Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bad Races or No Races?

A frustrating day and a good question...

Today was one of those frustrating days for sailboat racing. For the competitors... and for the race committee I suspect. First of all there was drizzle and no wind. Then a light northerly set in. We launched. We sailed one race.

Then the wind died. And shifted to eastish. And went patchy. And more shifty. We waited around. After an hour and a half or so the RC sent us in to the shore. It was a long slow sail to the shore. Eventually most of us were towed in.

After a short stay on shore, the RC told us to launch again. Another long slow sail out to the course. By now the wind was from the south but still very light.

One start. A general recall. Eventually the second race started around 4pm under a black flag. There was a right shift but we completed the race. Afterwards there was pizza. And beer I heard, but I never found the beer.

Just one of those days. But during the long wait after the first race, one of my friends made a very interesting (at least to me) comment...

It's always tough for a race officer to make the call as to whether to race in marginal conditions such as we had to today. Is it better to give the the competitors a bad race or no race? A bad race would be one in light shifty winds, with big holes in the wind around the course, unpredictable shifts and puffs, a total crap shoot, one of those races where you just know that some of the good sailors are going to be at the back of the fleet, and some bozo like me is going to be in the top five (woo hoo). That's what it would have been like if we had held some more races in that long wait in the middle of the day.

Of course it depends to an extent on the event. If it's the Olympic Trials, absolutely you want good fair races in reliable winds. There's too much at stake to race in "bad" conditions. But if it's just Wednesday night club racing then maybe most sailors would prefer to get some races, even if the winds are fluky, patchy and unpredictable.

Today was somewhere between those two extremes. New England Laser Masters Championships. A big deal for some guys. For most of the fleet probably their only chance to sail this week.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the race officer. He is the best in the world. Literally. Last month he was PRO at the Olympics. Today he gave us two pretty decent races in the best winds that were available all day.

But my friend's comment made me think. During the long wait in crappy winds after the first race he said, "Tonight I'd rather be pissing and moaning over a beer and pizza about how unfair the second race was, than pissing and moaning about how we never even got a second race in."

What do you think. Is it better to have a "bad" race than not to race at all?


Anonymous said...

As a race officer, in less-than-Nationals championships, in conditions like this I hoist a Lima and poll the fleet, each competitor in turn, until I know the overall consensus.

One-design fleets invariably indicate they want to race.

PHRF fleets vary. The heavier boats, and boats with rags, typically prefer to wait. It splits down the predictable light-air performance lines.

The upside is, just talking to competitors, and soliciting opinions, is great for the morale of the fleet and respect for the event. It conveys a sense of caring and comiseration with the situation that's always appreciated, or so it seems.

Nothing I hate more than dictatorial know-it-all race committees.

In more serious regattas there is usually a minimum wind velocity specified in the sailing instructions. As a P.R.O., it's one of the things I look for when I first read the Sailing Instructions. I'll ask the Jury or the Class Officers for an amendment if such a clause is missing.

Anonymous said...

A "bad" day on the water in shifty rainy grayness is better then dealing with the b@%$#ing and moaning of land held sailors in a confined club house!!!

Carol Anne said...

I have to agree with p.r.o. in Kingston, with the additional comment that the same applies when there is really heavy air.

There is one big issue that is important, however, and that is communication. On at least two occasions, the race committee person, when asking whether we would be prepared to go out, also told us that it looked like the rest of the fleet also would not want to race, and that we shouldn't expect to race. So we agreed, but we asked the committee person to contact us if the decision was made to race after all, because even though the conditions were tough, we felt we could handle them.

We never heard back from the committee person, but an hour later, we saw the fleet out on the lake, racing. We called the committee person's cell phone, but got nothing but voice mail. Later, when we talked to the people who had participated in the race, we found out that they had been told that we had decided not to race.

So it's good for the race committee to solicit the opinion of the racers. But it's also incumbent upon the committee to communicate the decision based upon that opinion to all of the participants in the race. I can't fathom how the race committee translated "We'll race if racing happens" into "We're not racing."

Pat said...

The situation that Carol Anne described occurred at a club that didn't have a clubhouse or its own marina, so members' boats came from three marinas, a mast-up storage lot, and via ramp launches -- once the competitors' meeting had ended, crews and boats were scattered.

In general, if I'm making a call, I'll go ahead if there's a reasonable chance of getting in a passably decent race, but won't start if the wind is too extreme or shifty. Weather forecasts and local knowledge both factor in the decision.

For local mountain lake sailing in southern NM, we have a fairly broad tolerance band -- we won't abandon a race for most wind shifts and we'll sail in anything from about 2.5 to 25 knots steady. At Heron Lake, in northern NM, I'm a little more conservative about heavier air, because that club has a larger proportion of cruisers and less experienced racing.

Polling the fleet may help, but the race officers can probably judge whether that would be useful or not for a given situation. And, the race officer ultimately is the person paid the big usually non-existent bucks to make the decisions to balance fun, fairness, safety, competitiveness, and time on the water for the competitors.

mgandrew said...

It is every individual skipper's decision to race or not. I really do not like drifting around at all in a MC Scow. Somehow sitting under the boom just isn't my cup of tea. Drifting in a Thistle is more barable.

My rule of thumb is that if you look over the side of the boat and can see the lint on the surface if the water then maybe its time to go in.

Post a Comment