Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Simplified Race Management Tricks

On Saturdays, we race Lasers on short courses and do as many races as we can in two hours. We typically have 5 – 8 boats, and we do this with a one man race committee / rescue boat.

This would be no big deal if wind conditions remained steady. Once the course was set, our one man race committee could run the starting box, call the start line, and call the finish. But we race on a lake, where frequent and large variations in wind direction are the norm. Courses easily become out of square, sometimes making for no tacking windward legs. A mark boat sure would be handy at times, but we have developed a few tricks to compensate for the lack of one.

The most important is the use of marks that are drag-able by sailboats, thus allowing the sailors to readjust the course. We use the marks I use for high school sailing. They are from a business called Mark Trap (contact Dougheil22@hotmail.com), and have a tall staff that is easy to grab and hold while sailing. The anchors and rode are the second part of making them easy to move. Ours have four pound sash weights from old windows, and they strike the right balance between light enough to move and heavy enough for the marks to stay put. (An equal weight of chain at the bottom works just as well.) It’s not necessary to have any appreciable scope on the anchor lines, so having the minimal workable line works best.

Lately the wind has been so inconsistent that I just set several possible windward marks and a couple of leeward marks close enough to make a fairly wide gate. At the three minute signal, the winner of the previous race has the duty to call the course for the next one. Last Saturday, we also had a gybe mark, and over the course of nine races, we had we had five different courses.

The last in our bag of tricks is something I learned from another high school coach. I call it the ball trick. Instead of dead ending the committee boat anchor line to the boat, I tie it to a 12” buoy. If I need to move the committee boat off the anchor, I just throw the line into the water and go. I can move marks, drop new marks, or rescue a boat in a hurry. If I don’t get back for the finish of a race, at least there is a mark in the water for the boat end of the line. When I do get back, I can get tied up and properly positioned in a fraction of the time it would take if I had to set an anchor from scratch.

Using these simple techniques, our one man race committee can pull off nine races in two hours in fluctuating conditions. Thank you, Race Committee.


  1. Do you have time limits for races (and for finishing tail-end boats if they lag too far behind) or is it more of a casual consensus on whether the wind has died enough to kill a race? I assume that your course area is small enough that rounding up boats and getting their attention isn't too hard if something needs to change.

    Do your courses have enough laps and can the committee boat "hover" or re-anchor if it needs to shorten or alter course? If I were running a race and needed to move the boat to a new finish position, it would be a lot easier if the boat had a second anchor so I wouldn't have to try to keep the boat positioned while waving flags, honking horns, and writing down finishe orders (or times when running handicap fleets).

    Weighing anchor is hard at our lake, where the start area can be a hundred feet deep. In the bast, our club was allowed to install a "center pin" buoy and moor to it, but now we have to anchor and a lot of volunteer committee boats don't have adequate ground tackle.

    Do you just use sound signal starts or do you also have to cope with flags? An automatic horn would be a nice little luxury.

  2. Our races are once around and the start line is the finish line, so we don't move the boat. If we moved the finish, I would use two anchors with balls. Permanent moorings to tie up to are great. In coastal harbors many high school coaches use the permanent moorings as anchors (We race in early spring before the big boats tie up to the moorings).
    Usually races are so short that we try to finish even if the wind dies. Hey, there's not much else to do.
    Everything is so close that communication is pretty easy. Boat to boat and RC to boat talking (or shouting) works fine.
    Thank God we have an automatic starting box and don't use flags. Since I've gotten used to the audible sound system, I never look at flags, even when I should. Many(all the ones that sail with us) high school and college kids don't even know that there is a five minute starting system with flags.

  3. Thanks! I love to hear about all the different ways in which people cope with running races, especially short-handed.