[Public-List] Not so funny...

Gordon Laco mainstay at csolve.net
Fri Oct 5 08:59:23 PDT 2018

Good day friends,

Our club went through a bit of an ordeal in the past month, the sort which every sailing club is afflicted by from time to time.  I’d decided not to write about it until things were resolved and I had the issue settled somewhat in my own mind.

We have an overly aggressive member in our club who has made himself a nuisance and worse in our races for all the years he has been a member.  He is an ex-Olympic runner up from the early 1970’s, and sails a fast boat which I’ve mentioned in several of my more humorous race reports.  In the last Wednesday night race of the season, we took our turn being attacked by this fellow…I and cosquently the club decided not to ignore the issue.  Here’s what happened.  

We were approaching the weather mark on the second beat.  SURPRISE was on starboard tack and just laying the mark.  Another B Fleet boat, a Niagara 26, was close ahead of us, also beating.  There was a third yacht on our starboard quarter who had over stood and was coming down to the mark.  The wind was moderate, so all of us were doing about 5 knots, we were creeping up on the boat ahead of us.  The mark was very close ahead of him, less than three boat lengths.

Down to port, we all saw our overly aggressive member In CANADIAN EXPRESS, an Express 30R in A fleet, coming up to the mark on port tack and on a collision course with the Niagara 26 ahead of us. When it was apparent CE was not altering course, the Niagara ahead of us shouted STARBOARD! loud and clearly.   Without answering, CE bore off, which put her on a collision course with us.   

I shouted STARBOARD!, but instead of bearing off again, CE bore up.  I realized he was going to try to cut between us and the boat ahead of us, where there was now less than a boat length.  I shouted ‘Volkmar there’s no room there, you can’t do it!’ but he carried on until he was 3/4 of his length across our bow, at which point he then tried to tack onto starboard.  I remember shouting ‘OH SHIT-SHIT-SHIT!'

His starboard stern quarter slammed into our port bow making SURPRISE ring like a drum.   CE’s skipper then looked back at me over his shoulder and shouted ‘GET OUT OF MY WAY, YOU HAVE TO KEEP CLEAR!’  Then, after he looked forward and saw he was about to overrun the Niagara 26 ahead of him, swerved to weather, swiping his extended outboard across our bow. He swiped it across our bow again as he turn off to round the mark. The motor and its mount were torn off his stern, hanging by a single bent bolt that didn’t fracture.

All three boats rounded the mark, well four, including the guy coming down on our quarter.   We heard much shouting between crew members aboard CE, whose skipper also screamed curses at us for not keeping clear of him, and about his outboard and its mount.  I raised the red protest flag...

Down near the end of the running leg, CE did a 720 turn, fouling another yacht while he did so, which was accompanied by his screaming that they had to keep out of his way.

At the club an hour later, we were putting SURPRISE’s gear away and I heard angry shouting over at CE’s jetty.  I told my crew I’d better get over there rather than let others fight my battles for me, and left them furling up the main.   

As I walked down CE’s jetty I found her skipper in a confrontation with the skipper and crew of the Niagara 26.  When I walked up, CE’s skipper saw me and literally charged at me with clenched fists shouting ‘I know what sort of man you are!  You rammed me on purpose! (livened with foul cursing)

Well I used to be an officer of the RCN; and one is taught how to deal with confrontations.  I am not naturally a confrontational person but without thinking something clicked in my mind.  (thank you Petty Officer 1st Class Earl Allen.  You were a demon instructor in Officer's Basic, but you taught me lessons I’m still rediscovering)  I did not back up.  I raised my right hand flat, fingers together in the vertical plane and made the proscribed chopping motion toward Volkmar.   I said in a low voice “Volkmar, you made an error out there, you are making it worse now by making a fool of yourself. You do know what sort of man I am, I’m the guy who took the trouble to try to help you get along here.  Go away’.    Volkmar’s mouth snapped shut, then he shouted ‘you all hate me because I’m German!’   At that point the club’s commodore came up (he had been crewing in the Niagara) and pulled Volkmar back to his boat.   

Later in the clubhouse, Volkmar apologized to me for the collision, then began boasting that he’d won the series regardless of being thrown out of the race, and at blamed his crew for the accident.

That evening I thought about the atmosphere in our declining racing fleet… about the several good sailors who had quit racing in the past few years after confrontations with CANADIAN EXPRESS, and the many new sailors who said they’d never race because of what they’d heard about how savage the confrontations on the course are.

I decided that for the good of the sport I needed to ask the club to look into the issue again - CANADIAN EXPRESS had been suspended from racing for various periods of time three times in the past four years.  I thought it no good that we had to put up with repeated transgressions of clear and basic rules of sportsmanship and seamanship… and that the constant issues caused by this member are not really washed away by his apologies when he always does it again, and again.

The Midland Bay Sailing Club had already decided on it’s own to convene a hearing on a charge of Rule 69 and the club’s code of behaviour against this member, triggered by this most recent collision.  A general invitation of all boats who in the past three years had had confrontations with CANADIAN EXPRESS were invited to a hearing.  In the invitation I received, I was asked not to limit my testimony to the collisions in the last race… rather to be more general.

The skippers of nine boats plus various race committee officials attended the meeting which was chaired by our racing committee chairman, a retired lawyer/founding member of the club, and an accredited rule judge.

Volkmar had canvassed the club himself to find people who would speak for him… but they all declined.  Two of the people he thought might stand with him appeared as witnesses against him.  He was there alone, with only his wife sitting back in the room watching.

The committee described Rule 69 (google it).  Then they read the club’s code of behaviour.  Witnesses began describing collisions, near misses, foul language. etc.   Volkmar had the opportunity to question and comment after each testimony.   It was ugly and sad seeing him struggle, sometimes begging for another chance, sometimes attacking.  Then they came to me.

I read the invitation I had received, and said that I’d answer any questions put to me about the recent collisions, but said that I had four points to discuss first.  I have my note pad beside me now.

1. Repeated demonstrations of pointless aggression on the race course.
2. Repeated demonstrations of poor boat handling, and poor situational awareness in traffic
3. Repeated demonstrations of very poor sportsmanship
4. Repeated demonstrations by the club that no serious consequences result from these patterns of behaviour.

Each point was discussed in detail…. Volkmar again alternately apologizing, then attacking.   At one point he began insulting each the three people  on the hearing committee.  At another point he shouted ‘I’ve got you all on Rule 17!’   One of the committee members said quietly ‘I’m glad you brought that up - one of the issues in your pattern of behaviour is that you clearly do not understand the rules.  You continually invoke as your defence rules that are non-existent, obsolete or not understood.   Let’s look at Rule 17.’  Alas that rule had nothing to do with what he hoped it did. Volkmar then said to me ‘why did you drag me in here, why did you never come to me personally?’  I replied that I had on several occasions, most recently earlier this season in a phone call.  Volkmar shouted ‘my wife heard that call - you called to call me a fool!’  I replied that he was mistaken, I had called as a friend to try to help him understand why he was in trouble again.  I saw his wife had her face in her hands.  

Finally after three hours everyone had spoken.  The chairman turned to Volkmar and asked him if he had anything to add.   Clearly realizing that this was the time to play his last card, Volkmar made an impassioned and calm appeal that he not be suspended from racing.  (suspension had not been mentioned but I expect he knew what might be at stake, having been suspended before)   He pointed to each of us who described problems and apologized.  He said to me ‘Gord, I will NEVER do that to you again!’.  He described that he’d been a racing sailor at a high level most of his life.  He said that in his retirement years, racing is his life again, it ‘gets me off the couch every week’.  He said he loves yacht racing… and asked not to be suspended.  One of the members present asked Volkmar if he would like to see the list of people who he had driven out of our races… but the chairman said this was Volkmar’s turn to speak.

I was feeling badly for him.  But then the chairman of the committee said quietly “Volkmar, we have been here before with you.  What assurance can you offer us that we will not be here again?’   

At that he exploded with rage.  He gathered his papers into a ball and stood up to leave, shouting ‘YOU ALL HATE ME BECAUSE I’M GERMAN I HAVE NO CHANCE WITH YOU PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE!’   Peter, our vice commodore and skipper of the Niagara 26 ahead of us in the recent collision, said ‘Volkmar, I’m German too, I get on fine. It’s your behaviour, not your ethnicity.’

Volkmar sat down again, smoothed out his papers and started renewed apologizing, But the committee said they’d heard enough and adjourned the meeting.

Three days later the results were published.  Volkmar is suspended from Wednesday night racing for the whole of the upcoming 2019 season.  However he will be allowed to race in the much less heavily populated Saturday races.   He was warned that a transgression in a Saturday race might result in a blanket life-time prohibition .   

I am well satisfied with the result of the hearing.  There has finally been significant consequences applied; but he has a chance to change his behaviour, and rejoin the sport he says he loves if he manages to demonstrate a season without committing new issues of this type.


Pointless aggression has no place in our sport.   Cheating has no place in our sport.  Both behaviours are corrosive and intolerable.    If any of you are dealing with a problem competitor like ours, and are interested in how we dealt with him, I can send you the official judgment document off-list.   Part of the heavy consequences of the penalty are that under the rules a suspension of this length is public and world-wide.  The document is public.

Gordon Laco

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