Race Management: Playing the Cards You’re Dealt

Published on February 29th, 2016

While controlling the weather during a regatta is not an option, how an event reacts to the cards dealt is hugely important in making for a successful regatta experience. Bruce Golison, often in the role as Principal Race Officer (PRO) at prominent events, shares some thoughts on the topic.

As I tell people, one of the most important roles that a PRO has is knowing when to race and when not to. For me personally, I use two basic guidelines….what does the class want and, if I was racing myself, what would I want to see happen. Here are two important questions to master:

How many races each day? What are the factors that drive this decision?

The first criteria is what the class wants. I will give them my opinion for the number of races based on the expected weather forecast and the level of sailor competing. More often than not, most classes want to run too many races per day.

Sailing a lot of races sounds fun well before the regatta starts, however I generally find that less is more for most people. Especially for the middle / back of the fleet competitors. Too much racing is not fun when you are physically and mentally tired.

For 20 to 40 footers, it is pretty clear to me that scheduling 3 races a day is the right number. Racing a fourth race is often physically and mentally draining and can hurt participation in the future. Most people sail for fun and when they are not having fun, they won’t come back.

Often the newer and smaller sport dinghies that are sailed by youth sailors want more races. These younger sailors can be on the water longer then the older crowd and often their race lengths are much shorter than that of the bigger boats, so running more races in a day is more palpable for these classes.

Obviously there are factors which can affect this number, such as how weather conditions (too much or too little wind) can reduce the number of races. Knowing when enough is enough is key to people enjoying the day.

Another consideration is the number of races for the final day of a regatta, especially when it is a “traveling event”. Be aware that people will not want to be in late as they need to pack up their boats and head home, or to the airport.

Postponements. Nothing worse than sitting around all day and getting in no racing. How do you avoid that? What drives the decision to wait or cut bait?

Sitting around out on the water waiting for the wind to come up is the worst experience for everyone. It zaps people’s energy and can be incredibly boring, not to mention the unnecessary time in the sun.

While stressful for me, I find I put a huge amount of time into making sure that I don’t put “my” competitors through this. Before I ever get down to the yacht club, I have studied all the weather forecasts, and if it appears the wind will not be suitable for racing at the scheduled time (or any time soon after), I start the process of deciding whether I will hold the fleet ashore (Postponing Ashore).

I am a huge believer in keeping the fleet ashore if the conditions are not sailable. The sailors prefer hanging out ashore rather than spending useless time floating around out on the water, in the sun.

Once I make the decision to postpone ashore, now comes the hard part…..how long do we stay ashore? I consider several things to give me guidance with this. I continue to monitor the weather forecasts (I talk to Commanders Weather by phone as they are my weather forecasting guys), I talk to the local hotshots to get their thoughts on what they think will happen, and finally, I send a mark boat out to the race course so that I have firsthand observations of what the real conditions are. This is very important!

Unless I have a very definitive belief that the conditions will not be sailable for a few hours, I do an hourly update to the competitors as to what the weather is doing and what my thinking is. People will be much more patient waiting for the breeze to come up when they are ashore and comfortable. Remember that it is also important to keep them informed along the way.

By about 2:00 in the afternoon, if we do not have foreseeable sailable conditions (or expect them soon), I start the process of considering how much longer to wait. Factors like the chance of sailable conditions coming soon, how far the race course is from the yacht club, when it gets dark, and what the importance is of this regatta. These are all considered factors to determine how much longer to wait. When the negatives outweigh the positives, it is time to cancel for the day.

The bottom line is that I believe it is better to lose a little sailing time by getting out to the race course a little late, then having the fleet sitting around at the race course waiting for the wind to fill in…or not.

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