If a shepherd were to compare sheep in his flock he would notice discernable differences that would go undetected by those not familiar with sheep. Not only would he know a lot about sheep in general, but he would know in particular the many individual characteristics of the sheep under his care. No doubt he would be able to identify each one simply by recognizing certain features.
Likewise, the expert connoisseur of sailing boats would perceive differences in hulls, keels, rudders and rigs. If he were responsible for maintaining a flotilla of sailing boats, perhaps for a charter company, he would be familiar with individual differences, down to minute details of the boats under his care.
Now for many of us, we gain enormous pleasure purely by observing and comparing sailing boats. I suppose it’s a bit like a connoisseur of wines or cheeses, although the uninitiated may be able to spot some differences, they do not have the expertise to differentiate between similar flavours.
My wife can never quite grasp the pleasure I derive from comparing boats – it’s beyond her comprehension, but on the other hand I can get some idea why she loves watching tennis tournaments on TV - particularly the men in action! To use another sporting example, football is known as ‘The Beautiful Game’, and for thousands who follow their footballer heroes they consciously or subconsciously compare them with others.
When comparing sailing boats what differences or similarities interest us? Do we compare their physical characteristics or do we consider their performance when racing or cruising? Are we more interested in fitness for purpose than in aesthetic design? Perhaps value for money is a valid comparison? In the case of trailer sailers, couldn’t there be a comparison of the time it takes to launch and retrieve a boat when using a road trailer? One could even compare annual maintenance costs.
One of the most contentious issues involving comparison is the use of the Portsmouth Yardstick, which is a racing handicap system designed to enable sailing boats of different classes to race together fairly. This system monitored and promoted by the RYA is about the best available for club racing. Sensibly, boats are categorised into 4 groups according to their similarities.
From this brief introduction we can begin to understand the complexity of making comparisons between sailing boats, and for an Old Salt like me there’s nothing more enjoyable than comparing boats except sailing them.