Race Management: It Takes A Village

Published on October 2nd, 2017

When Jeff Zarwell was tasked with the role of Principal Race Officer for the 2017 Etchells World Championship, he knew he’d need The A Team so he could bring his A Game. Here he reports.


Jeff Zarwell

I’d like to explain a few things as to why I am on cloud 9 right now.

The 2017 Etchells World Championship was an event at the highest level with professional sailors from all over the globe. Fifty-one boats participated from the US, Great Brittan, Bermuda, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Nigeria.

I have managed a few world championships in the past, but they were on a much smaller scale and not professional class boats. I have also assisted in the management of a half dozen or so professional level world championships in the last 5-6 years as well as the America’s Cup World Series in 2011/12, but I was not the PRO (Principal Race Officer) at those events. This was my debut as PRO at the highest level of yacht racing.

To add to my challenges, the weather was not cooperating early in the week, but the weather sources that I have come to trust over the years didn’t let me down. We knew when the breeze would fill and from what direction.

I also knew that I couldn’t manage this regatta without help from some of the best RC personnel from around the country. I began assembling my team over a year ago to ensure I had the best. They could only help me look good, but if I didn’t do my part, I could easily make us all look very bad.

I should also mention the level of stress at the start with 51 boats is incredible. As the boats approach the line, flogging their sails to control their speed, the sound is deafening. We have to yell at each other only a few feet apart in order to be heard.

Our job at the start is to visually monitor them and we are allowed only 4 seconds to determine who, if any, crossed early. If we can’t do that we have to bring them all back and start over. If we can identify those who started early, we signal them and hail their bow number and watch to make sure they come back and restart.

From there we are constantly adjusting the course to make sure both the left and right sides of the course are as neutrally fair as possible, taking into consideration both wind and current.

To sum it all up, we did it! The competitors praised us for the quality of racing we provided. We were spot on for every one of the nine races. But as I said though, I had a team. Without that team this event would not have been possible. For that, I want to thank:

Sharon Bernd, Kim Bishop, Karen Caribbeachlady Kleckner, Bob McDermott, Blake Middleton, Madeline Selig Morey, Andi Overton, Dottie Rostorfer, Ron Rostorfer, Anne Scully, Lynn Spiller, Mary Menninger, Tod Moody, Vicki Sodaro, Stephanie Wondolleck, Doug Ford, EJ Rowland, Lance Berc, Stan Hales, Carl Schellbach, Stephen Schellbach, Larry Stoehr, Roxanne Fairbairn and Forrest Gay. Thank you for making me look good.

I also need to thank Julie Dent-Wiard and Stephen Fentress for requesting that I manage this race, and lastly thank you to the San Francisco Yacht Club for allowing me such a fantastic opportunity.

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