Readers have their say on elitism in ocean racing, big budgets and value for sponsors


There have been lots of comments on the subject of women in sailing , the escalating costs of technology and the value to sponsors .

Again, apologies that we don’t have a proper comments facility to publish these on. The best I can do for now is to take a selection of views and extract some of the main points. Please do keep sending me any comments you have.

On the subject of women’s participation in the big ocean races, there were very different views.

John Rousmaniere thinks there is ‘an Old World/New World cultural gap’:

‘Elitism and sexism in ocean racing seem to exist in just a corner of the sport. In the US, wherever amateurs race in bluewater, women race. So many women have sailed for so many years in American offshore races?high-profile and low-profile alike?that we stopped counting heads years ago.

‘In the race I know best, from Newport to Bermuda, there have been women sailors since the first start back in 1906, and women skippers for more than 20 years.’

I was writing about professional ocean racing rather amateur races, which are much more widely representative, but does John have a point? Are we less egalitarian – more of a boys’ club, in fact – in Europe?

Ginny Jones emailed to say: ‘I actually checked out what was happening in the Vendée Globe almost daily and cheered on the various participants, with a bit of bias towards the ladies, I have to admit. The other race…what is it called? Oh, Volvo?’

She adds: ‘One point that hasn’t been made in reference to the vast sums of money spent is that there has always been some justification that designing new race boats, developing new materials and products, etc, helps the industry as a whole because there is a carry over to other parts of the maritime industry. Certainly this is no longer true, or at least not to a great extent.’

George Morris, on the other hand, couldn’t see what I was on about:

‘I disagree with everything you have said. At my club where the average dinghy costs about 3K there are about 20 men sailing for every woman. Women are not excluded in any way, they just choose not to sail and, yes, they do most of the work around the club and on the council and on the RNLI but nobody makes them – it is just where they gravitate to

‘ “Chicks”, as you point out, find it easier to get sponsorship if they are any good, particularly if they are personable and pretty but the reason that Ben Ainslie is steering TeamOrigin and Shirley Robertson isn’t is that he’s better at it.

‘As for de-technifying the boats to make them affordable – there are numerous cheapie classes in motor sport but the only one that anyone watches is Formula 1 (which is actually the least interesting) and they do it because of the glitz and the egos and the testosterone and the personal hatreds.’

Right, so it’s not actually the technology level that makes motorsport interesting to a mass audience after all, but primarily the platform that delivers the glitz, ego and personalities? My point exactly and I’ll come back to that in another blog.

On the subject of big budgets in ocean racing, here were some other points made:

Lucas Schroder (who was 7th in the 2007 Mini Transat) emailed: ‘Having a background in business finance I cannot agree more with your article.

‘I think a lot of the races have lost the perspective. It’s not about the carbon pieces, it’s about the race, the struggle, personal highs and lows. Maybe the in crowd enjoys the hardware, but for the larger public I believe they couldn’t care less about a canting keel.

‘But how do you control the budget on a sport that is so hardware driven? Even in the Mini Class (in which I competed) people are changing sails twice a season and installing Euro 5,000 litium batteries to save 18 kilos. This class was supposed to be the race open for everybody

‘Most sports exist by the grace of attention of the public. Especially in a capital-intensive sport like ocean racing where sponsors are a must. So the sailors should think about making the sport more attractive, not just making the boats go 10% faster and the budget go 100% higher.

‘I find the Velux 5 Oceans option to enter with an “old” generation open 60 a very good example same story, same hardship, same excitement at 30% of the budget.’

In the opposite corner, David Fuller said what I’d written ‘enraged’ him. He publishes a website on yacht sponsorship and says:

‘Not content to call the general public too dumb to understand the technicalities, we are now expected to believe that the marketing directors of large companies are too dumb to make rational decisions when it comes to determining how much budget to allocate to a legitimate part of their marketing mix.

‘If you have ever tried to raise sponsorship, you might well know that convincing any company director, whether they like sailing or not to write a cheque for few thousand, a few hundred thousand or a few million is a very tough thing to do.’

‘Every sponsor does it for different reasons. They might be doing it for consumer benefit, like in the case of Puma. They might understand that there is a one-to-one relationship between sailors and owners of cars like Volvo, BMW and Audi. They might believe that if you are rich enough to fund a sport like sailing then you might have a portfolio of some worth that would be good to manage, hence the involvement of companies like Artemis.

‘If you have offices in 5 of the countries visited by the Volvo Ocean Race, then you might be embarking on an internal communications exercise to align global teams or to rally the troops around a team of winners.’

Good points, interesting subject, will come back at that one too.