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Damage on the Race Course

At a recent Thistle Regatta our boat was involved in a minor collision at the start line. A windward boat attempted to bear off to take our stern and just nicked the trailing edge of our rudder. As helmsman I barely felt the contact and didn't believe that the windward boat did any damage.

When we hauled the boat at the end of the day we were surprised to see the fiberglass that covers our wood cored rudder was broken at the trailing edge. The possibility of water intrusion into the wood was reason enough for this minor damage to require repair.

As a relatively recent convert to yacht racing this incident was my first involving damage to a boat. I have done most of my racing on a road racing motorcycle dragging my knee. Triple digit speeds were the norm as were the occasional wipe-outs that could do substantial damage to one's motorcycle. When two bikes tangled we would, as a general rule, disregard who is at fault and chalk it up as 'That's Racing'. Each rider would be responsible for repairing his or her own motorcycle. As a racer I understood and accepted this fact of track life.

The sailing world is a bit more refined with well defined rules that point out clearly who is at fault in a collision. In our case the windward boat was at fault. While we did not hail 'protest' while on the water and had no intentions of filing a protest form, we believed that the windward boat may have had some type of responsibility to make things right.

The Thistle fleet might be unique. It is quite family oriented. My wife grew up racing on her father's Thistle. She has been sailing with some long time Thistle Sailors for as long as she has been sailing. I have been welcomed into this fleet with open arms and appreciate all the help I have received. We have respect for our fellow sailors and wanted to be sure we acted fairly.

We discussed our options for a while. We believed that a professional repair job could run up to $500. That sounded pretty expensive to me. I wouldn't pay that much for a repair I could make in a couple hours. It didn't feel right to ask someone else to pay that much either. We also discussed the option of letting the other skipper choose how the rudder would be repaired. I am pretty picky. I was uncomfortable not overseeing the repair.

After 20 minutes of discussion while packing the boat up, I approached the other skipper. I made my case. He realized that, as windward boat, he was burdened. I asked him to pay me for two hours of my time at $25 per hour and I would repair the rudder myself. My proposal also included that I would do the work before the next regatta, show him my repaired rudder, and only ask for payment at that time. He agreed. All seemed well.

I returned to our boat and finished up the last few details to make it ready for the trailer ride home. As I thought about the outcome I became uneasy with the resolution. He was not malicious in his error. Just one half inch separated his bow from clearing our rudder and letting him pass our stern. I didn't like the prospect of being in his shoes. Sailing with the Thistle Fleet is supposed to be fun and having to dicker over a $50 issue was taking some shine off a great weekend for both myself and the other skipper.

A second discussion with the crew took place. I had decided to back out of my agreement with the other skipper. I needed to make the repairs, but didn't need a friend of mine to pay me for them. I caught up with him after the awards ceremony and explained I didn't feel right about the solution. I explained that I would make the repair and expected nothing in return. We would see each other at the next regatta and this would be behind us. We shook hands. I felt better. I hope he did too.

I was able to make the repair without issue. We attended the next regatta and all was well. After the first day's racing, the other skipper sent a round of beer to me and my crew. Now I knew for sure I made the right choice.