Dear Mr Regatta Parking Lot Attendant,
I know you had a tough job this weekend, trying to coordinate the movements of 250 Laser, Laser Radial and Vanguard-15 sailors and their boats and their trailers and their cars in a field that was perhaps just a tad too small for the job. The chaos on the first morning of the regatta probably wasn't entirely your fault, unless you were also responsible for planning the parking arrangements. So I hope you are thinking, like I am, about what could have been done differently.
Sailors come to this regatta because of its reputation for reliable strong winds and excellent race management on the water. But the land-side logistics can affect our enjoyment of the event too and, frankly, this aspect of the event fell way short of the mark. I hear that some people won't come to this regatta any more because they are not made to feel welcome. I'll probably be back, but only because I have faith that your yacht club can learn from their mistakes. And management of this launch and parking area last weekend was a monumental screw-up of the first order.
At first everything went smoothly. I dropped off my boat and trailer at the launch site a couple of days before the regatta after going over there to practice. My friends assured me that in previous years all the boats and cars and trailers could fit in this field so everything seemed hunky-dory.
On Friday morning too it looked at first as if things were under control. There were signs indicating which end of the field cars should be parked. Everyone obeyed the signs and slowly the field filled up. Apart from those signs, you seemed to be letting the sailors decide for themselves where to park their boats, trailers and cars. I wonder if there had been any discussion in the planning meetings about the capacity of this field and perhaps the need to park the cars in orderly tight rows to maximize use of space? Had anyone thought to suggest parking boat trailers at one of the remote parking lots to create more space for boats and cars?
Boats were being rigged. Sailors were getting dressed for the water. More and more boats and trailers and cars were arriving. Then at 9am, about half an hour before we were due to launch, the crisis hit. The field was full. Cars and trailers were backing up down the entrance road. Tempers were getting frayed. The latecomers could see that they would miss the start. There was nowhere to put all the boats and cars. Total mess. Didn't you see it coming before then?
Let's be charitable. I won't say you lost it. I will say you made an executive decision. You marched over to the young man who had the car parked furthest from the entrance, and told him brusquely to move his car to the other lot a couple of miles away and to catch a shuttle bus back. Actually you were very brusque.
He didn't take it well. Partly it was in your manner. Partly it was because he didn't understand why you were singling him out to move when he had been one of the first to arrive and park his car in a good position close to his boat. You didn't really explain that you were trying to empty the whole lot of cars. In any case, it seemed unlikely that all those cars could be moved and all those people bussed back here in under thirty minutes.
His response was also partly because we Laser sailors like to have our cars and all our clothes and tools and spare gear close at hand. It makes us feel secure. He got angry. He argued. He can't help it. It's genetic. His father likes to argue. His grandfather liked to argue. I apologize for my genes.
He stormed off. You stormed off. You tackled him again and fiercely insisted that he move his car. Eventually he did. You had similar confrontations with other sailors. Tempers flared. Little knots of sailors formed and vented about the situation and your attitude. Nobody wanted to be forced to drive to some other location and perhaps get back here too late to catch the first race. Harsh words about you and your yacht club's ability to run a regatta were exchanged.
I was trying to keep out of your way. I sat quietly to one side with the guy who is probably the oldest active Laser sailor on the planet. At least you had a bit more tact when you approached us and asked us to move our cars off site too. You did address us as, "You gentlemen." I hope you noticed I returned the compliment by calling you, "Sir".
The host yacht club and its volunteers should treat sailors like they are welcome and with some respect. We sailors should also treat you with respect. After all you are a volunteer trying to do a difficult job. So on behalf of all the sailors I apologize for the guy who called you a Parking Lot Nazi. That was uncalled for.
Some of us moved our cars begrudgingly. We caught a bus back to the launch area which was still in confusion. One of the regatta officials said he had heard that our first warning signal would be postponed because of the parking chaos. Another official vainly attempted to phone the yacht club to obtain confirmation. More confusion. Some boats had already set sail for the Laser circle a couple of miles away so eventually we all launched.
The second day you had some signs at the entrance saying that that no cars were allowed in the field. So we parked in the off-site lot and came to the launch area by bus. There was plenty of empty space in the field. We wondered why you didn't allow at least the early birds to park there.
By the third day, most sailors had worked out that we could park our cars on the road outside the field and wouldn't get ticketed by the famously officious local police. There were dozens of cars parked both sides of the narrow lane blocking part of the road. Did you think that was a better solution than allowing at least some cars to park in an orderly fashion in the field? Apparently not.
Did you reconsider when you heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights come down the road? As several police cars and fire trucks barrelled at high speed towards us could you see any problem? When the fire trucks were stopped by cars going in the opposite direction in between the two lines of parked regatta cars, did you wonder if someone in authority might question who had caused this road to be blocked to emergency vehicles? I hope the house didn't burn down before they arrived.
You did try and take some preemptive steps to avoid more chaos after the regatta was over. Telling all the sailors not to bring their cars into the lot until we were ready to hitch up our trailers and leave was probably a good idea. Thanks for thinking ahead. You didn't exactly do it in a diplomatic way though. Starting the conversation with, "Don't even think about bringing your car through the gate...." and threatening to abandon us altogether may not have been the best way to motivate us to cooperate.
But back to the first day. Don't you think it would have been better to head off the first morning's confusion by better planning? Perhaps we should have been told beforehand that we had to park cars at the other site? Or perhaps all trailers should have been put in that other lot? Or perhaps some better organization of parking would have used the space more effectively?
Can I suggest that before your yacht club hosts this regatta again you have a chat with the folks at Hyannis Yacht Club. At their regatta the previous weekend they had a similar issue: how to fit all the boats, trailers and cars into a small space. But they had a plan. They had plenty of cheerful guys in fluorescent yellow T-shirts directing traffic and parking cars tightly. They had a separate area to store trailers. They had planned it out properly and communicated clearly and so there was little stress in what was also a very crowded lot.
But most importantly the guys running the parking lot at Hyannis kept the mood light. They looked like they were having fun. They joked with each other and with the sailors. Nobody there got angry. Nobody got called a Parking Lot Nazi. Think about it. Please.
Thanks for giving up your free time to help run this regatta for us. I know you would probably rather have been out on the water instead of dealing on the land with a couple of hundred unruly teenagers and a few cranky old geezers like me. Hope the feedback is helpful and that things will go more smoothly next time your yacht club hosts this regatta. See you in a couple of years.