Thursday, November 12, 2009

Your Chance to Help Plan the 2010 Laser US Nationals

I received an interesting email yesterday...

Dear Tillerman:

As a way of introduction, I am going to be the PRO at the Laser Nationals at Milwaukee next August.

We are neck deep into the long range planning for the event and the first question is should there be three or four days of racing? The ILCA has replied, "do what ever you think is right." (or pretty close to that.) A fair answer but a bit vague.

Someone had a novel thought, should we ask our customers??

Since you have an established forum for such things, may I hijack your agenda and ask for feedback?

Wow. I am honored that this guy, John Strassman, should think of my blog as a good place to seek feedback from his "customers" at the Laser Nationals next year. Although I have a fair number of Laser sailor readers, and no doubt a handful who are considering going to the Nationals, many of my readers are not Laser sailors and have other reasons for stopping by here. But I'm glad to help...

John continues with some more questions...

Since we are having the Standard, Radial and 4.7's, would the 4.7's feel slighted if we had a separate (but still real swell) race course. This would allow us to (hopefully) minimize the delays waiting for the previous start to clear the course.

Additionally, if we are anticipating to have have multiple starts (split fleets) for both the Standard and Radial fleets, what if we stagger the start times from day to day, for example:

day 1
1100 warning first division Standard rig with second division soon thereafter on full trap course. Max two races for day
1330 warning first division Radial with second division ASAP - up to three races

day 2
1100 warning first division Radial with second division soon thereafter. Max two races
1330 warning Standard rigs with second division ASAP - up to three races

and so on.

The problem is that with a little luck, a RC can run two divisions on a trap pretty much continually. Three starts will cause some delays to occur in order to clear the race course and four starts can quickly devolve into a furball of many impatient competitors sailing by the signal boat shooting daggers with their eyes while pounding on their air tanks.

We are assuming we are going to have a qualifying series going into a gold and silver series - again, any feedback?

We are seeking to have a great event at which the competitors will have great racing with a minimal amount of stress.

Any comments would be welcome.

So if you have any views on these issues please fire away in the comments. It would probably help John if you tell him if (a) you are a Laser sailor and (b) you are thinking of sailing in the US Nationals next year. I know that some non-Laser-sailing readers of this blog have strong experience in such areas as regatta organization and race management so, even if you are not a Laser sailor, please feel free to offer advice.


Litoralis said...

"shooting daggers with their eyes while pounding on their air tanks"

I am confused. Do Lasers have air tanks?

Perhaps some John has observed some older Masters sailors carrying supplemental oxygen tanks?

Brian said...

1) A separate 4.7 course makes a lot of sense for efficiency and safety. Consult with some of them to make sure they agree.
2) Unless you have 100+ boats in a fleet, don't split it. Big fleets are more fun!
3) If you do have to split both fleets, then staggered start times make a LOT of sense.
4) Be flexible. Some PROs insist on certain fleets having to sail inner or outer. This boxes you in. Signal the course that makes sense at the start.
5) Make sure you have enough support boats to change the course as needed. Practice doing those changes the day before the event and work out the procedures well in advance.

25% chance of showing up in 'sconsin.

Carol Anne said...

So exactly when and where are the Nationals?

Pat needs to serve some volunteer time at major regattas to establish credentials to earn a regional PRO certification.

And I have always dreamed of visiting Wisconsin.

It sounds like a perfect convergence of events.

(Verification word: unlit. Really.)

tillerman said...

So I thought I would do a quick Google search to find the exact location and dates of the 2010 Laser US Nationals for Carol Anne and found.... this post at the top of the list. Aaaaaaaaaaaargh.

A bit more digging on the Laser class website found that the answer is the Milwaukee Yacht Club from 12-15 August (or maybe only 3 of those days according to John's email.)

Pat said...

Yep, I'm mostly a just a lead-miner and local race officer, but splitting off a separate course for the 4.7s makes excellent sense.

SFBayLaser said...

Well, this is far too important a topic to be left to so little feedback, so let me make a series of semi-inflammatory postings in an attempt to generate some discussion (perhaps Tillerman might consider moving this to TLF where it might get more exposure?). Apologies in advance for generally dragging down the very high level of prose normally exhibited on this blog...

So, topic one: Laser 4.7s

The Laser 4.7 is going through its early growth process in North America, much like the Radial did 15+ years ago. The 4.7 is meant to be a youth development boat, the stepping stone from Optis to Radials/Standards, and is suffering somewhat from the stigma of being "the kids boat." So, when we have combined regattas, the kids who SHOULD be sailing in the 4.7 fleet want to sail in the Radial fleet.

IMHO, this perception is not helped when race committees offer the 4.7 fleet a separate race area. This can cause ripple effects when kids who should be in the 4.7 (because of size and/or experience) go to the Radial and then struggle with the conditions (where they may well have been fine in a 4.7).

I would argue that putting the 4.7's out there on the full trapezoid can help remove some of the stigma of sailing in the "kid's fleet" and help grow the 4.7 fleets - to the point where, hopefully, they will become large enough to become self-supporting.

The 4.7 rig sails upwind quite nicely and is barely slower than a Radial. However, its a different story off the wind and to minimize fleet "collisions" its best to have the 4.7's start last in the sequence.

As the IMHO implies, this is a personal opinion and I'm certainly happy to hear what others have to think, especially 4.7 sailors (or their support staff).

SFBayLaser said...

Topic 2: General ramblings on fleet size:

I have never understood the fascination some have with sailing in oversized fleets. The bulk of the competitors are left at the start line by the "good guys" and spend the bulk of their race playing dodge ball with other boats. Occasionally one of the "good guys" has a bad start and is temporarily back with the weekend warriors who get to see the "good guy" for a few brief micro-seconds while they sail by ("wow! How did he do that?!?"). In contrast, when fleets are split, during the qualifying there is a better chance for the average sailor to get off the line with a fair start and actually spend some time sailing closer to the "good guys". Granted, once the fleet is split they don't get to sail with them anymore, but they do get front row seats before the start to watch the "good guys" on the start line, maybe picking up some technique tips, or (more likely) marveling at their level of ability.

In any case, I think a very important reason to split the fleets is for better overall race management. When running multiple fleets the ideal situation for the race committee is when all the fleets are roughly the same size, then the length of the start line doesn't need to be constantly adjusted for each fleet (in particular a really long start line good for 100 boats is much too long for a fleet of 30-40 boats), the course length is right for all the fleets, etc. A few considerations that come to mind when dealing with oversized fleets include things like, for example, very long start lines amplify line bias effect (e.g. even a 1 degree error with a 2000 foot start line - for 100 boats - is a difference of better than 2 boat lengths) and will cause a competitive Laser fleet to bunch at the favored end, with predictable pile-ups as boats in the second and greater rows try to tack and cross. Another effect: in lighter breezes (under around 10-12 knots), Lasers tend to be able to hold position on a start line well and not get pushed down by their windage. In very large fleets this can start leading to the midline bulge since boats in the middle can't see the ends of the line and get caught up in the game of "keeping their bow out" so they don't end up in the second row when the start gun goes off. Yet another consideration of a very long starting line is the corresponding need for a very long first beat in order to get a course where boats starting at the ends don't find themselves nearly immediately on the opposite tack layline. Etc. As the course itself gets bigger then the boats necessarily get spread over a very much larger area, increasing the difficulty of the Race Committee to keep track of all the competitors in a given fleet as well as lengthening the time between the first and last boats in a fleet (hence increasing the time between races).

At the various Laser Senior World Championships the fleet is split into three equal size groups giving, this last Summer, 60 boats per fleet. At the Laser Master Worlds they split the largest fleet (Standard Masters) in order to have four Standard rig fleets of approximately the same size on the course. Of course, they do have the advantage of more time to do qualifying and finals, but the main point is that the split is done to make for better overall racing.

SFBayLaser said...

Topic 3: General musings on trapezoids:

From my personal perspective, the problem with trapezoids is that they put too much emphasis on reaching and running and not enough on the windward legs. It has nothing to do with beating being my strongest point of Laser sailing, and my offwind work being more like a plow in a field. No, its the course's fault.

Having said that, I have not seen a course configuration that is better suited for running large multi-fleet events. By their nature they do the best job of spreading the boats over a large area and minimizing fleet collisions, allowing for the best racing for everyone. In addition, by having a separate start and finish line, neither of which are in the active racing area, the RC can simultaneously start and finish races, minimizing the downtime between races (and in cold venues this means less time for people to get chilled, etc.) and, in general, delivering the most bang for the buck in the shortest overall time. I've raced in regattas where there were four fleets racing at one time on a trapezoid, I've heard of as many as six (though even I would think six would be stretching it). No matter what you do it can happen that fleets collide (indeed, at the Senior Worlds in one race imagine my luck in rounding the outside weather mark in the 30's in my fleet right next to Paul Goodison who was winning his fleet!), but the only way to do better on any other course configuration is to only have one fleet sailing at a time.

I think it is a good idea to try to stagger the launching of the fleets at the beginning of the day, in particular at a venue which may have limitations on the number of boats that can launch at once. I think the best way to do that is to have an onshore signal flag system where boats of particular fleets are held onshore until their flag is lowered (or raised, or whatever). That way the RC can set up and start calling fleets out to the start area for the first race of the day in an ordered fashion, in a way that allows for unforeseen delays (like waiting for the wind to settle down). This type of system is used at the World Championships and normally works quite well. Once the racing has begun then, as mentioned above, as soon as all boats in a given fleet finish the RC can roll right into the starting sequence for them - while the other fleets are still racing.

One other consideration to staggering fleets by time... At the Laser/Radial/4.7 North Americans in San Francisco a few years ago we were limited to using only windward-leeward courses (strong currents are an issue but the primary problem is that a full trap would put us in the shipping lanes and with the huge amount of traffic into and out of Oakland these days - even in a recession - racing in the shipping lanes is a big no-no - and, as I drift off topic, this is why the 4.7 and Master Worlds in 2011 will be on the Berkeley Circle). In order to accommodate the number of boats on this configuration we did split the racing day so that only two fleets would be on the course at any one time. This led to VERY long days for the race committee volunteers, from 9:00 am to get set up until as late as 6:00 pm - and we have the luxury of knowing we'll start on time because for sure the wind will be cranking by start time. So, its worth considering the effect of very long days on the water for the RC volunteers.

tillerman said...

Thanks Tracy. For those who don't know SFBayLaser is Tracy Usher, current Chairman of the North American Laser Class.

I would only add two follow-ups to Tracy's lengthy comments...

a) The leadership of our class does have considerable experience in all these matters. So I am sure that if John had approached Tracy and our other class officers directly on these questions he would have received much excellent feedback.

b) I second Tracy's suggestion of using the Laser Forum as a better place to reach a larger number of active racing Laser sailors (and potential Nationals participants) than can be found here. I will leave it up to John to re-post these questions there if he wants to.

Ari said...

In the Caribbean Midwinter ( feel that the 4.7 sailors have much more fun sailing with the big boys. They start on the same startline, but have a shorter upwind leg. Thus all sail sizes end up rounding the leeward mark at the same time, on an windward leeward course,(added fun for the young ones).
Maybe the experts can figure out a way to have a shorter course with different marks for the 4.7, thus using just one start boat, one finish boat, and more concentration of rescue boats on one course.

Pat said...

So what is the relative importance, in a Worlds of "fun sailing" vs. "fair sailing" when there's a potential conflict?

Tillerman said...

Pat, the funner the faerier. No that's not right.

The fairer the funnier. No. Still not right.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's not fun if it's not fair. But if you can make it more fun while keeping it fair then that's even better.
What was the question again?

What are we talking about?

Pat said...

Ummmh, was that "Fast is Fun" as Bill Lee would say back in Santa Cruz?

By that definition, then, the protest room does not feel like a very fast place, nor would an overcrowded, too tight starting line.

Al from VT said...

I've RC'ed a Laser Nats, so a couple of ideas.

First, Keep your NOR vague re. fleet splits, no races per day, total races etc. i.e "RC may split a fleet...."

Second, preregister as many as possible, using threats of cutoff's (real or not) to encourage it. You will know your fleet numbers before you need to finish the SI's.

Third, 2 big fleets on a Trap are great, 3 could be awful (if you need to split. The 4.7's can sail around the outside only.

11:00 starts are late, unless you are waiting for a seabreeze? Stuff in a 3rd race on great days, if you expect a no wind day during the series. This is especially important if you have a short qualifier series.

Have LOTS of food and water available, both on and off the water.

Have fun!

Al Russell MBBC

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