It happens all the time at sailing regattas -- and it did happen last week at the Laser North Americans. The wind is blowing over 20 knots, maybe gusting to 30 or more, and the race committee decides to postpone racing, maybe even blow off the whole day.
Some of the sailors are frustrated because they live for days like this. They want to go sailing and blast around in the wind and waves and think they can handle it OK. Most of them are probably right.
Another group of sailors is secretly relieved. They would have gone out to race today but they know they would have struggled in these conditions. Maybe they would have capsized a dozen times and had to retire when they were too exhausted to climb on to the daggerboard one more time. For sure they would not have scored well.
And then there are the sailors who know they can't sail a Laser in 30 knots and would have had the good sense (at least in their own minds) not to sail today whatever the race committee chose to do.
The race committee knows that some of the sailors can handle these winds; but are more concerned about the others. It's a tough call as to whether to race or postpone. The decision depends on many factors: the size of the fleet, the number of safety boats, how large the course is, how far offshore the racing will be, etc. etc. It's one thing to run a regatta for 20 boats just off the beach; it's quite another thing to take 200 boats a couple of miles out to sea when it's blowing 30 knots.
Sure the Racing Rules of Sailing say that "the responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone." But if the PRO decides to take the fleet out today she just knows that there will be some sailors who come out to race who won't be able to handle the conditions. How many? What kind of trouble will they get themselves into? No matter that they've all signed a waiver form drafted by the finest legal minds in the club, no PRO wants to take a fleet out for a day's racing and end up with some sailors drowned or seriously injured. It is only a game after all.
At the North America Laser Class AGM last week, one sailor threw out an interesting suggestion to deal with this issue that might enable the good sailors to race on a day like this. How about having some kind of experience qualification that would allow the competent sailors to race on those heavy wind days when race committees are tempted to postpone in order to protect the weaker members of the fleet? Not a speed test, not who is the fastest sailor, but some way of identifying the ones that would not get themselves into (too much) trouble in 25-30 knots say.
Hmmm. The meeting received the suggestion with silence initially. We could all see the potential problems with such a plan. How could you construct such a test? Who would administer it? Would it be fair to the competitors who had travelled to the regatta but were now not qualified to race on one day of the event?
Someone mentioned that the Laser Heavy Air Slalom (of recent YouTube video fame) was an invitational event. They didn't invite anyone who couldn't sail a Laser well in heavy air. Someone else pointed out that, to an extent, sailors self-select; why would anyone even enter a regatta at a known heavy air venue if they knew they couldn't sail in the typical winds at the location?
The discussion meandered on to talk about problems at recent Laser Masters Worlds where a few "tourists" would decide "Hey - World Champs in Brazil - 30 knot winds expected - cool place to visit - no qualification to enter - I'm going - now what does a Laser look like?" (I don't think they were talking about me.) Apparently there has been some discussion at the international level of restricting entry to the Masters Worlds to masters who have achieved a certain level of achievement in other regattas. (Didn't like the sound of that. Would my one and only Atlantic Coast Grandmaster Champion title be enough to earn me entry to the Masters Worlds?)
As usual at such meetings nothing was decided. But I think the idea of an "experience test" to race on a heavy air day has some merit. I guess you'd have to announce in the Notice of Race that such a procedure would be used. Something like: "At the discretion of the race committee, any day of racing may be open only to those in possession of a current Laser Class Level 3 Fat Boy Heavy Air Nut Certificate" or words to that effect.
How would you earn such a rating? 10 points if you ever used a 3:1 vang and can supervang it by standing up and bouncing on the boom in 30 knots? 15 points if you finished any races in the 2007 Caribbean Midwinters? Bonus points for every pound you weigh over 220lbs? I dunno. I can see lots of problems with the idea but plenty of upside too. What do you think?