I thought I'd talk today about a very important subject for race officers - communication with the racers. It's vital that any communication from the race committee to the racers is clear, timely, unambiguous and accurate.
Here are some ways provided in the Racing Rules for us to communicate to the boats racing:
- Notice of Race
- Sailing Instructions
- Signal Flags
- Sound Signals
- Course Boards
Here are some ways NOT suggested in the Racing Rules for us to give instructions to racers:
- Ouija boards
- Instant messaging
- Waving your arms around
- Talking to the competitors
Yeah - I have heard that in their current courses for beginner race officers, US Sailing has gone all touchie feelie and are telling students that it's OK to pass on information to the racers verbally and answer their damn fool questions on the water and generally treat them like they are real human beings. But they're wrong.
Anything you as a member of the race committee say to the racers is likely to be misheard, misunderstood, misquoted and may be used in evidence against you at a redress hearing. So don't do it. If some boat sails past the stern of the committee boat and some idiot on the boat hails, "How many minutes to our start?" or "Which buoy is the windward mark?" or "How come the general recall flag is still up?" just stare blankly at them and pretend you didn't hear them.
Yes, this advice still applies in "friendly" club racing. There's no such thing as friendly club racing. When you're on the race committee you have no friends.
As an example let me tell you about the time when I did my duty as PRO at my home club a few weeks ago. There were several one design fleets racing and the order of starts for the various fleets is indicated by a board on the side of the committee boat. They have a fleet of Sunfish and usually the Sunfish fleet starts last because most of the members despise Sunfish sailors. But just for fun I decided to start the Sunfish first and quietly set up the signals on the board to indicate that. It was obvious as we went into the starting sequence that many of the Sunfish sailors hadn't actually realized that they had the first start as they were respectfully staying well clear of the start area as per normal so real boats could start first.
One of my race committee team reached for a loud hailer and was about to hail the Sunfish sailors to bring their attention to the fact that they had the first start. Of course I wrenched the instrument from his hand and forbade him to do any such thing. If they can't be bothered to read the RC signals they deserve to miss the start. As expected, half the Sunfish fleet missed the start and there was much grumbling and cursing at the RC team -- which we ignored of course.
I understand that after racing some of the Sunfish sailors approached the club commodore and complained about my RC work. Can you believe it? Weekend warriors who sail some sorry excuse for a sailing craft dared to complain about me! I believe the phrase "arrogant bastard" and slurs on my ethnic origins were used.
The commodore called a special yacht club committee meeting to discuss the issue and I am pleased to announce that I was completely vindicated. The club secretary sent me a very kind letter telling me that the committee had decided to appoint me as "Honorary Race Committee Chairman Emeritus" in honor of my thirty years of service to the club and that as one of the privileges of this office they would like to excuse me from performing my race committee duty at the club in perpetuity.
Of course, I couldn't accept. It's in the club rules that all members must perform at least one RC duty per year. So I wrote back and graciously refused their offer and said that although I much appreciated their recognition of my vast expertise I wished to continue carrying out my annual RC duties just like any ordinary club member.
That's the kind of guy I am.