Our group writing project on worst race-committee screw-ups revealed some amazing tales of staggering ineptitude, conceit, foolishness and even intoxication. Why is that some of us who are probably highly successful in our careers as well as being excellent racing sailors suddenly become blithering idiots as soon as we step on to a race committee boat? Who knows?
On the other hand there are some extremely competent race committees and regatta organizers out there. One place that I can always rely on to run a professional event is the Hyannis YC, host of the Laser North Americans a couple of weeks ago. I've sailed several other major events there before, so with Peter Johns as regatta chairman and Tom Duggan as Principal Race Officer I had high hopes for a superb weekend of well-run sailing.
Thursday was a frustrating day with no racing because of high winds. I talked about this day in Waiting Game and discussed some issues relating to such days in Are You Experienced? There was some grumbling in some quarters about the decision not to race but personally I'm sure Duggan made the right call. Certainly I would not have taken 200 Laserites of varying abilities a couple of miles offshore in those conditions, no matter how many Mommy Boats were there to support me.
So the qualification series was cut to one day and we had an awesome day of racing on Friday with the best conditions one could hope for, and with the Hyannis YC race committee doing their usual top-notch professional job enabling us to complete the maximum allowed three races on that day.
The results of the qualification series weren't posted at the club when I left around 7pm that evening. Not that I cared. I knew that my scores were "good" enough to qualify me to sail in the silver fleet for the rest of the regatta. And I wasn't wrong. When I arrived at the club on Saturday morning and all the sailors clustered around the noticeboard to check the scores I had to squat down on the floor to find my name way, way, way down near the bottom of the list.
But wait. What's this? Some sailors are complaining about the scores. There appears to be a major problem. Some sailors who thought that they were at the front of the fleet haven't made the cut for the gold fleet. The committee is busy handing out forms and various sailors file their complaints. A postponement is signalled. A notice is put on the board explaining that some scores are in error. And we wait.
The problem is that we can't go sailing until the scores are corrected. Today we are going to be split into gold and silver fleets and it would certainly be unfair to put a genuine contender for the North American Championship into the silver fleet along with bozos like me. So we wait. And wait.
The breeze fills in to a juicy 10-12 knots and we all want to go sailing. A rumor goes around the boat park that the Standard Rig scores are now correct but they're still working on the Radials. More grumbling. Harsh words are spoken about the competence of the race committee. We wait and wait as the morning drifts by with the postponement flag still fluttering in the breeze.
But what else can the race committee do? Mistakes will happen when you are running a major regatta. Humans err. Equipment malfunctions. Anchors drag. Software fails (apparently what happened here). The measure of a good race committee is that they recognize when there is a problem and then go ahead and correct it as quickly as humanly possible. If you make an error in a starting sequence, blow off that start and do it again. If you signal the course wrongly and half the fleet goes the wrong way, abandon that race and start it again. Many of the stories told by contributors to the Top Race Committee Screw-ups last week are about race committees who were so ignorant or oblivious that they didn't even know they had made a mistake.
So what did they do at Hyannis? They corrected all the incorrect scores and re-posted a list of who had qualified for the gold and silver fleets. I checked the list again to make sure. Hmmm. I went up two places. How did that happen? In any case my name was still only a few inches of the floor and I was comfortably in the silver fleet.
We eventually hit the water around 11:30am if I recall correctly. Out on the racecourse the race committee had a tough time with shifty winds and a strong upwind current leading to many postponements and recalls. But they persevered and pulled off three fair races for the Standard Rigs. We were back at the club around 6pm so no real harm was done by the scoring screw-up.
At the regatta dinner that night one of the organizers apologised to all the sailors for the problems with scoring that morning. I was impressed. Having spent a good chunk of my professional life running an IT service organization I've been in that guy's shoes more times than I care to recall. Computers have glitches. Stuff happens. Real world activity has to be delayed while the IT guys clear up the mess. And the IT manager has to go to the users and apologise whether there was anything he could have done to prevent the problem or not.
Hats off to Peter Johns, Tom Duggan and all the volunteers who did a magnificent job in running the 2007 Laser North Americans. You guys are a class act. I will be back.