains. Too incompetent to actually police anything of substance, it claims ownership of the word "World" and threatens organizers that dare to try something new.
The truth is that the Classification Code itself is a completely broken document that does nothing like it is intended to – it doesn’t save money, and it doesn’t provide a reliable system for classifying anything that makes sense. It’s simply incredible that ISAF doesn’t understand this, even when they know that the authors of the code themselves intended it as a stop-gap measure for a single event more than a decade ago. Here’s a good example: In another recent junket in Newport, Matusch himself said, "There is a common misunderstanding about professionalism,” he says, “and a lot of muttering about people having taken part in such and such an event and therefore being professional. It is only things that have been done in the last two years that are relevant. If you haven’t sailed as a professional for the last two years, then you are not a professional – regardless of how important you may have been in the 1983 America’s Cup." Let’s focus on this for a second: According to the Code, if Terry Hutchinson didn’t get paid to sail in the two years since he helmed ETNZ in the 32nd Cup , he’s considered an amateur. Yet if I get paid 50 bucks to clean the bottom of a Melges 24 and then a month later I sail a Wednesday night beercan race on the same boat, I’m a pro.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true, and if there is any rational thought at ISAF, they should do something about it. Unfortunately, as one International Judge recently told me, ISAF has ‘an organizational aversion to admitting when it’s wrong.’ So the system of deciding who is a pro and who isn’t will likely remain the joke it is for a long, long time. Just ask Anthony and his idea of "professionalism."
Stay tuned to On-The-Water Anarchy for awesome photos and videos from the practice racing tomorrow, more reports from the world’s best sailors and the hottest sailing chicks, and yes, more drama. And something entirely new – a live, hour-long ‘talk show’ with the most interesting folks here in Italy broadcast on our Justin.TV live feed. Unsurprisingly, we’re calling it the OTW Cocktail Hour. Tomorrow is our practice day too, so we’ll just see what happens; the racing starts at 1:00 local or 7 AM EST, and the OTW Cocktail Hour starts at 5:30 local or 11:30 EST.