Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Rookies

On Saturday afternoon I ran the Rookie Regatta at our sailing club. This is an event open to sailors who have learned to sail this year or last year. We train a lot of adults and kids in our "Learn to Sail" courses but only a small percentage of these new sailors make the transition to racing with the club on a regular basis. The Rookie Regatta is one way that we try and make this transition easy for them as this event is only for other beginners. No hotshots allowed. And we aim to make it as informal and easy as we can.

Last year a friend of mine ran the Rookie Regatta and it was a disaster. Only three sailors showed up. During the first race, two of them capsized and were unable to right their boats -- and the third drifted away to leeward and got stuck on a lee shore. After rescuing them all, my friend abandoned the race and the regatta. So I approached the assignment with some trepidation.

The wind was still fairly gusty at lunchtime. Our juniors had handled it well in the morning but as I am not involved in sail training at this club I didn't know the rookies well or whether they would be able to handle the conditions. People started arriving over lunch and by the time of the skippers' meeting we had twelve rookie sailors ready to race in ten Sunfish. (Two boats opted to sail with two sailors on each boat.) We had the three junior sailors from the same family that had done so well in the junior regatta in the morning (still officially rookies). There was a Dad sailing with his young son, a few teenage boys, a guy who had just bought a Force 5 and a couple of middle-aged women. At the skippers' meeting I asked each sailor to introduce themselves to me and the other competitors and tell me about what experience they had. Most of them had just done the beginners' course but had not attempted any racing yet. I looked at the wind, remembered last year and wondered if I should start to get worried.

We reviewed how we would run the races with them. We reminded them of the basic right of way rules. We made sure they all remembered how to do a capsize recovery. We answered all their questions, wished them luck, told them to have fun and sent them off to launch. Remembering last year's experience, I did make sure that one rescue boat was out on the water before any of the rookies hit the water. I was relieved to see them all sail out safely towards the course area.

In the first race it was apparent that the two middle-aged women had not really mastered the art of sailing upwind. Then one of them had the universal joint on her tiller extension break. One of my RC crew quickly drove into the club, picked up a new rudder and tiller, drove back out to her and replaced the whole rudder and tiller on her boat. This "pit stop" greatly impressed her and all the other rookies. My two fellow RC crew in rescue boats coached the tailenders and somehow we got everyone else around the course with no other disasters. We ran two more races and everyone completed both races. There was only one capsize (one of the teenage boys) but he quickly righted the boat and carried on racing. We could see everyone's technique improving as the afternoon progressed and by the end of the day the tailenders were not so far behind the leaders.

Of course, the three kids who had raced in the morning took the top three slots in the afternoon. One of them took home the Rookie Trophy, a huge rudder that looked like it must have come off the Titanic. His parents must be delighted. All the rookies were pumped up to have completed three races and promised to come out racing with us on Wednesdays or Sundays.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went home with a big smile.

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