Sailboat racing with a race management perspective
Published on March 11th, 2015
by Nathaniel Johansson, Dartmouth ‘18
I’ve been on the water longer than I can remember, having begun racing nearly a decade ago with the incredible support of my parents. Like many of us, racing is more than a sport or a hobby; it’s a way of life. Whether it’s blowing off some steam with a morning cruise or setting up on the line of a national championship, I simply cannot live without wind and water.
During my early years, technical briefings with my coaches as well as drills on the water were the norm for improving technique and excelling. I was continuously seeking new ways to improve. But lying in plain sight, I also discovered another hidden tool: race management.
The Race Committee (RC) lies at the core of our sport yet many sailors give it little thought other than the demands placed on them. Participation in race management is a great instrument for excelling in sailing, which subsequently promotes an overall increase in the competitive level and standardization of sailboat racing.
Sailing is a sport of detail and nuances – the fastest boat around the course is often the racer with most attention to detail. Every click of the ratchet block, change in degree of rudder pitch, inch of body weight shift, and ease of the vang at the right moment, aggregate to make the fastest boat on the course. This same unyielding attention to detail is often expected of the RC.
We expect square starting lines with the perfect length and distance between legs, no glitches in the starting sequence, use of flags and sounds, and prompt timing throughout the entire regatta. Because of these demands, the two worlds of racers and race officers are too often alienated from one another.
Some regattas, like upper-level championships, are strictly run by certified race officials where the expectation for “near perfection” is often met. For many local and club events, such is not the case. This is because at many yacht clubs the sailors live in one world, the RC in another, and the two worlds don’t often mix. There is a large gap in standardization.
If officials, RC members, and sailors developed a more inclusive interaction, the entire sport of sailing would benefit. Sailors would certainly improve by understanding first hand what it takes to organize and execute a regatta, and RCs would become more efficient from better understanding what sailors are expecting in given scenarios. Shannon Bush, a National Race Officer and world-class Etchells skipper, explains:
“Sailors will ask me ‘what’s the RC doing now’ or ‘why did they do that?’ Having spent years on the RC and as a PRO, I know exactly what the RC is doing or should be doing! Competitors who have knowledge of ‘how races are run’ have a huge advantage over those that don’t know. Basic things like how to sail the posted course, what the signal flags mean, even picking up on the RC telling you which way to go at a mark rounding should be considered necessary tools for top level competitors.”
I started my involvement with the RC at Coral Reef Yacht Club (Miami, FL) seven years ago, and have been an active member EVER since. Learning from race officers gave me new insight for racing in areas where improvement had plateaued. Course placement, how large starting lines are adjusted and sighted, and accurately predicting breeze changes were all helpful tools in improving my race results. I furthered my knowledge of local shifts and wind patterns on Biscayne Bay, having seen the shifts from a RC standpoint. Seeing a race evolve from the heart of the racecourse on the Signal Boat, I saw fleet behaviors on a whole new level.
As a current Dartmouth Sailing Team Member and a US Sailing Race Officer, I encourage all sailors to enter a regatta from the RC side. Volunteer for RC. Not only will being involved with the race from a new perspective offer new insights for your racing, but we will improve the overall quality of sailboat races. When we combine our two worlds, both the sailing and race management ends will boast an overall higher, more standardized level of sailboat racing.