Last weekend I was at a regatta, and before the first race, I asked the Race Committee to confirm my understanding of the course. Their response was to point to a placard and say “course 6.” Well, that was helpful. If I had known what course 6 was, I wouldn’t have been asking the question. I realize I was a dolt for not having committed the 7 different courses in the sailing instructions to memory. I was even more foolish for deciding that there‘s no good way to carry reading material on a laser. And I was an irresponsible competitor to have tried to depend on the kindness of strangers to explain what had already been explained clearly enough in those sailing instructions next to the regatta tee shirt in my car. Clearly I deserved to be punished.
Needless to say, I was. The convergence of my reckless negligence with the unlikely good fortune to be leading the first race led to the inevitable tragedy of my snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. To finish the course, I managed to sail upwind back to the start line, while the competitors way behind me sailed to the real finish line which it turns out was not nearly so far upwind. While sailing to the “correct” side of the course, I succeeded in sailing around the real finish by so far that I didn’t even see it. Subsequently returning to the real finish, I recorded a 5 and was grateful for the small laser turnout for the regatta.
I get it - understanding all the sailing instructions is part of racing. But really! Is it too much to ask the race committee to explain their unique course designations to a visitor?
This all leads to the general question of how much the Race Committee should communicate with the sailors. At pre-race skippers’ meetings, it has been standard practice for years for the PRO to answer questions with the magic, unhelpful phrase “refer to the sailing instructions.” This has always impressed me as being unfriendly, if not arrogant. It suggests a tone of seriousness or gravity that is contrary to the expectations of most of the sailors I know. For most of us, this is supposed to be fun.
“Refer to the sailing instructions” sounds like homework, when we are looking for recess.
I realize that the thinking is that the PRO or Race Committee should be careful not say anything to contradict the carefully written sailing instructions. While there is some merit to this reasoning, it seems to me that it goes way overboard for any but the most serious high stakes regattas. The risk of offering explanations and clarifications to the instructions is that one could actually increase confusion or introduce contradictions that then could result in some disastrous consequence that in turn could cause a protest or even skew the results of the event. Does that seem likely? Are the explanations really likely to be so bad that they would do more harm than good? In a time when there is a need to attract more people to sailing, what is more important – covering for the remote possibility of an imperfect explanation by the Race Committee or establishing a friendly atmosphere where everyone enjoys the sailing experience?
One of the high school coaches I work with always tells the sailors “if you have any questions, ask; if you are confused about the course, ask the race committee – it’s not supposed to be a mystery.” I know that I would be happier if events were run with this philosophy. I admit that I was the stupid one last weekend, but who wants to win or lose because one of the sailors misunderstood the course?
We are laser dudes based at Lake Massapoag in Sharon, Massachusetts, sharing our limited wisdom but plentiful opinions. In this blog associated with the lmlasers.org website, we will focus on local sailing in particular and lasering and related matters in general. All laser dude authors are welcome.
Yarg is a high school sailing coach, Eric is his friend and sailing buddy, and Annie is his wife.