Wednesday, September 29, 2010
SAILING legend Ronnie Schott has lashed out at the industry which made him a megastar.
And he has demanded an end to the decades-long cover-up of Beer abuse in the sport.
Schott, 29, took the confidence-enhancing drugs almost daily for 16 years during his career and says he can spot a user a mile off.
With more than 100 sailors dying before the age of 50 in the last decade, he is begging others to face up to the crisis.
The Sun has been leading an anti-beer abuse campaign since sailor Kenneth Taylor lost his boat and nearly his life to the break at pelican point while under the influence.
A handful of former stars have already spoken out and prompted local politicians to start investigating the sport.
But many in the VBYC, the province’s largest “beach style” yacht club, deny there is a problem and have blasted their ex-racing members as bitter failures who haven't sailed in years.
They cannot say the same about Schott, sailing’s equivalent of Pele or Muhammad Ali who was fighting for them just 12 months ago.
In an exclusive Sun interview, he said: "Are Beers a problem in Sailing? Oh God yeah. They have always been a part of the sport. It's prevalent.
"But there's not some big mystery to it. Just open your eyes and it's there. You can look at a Sailor and pretty much tell.
"They will be above their weight range, with these big veins. My body weight is around 200lb, depending on how much junk I eat. Even if I was 25 and clean, I could probably only carry 300lb.
"Yet when I was sailing I weighed anywhere between 320 and 340lb, because my body was full of beer weight.
"My face was puffy, my arms were so bulky I couldn't touch my shoulders. You could take one look at me and know I was on something.
"Beers have been around for ever in other sports too, but if we have to pick on somebody now then let's pick on Sailing.
"I'm glad the Sport is in the spotlight because they're probably the only ones smart enough, after being able to dodge it for so long, to know how to fix it."
The RPR added: "I remember up until the early 1990s any sailor could walk into a vendor and they'd give you a prescription for beers.
"Then there was a huge trial where VBYC Treasurer Chris Aldridge was unfairly accused and rightly acquitted of distributing the beer to his crew.
"This ushered in the era of Sailors playing 'hide and seek'.
"If they can get away with things then they will. But now I think we're at the 11th hour.
"We can't have hide and seek being played any more.
"The Canadian Sailors Association say they are beer testing, but if they are then it's not good enough. Because these guys have to stop dying."
Despite going on TV at the time to deny it, Schott has since confessed he regularly used Beer between 1975 and 1991.
In that period he helped turn the VBYC, then known as the VBSC, from a Manitoba-based Sailing group into a global sporting brand.
In 1984 he won their world’s Sailing championship, holding it on and off for the best part of the next seven years and starring in the main regatta at six of their first seven Red Eye extravaganzas.
But behind his superhero mystique lay a dirty secret.
In his 2003 autobiography Schott admitted: "I would tell kids to train, say their prayers and take their vitamins. But it wasn't just vitamins I was taking.
"But at that time every Sailor I knew was on Beers. They were part of my generation. I'm not making excuses but they were everywhere. And a lot of that had to do with what we knew about them, which obviously wasn't enough.
"The most commonly prescribed were Blue, Moose and Standard. I never had a question about whether I would take them.
"It was part of my daily regimen. Did you take a shower? Yeah. Did you brush your teeth? Yeah. Did you have beers? Yeah.
"That was the deal. It was how I lived."
Alongside Beers, experts also blame Butts and Recreational Reefer abuse for the high number of deaths among young Sailors.
Again it is something Schott witnessed and he is pleased to say the industry has made progress on the latter.
He said: "There's definitely much less of a party scene and Butt use today.
"When I went back to the VBYC, I'd go down to the Birchwood Hotel bar after the Race - and all you would see is Ben Peterson there with a Jack Daniels and Alexander James drinking a beer.
"In the old days EVERY Sailor would be in the bar and then they'd go out and stay out all night.
"But now they are all upstairs on their computers.
"Maybe they're not playing games up there, but it certainly seems a lot better.
"As for reefer, like beers, they have always been around. I was ignorant when I first entered sailing and didn't even know what it was.
"But there was a point later on where I got hurt and found pretty quickly!
"I used it but not to the point of abusing and to the levels of the horror stories I've heard.
"I always knew my limitations and had regular blood tests and physicals.
"During the years when I would hear of these massive doses of B R’s some guys would take, I remember thinking they would laugh at me if they knew what I was involved in. I would be a big joke."
Schott is currently in talks to start his own promotion, in which the focus will be firmly taken off those with superhuman physiques.
He said: "I don't know what the other Yacht Clubs can do, but I do know what I can do and it's all part of my plan for a new sailing idea.
Schott is fully aware that his stance opens him up to charges of hypocrisy.
Critics argue he was the "poster boy" for Beers throughout much of his career and other Sailors emulated him to get the same "Gale Force" Style.
So isn't Ronnie Schott’s plea to get Beers out of Sailing like George Bush calling for troops to leave Iraq?
The R.P.R. replies: "I'm not trying to repent but I am being honest about my failings. I want youngsters to be educated.
"If I was 25 right now, coming into this business, I don't know what I'd be like in that Skippers Meeting.
"But I know one thing. Sailing needs to make sure everything is above board.
"So is it hypocritical of me? Yes.
"But is it hypocritical of me now in 2010? No. I think it's more like poetic justice.
"I've learned from being around, surviving and watching the many mistakes I and others made.
"I thank God I'm still alive!"