Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dear Race Committee

Dear Race Committee,

Thanks for giving up your free time to run this regatta for us. I appreciate that you are all volunteers, would probably rather be sailing yourself, and that some of you may be relatively new to the sport and have been invited to make up the numbers on the RC boat so you can see what racing is all about.

Having said all that (and I do appreciate you, I really do, and I have been in your shoes many times) could I please offer a few suggestions...

1. If the sailing instructions say that the first warning signal will be at 11am, and the winds are steady, and there has been no postponement on shore, and all the competitors can easily sail to the course by that time... please, please, please be on station at 11am, have the marks in the water, and be ready to start a race. There is nothing more frustrating for us racers than to get up early on a Saturday morning, drive several hours to the regatta site, rig our boats, spend an hour sailing out to the course... and then have to sit around for another hour while you get yourselves organized.

2. You've been watching the America's Cup on TV haven't you? You saw how Peter 'Luigi' Reggio waited each day for the perfect wind, and adjusted the course and start line for every little windshift... and now you want to be just like Luigi?

Please don't. This is not the America's Cup. Luigi only had to run one race a day, and even if he didn't run a race today there was always tomorrow. For us there is no tomorrow. This is a one day regatta. We want as many races as possible. Please don't futz around for 40 minutes moving the course marks for every 5 degree wind shift. We don't care. We just want to go racing. In any case the chances are that the wind will shift some more by the time you position all the marks exactly where you want them, so forget about it. If the line and course are more or less right, then start the sequence and let's race.

3. Have you ever thought that the most important thing about the visual signals you make is that the sailors can see them? So if the fleet is going off upwind after the start and you want to signal a general recall, please don't ask the smallest person on your team to stand on the stern of the RC boat with a general recall flag that's totally obscured from the racers by the cabin on your boat. I know you're getting frustrated when it takes such a long time for all the fleet to come back to the start line after every recall. Have you stopped to wonder why?

4. And while we're talking about how you assign tasks to the members of your team, what were you thinking when you selected the guy to read the sail numbers at the finish line? Has he seen an optician lately? Or did he forget to bring his spectacles?

Here's a clue that he may not be the best man for the job: you find that a significant percentage of the numbers that he called don't match to any of the numbers of the sailors registered for the regatta, and on the other hand you end up with a bunch of sailors who are entered who apparently didn't finish some of the races at random even though you didn't spot anyone leaving the course or ducking out of any race.

5. We like to hear from you. If you are about to do something unusual then do us the courtesy of using that loudhailer that you have on the RC boat. For example if you signalled a two-lap course and then after a couple of recalls and postponements, you change your mind and decide to give us a one-lap course then please, please, please make sure we all know about it.

Don't just ask one of your team to erase surreptitiously the numeral 2 on the course board and expect us all to spot the change. Some of us are not that smart and have other things on our minds like "which end of the line should I start this time" or "will my wonky tiller extension universal hold together for one more race" or "do I have time to have a pee before the next start". We're not all mind readers. Please hail and let us know you've changed the course.

I think that's all for now. Thanks for being on race committee. I appreciate all your efforts. I really do.


Carol Anne said...

Have certification, will travel!

Pat and I have taken the US Sailing Race Officer training course. Pat has been certified as a Race Officer at the club level, and I expect to get certified soon. We're both working to get certification at the regional level. We passed the exams (regional for me, national for Pat), so the big thing is logging the committee experience for certification.

If you want really good, competent, certified race officers, your club can pay for me and Pat to come to where you are. We'll be very pleased to do that.

Tillerman said...

Thanks for the offer Carol Aanne. But I do live in Newport County Rhode Island, the US capital of yachting, so one would assume that there is a high enough concentration of qualified race officers here.

But maybe one would assume wrongly?

Or maybe qualified does not always mean competent?

I too have taken and passed the US Sailing Race Officer course. It's an excellent introduction. But I guess my post was trying to get at the point that good RC work needs something more than book knowledge: a combination of common sense, sound decision making, good communication skills, awareness of the competitors' point of view, leadership and so on. Some of that comes with experience. Some perhaps is innate.

As for my club paying for you and Pat to come to where I am... My best excuse is that I don't have a club right now. I am an unnattached wandering regatta attendee.

Carol Anne said...

Oh, yes, I definitely know that certification by itself doesn't mean competence. I wasn't present at the time, but a few years back, the Adams Cup semifinals were on Heron Lake. In charge was a certified judge from Texas.

Mother Superior would have won those semifinals, advancing to the national finals, except that the judge threw out some of the race results because there was a 30-degree wind shift during one race.

But that's what winds on mountain lakes DO. If we threw out every race result where there was a wind shift of 30 degrees or more, we would throw out nearly every race we ever run.

Actually, I was just hoping someone would spring for tickets out to that part of the world so Pat and I could sip wine on your back deck and enjoy the sunsets (we'd bring the wine to share with you and Tillerwoman).

Carol Anne said...

BTW, I think Tillerwoman will like my new profile photo.

Anonymous said...

Every Sunday morning at our local club, I say to the Race Officer: Make the beat LONG rather than ACCURATE. If it is long enough, the wind will shift back so that it is a good beat. If you make it short, then the wind will shift and ruin the beat, and it wont shift back before its too late.

Pat said...

1. I'm guessing that either the r.c. was waiting for (a) people to get their tails in gear and show up or (b) had some mechanical/equipment issue. (b) is responsive to preventive maintenance and back-up plans, (a) can be a little more intractable.

There was once a bumper sticker that proclaimed, "Raise the Wages of Sin". Is the quality of the r.c.'s post-regatta rum ration dependent upon their r.c. performance?

2. The good r.c. will let sailing happen but will do what it can to make the sailing a fair test of skill. A good r.c. will balance sailing, safety, and fairness and come up with something that works -- most of the time. Some days conditions will make even a very competent r.c. head look bad.

With the right people and gear, postponements for line adjustments should be very brief. A good r.c. should have someone on board who knows local conditions and has a good intuition on when to "pull the trigger".

3. Maybe the r.c. boat and equipment weren't well suited to the class of boats racing? It may not be safe or possible for some r.c. members to clamber atop the roof of a big power boat but the r.c. should have worked out something so that flags were visible. Big committee boats (with big wind shadows) running races for small dinghies just aren't a great combo.

4. Were they just too short-handed to have a good set of eyes on the finish line? Were more boats competing than expected? Did a dozen boats finish at the same instant? Were the recorder's eyeglasses encrusted in salt water? Was the line too darn big for one boat to cover? Was the course too short or were the competitors too well matched to spread out the fleet?

Higher-level regattas can have a stake boat record roundings on the final leeward mark or position a line boat opposite the finish boat.

In another ten years or so maybe a lot of race boats will have transponders aboard and OCS as well as finishes will all be instantly recorded and the r.c. and competitors can all blame the ^*(!~%&(% computer. We can dream.

5. Loudhailers might help, and VHF may help for keelboats, but they have their problems, too. Sound signals don't have the same status as visual signals in the rules and aren't to be relied upon as much (except for some special starts). A windy or noisy environment can make hash out of sound ... and voice commands are infamously easily garbled.

I don't think course boards are a good match for a large regatta because it's so much harder to see them from a distance than to see flags.

I also think it's rude and maybe a bit sleazy for a r.c. to arbitrarily change courses immediately before the starting sequence ... but maybe they had a good reason? Did the wind drop from 15 kts to 5?

In rougher, high-wind conditions, it's especially hard for a fleet to catch a last-minute course change ... boats are zooming around at greater distances from the r.c. signal boat, more attention has to be paid to keeping the boats from capsizing or colliding, spray is flying, and the atmosphere is noisy. A good r.c. should not have to be reminded of how things feel and look in the racing boats.

Bottom line is that you take a chance if you don't look at the course board or flag ... and, yes, it's for sure harder for single-handers to maintain a lookout, watch the r.c. for signals, and maneuver tactically in close proximity.

It helps if someone senior on the r.c. boat has had experience racing the type of boats that are in the regatta.

We usually are very short-handed and use mid-course lines with a longer first than final beat. Once a race is started, I'm usually reluctant to abandon, short of the fleet being becalmed or a nasty storm brewing. Big shifts can be unfair and introduce a big lottery effect, but that, too, is part of sailing.

And, there's always,
"Oh no, not another learning experience!"

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