Andrew McIrvine, Secretary General of the International Maxi Association, and the driving force behind the success of the IMA over recent years, looked at the situation for big boat racing in a recent conversation with Tip & Shaft.
McIrvine, also an Admiral of the RORC, is locked down at home in London keeping a very close eye on the COVID-19 developments around the world.
A consultant vascular surgeon at three prominent hospitals he is a past president of the Section of Surgery, Royal Society of Medicine and served as a council member of the British Medical Association.
As such then very much an informed realist when it comes to looking at the altered horizons for big boat racing . . .
I think we might be writing off this season and hope to god by (next) April things have settled down or we have a vaccine.
I have got quite cross with some of my sailing mates when they have said ‘it is not killing that many people it is no worse than flu’, it definitely is. Hospitals don’t gear up like that and fill up like that in anybody’s living memory. It is considerably more severe.
With most events now cancelled and Yacht Clubs closed did he think that anything could be saved this season?
I have a feeling that even if it opens up and everything gets better quickly, a lot of our owners will be in turmoil trying to keep their businesses going.
What happened last time there was a financial crisis is that a lot of owners mothballed their boats.
They did not want to be seen to be having fun when they laid off half their staff. So the thing took a big dive. I have a nasty feeling we will see the same thing again.
At the moment Copa del Rey is on, Yacht Club Costa Smeralda have cancelled their programme to the end of June but they have said nothing about the Swans and the Maxis.
I see RORC saying they will try and run the IRC Nationals in September as nonsense, raising peoples hopes with no factual basis. The best thing is to say what you are cancelling and leave it at that.
I really feel for the Pro sailors right now. I don’t know what will happen. I think there are very few owners who keep guys on retainers. A lot of crews don’t even have contracts.
So amidst the black clouds, where are the bright spots?
I think there will be a tendency to drift to smaller boats, expenses go up exponentially with boat size, and we have more of a hope with boats which can be cruised by families as well as being raced.
In fact the Wally concept was good with accommodation and you could live on them, but over time they have added bowsprits and split backstays, flat top mains and nobody lives on them.
But you can never stop people spending a lot of money on boats to get another 0.01 of a knot. That is the way the world has always been. We have always done it and that won’t go away.
Rising budgets in the pursuit of small gains has always been part and parcel of Maxi racing, and budgets spiral ?
You can’t point the finger at project managers and boat captains, it is in the nature of their job to be making incremental gains and optimising these boats, taking the next step to beat the opposition.
That is part of their jobs, of course. And it is like football managers, if they miss something they get sacked. “We are not winning any more, you are off.”
You can certainly point the finger at what has happened with the J/70 fleet now with old men and expensive professionals. That is not where the sport needs to be going.
And what I am pleased to see with Ian Walker in charge at the RYA, is to have gone from going crazily focused on Olympic medals but burning out lots of kids who have given up sailing because they don’t make the top 10.
And you have to have parents who will travel Europe in a motor home and spend huge amounts.
Ian is in a good position to foster this change. He has credibility with all that he has done.
The TP52s and the Maxi72s need good pros and the pros there are in a different league and deserve what they get but that is a very small group.
There are many pros who expect a daily rate and don’t deserve it. But then also I have seen Maxi owners wandering around after one beer with the crew who have then all gone off.
So this period will have a very significant on our sailing lives far less just big boat racing, do you think?
We won’t go back to where we were.
This will be a big, big reset for everyone.
I think the whole pace of life will change. It will slow down.
People will realise they can just enjoy their sailing for what it gives them, they don’t have to go for the very last percent just to win.