Friday, July 2, 2010

Multi-Class Regatta with No Waiting Time

I have been to many multi-class regattas where three or more classes share the same starting line and the same course. The one common characteristic for almost all of them is that they have lots of waiting time - long, wasteful, and seemingly unnecessary waiting time. Last weekend I finally went to one that broke the mold. With four classes on the same course, the races for each class were started as promptly as if there was no one else on the course. Major kudos to Duxbury Yacht Club.

I have to admit that in the last few years I have become very impatient on this subject. Aside from personal psychological deficiencies, the blame goes to coaching high school sailing and laser sailing, especially frostbiting. High school sailing is always short course racing, and a good sailing day is filled with many races. (College sailing is similar in this respect.) The fleet race regatta we host typically has 12 races with sailors returning to shore to swap boats every two races. If the course to shore distance were less, we would do 16 races. I run an intramural regatta twice a year where there are 7 – 9 races in a two hour time frame. Laser frostbiting works the same way. Our high school head to head team race events have five races in the same two hour window.

The reasons for these efficiencies are fairly obvious. Frostbiters get far colder when waiting than racing, so nearly constant racing is the prescription for greater comfort. (I acknowledge that for most of the world frostbiting and comfort are antithetical.) Many places follow more or less the same format in summer racing because it is simply more fun to race than to wait – especially in a laser. In high school racing, the minimization of down time is related to the short, little attention spans of students culturally trained to have ADHD. If they aren’t focused on the coach-guided activity, they drift into never-never land, and they are hard to recapture.

Having experienced a piece of the sailing world with faster paced racing, I have very little interest in going back to the slower pace of larger boats. The fun of racing just seems to overshadow the relaxation (boredom) of milling around and waiting. It is even more interesting and challenging to be the race committee in these situations.

Despite my impatience, I can recognize that my enlightened opinion might not be the enlightened opinion of others. The majority of the sailing world seems to have little interest in the seeming hyperactivity of nearly hypothermic sailors and inattentive high school students. Last summer I wrote about A Three Race Regatta?! where the Flying Scot racers were satisfied while I was mystified – 3 races in 2 days? At the far end of that spectrum is the America’s Cup where one race a day after hours, maybe days of anticipation, is all the excitement anyone can handle

It’s certainly a good thing that sailing contains a multitude of options allowing people to enjoy the sport in very different ways. But occasionally there is a clash of the different worlds within the sport. In those instances, it is surprising how little we seem to understand each other. Last spring our team sailed in a regional regatta where teams qualified for nationals. It was hosted by a major yacht club that was unreasonably generous at making their very upscale facility available to questionably responsible high schoolers. However, when it came to the racing, their course was a mile from the club, sailors in the second fleet were stationed on a large float to wait in the wind and the rain, and the first attempt at a course set-up had a one-mile long windward leg that looked like it would yield 45 minute races. Can’t do many of them in one day! How could they fail to understand the courses used in high school sailing when they were the perfect host in every other way? How could the high school organizers fail to make their expectations clear? Different worlds.

Multi-class regattas where lasers are invited present a similar opportunity for a clash of different sailing worlds. Usually the world I live in is the loser in such a clash. But Duxbury was different. The differences in the class of boats were striking – quick little Lasers, comfortable but lumbering Flying Scots, Marshall 15 cat boats that are fiberglass re-makes of New England boats of the 19th century, and Pintail 25s that look a bit like a plasticized Herreshoff design. Yet with right length courses and the proper spacing between fleets, there was virtually non-stop racing and no interference between boats of different fleets. For the lasers, a few more races than five might have been desirable, but overall it was a great day of racing. Sailors from the other classes seemed to be similarly satisfied. If there were compromises, they were the right ones as the race committee expertly bridged the gaps among very different classes. Kudos again to Duxbury Yacht Club.


  1. This is an excellent discussion of the often overlooked importance of good race management.

  2. Having spent a large part of Sunday watching my daughter wait to start one race I couldn't agree more. How did Duxbury pull that off, starting such divese boat so efficiently? There's a lesson there for our race committee [and many others].

  3. that'll be 'diverse boats' :)

  4. So, How did they do it? Did they have different course lengths to the windward mark or an offset mark for some classes? Did they use rolling starts? Were they lucky with consistent winds that made it easier to predict when fleets would finish and minimize the need to move marks? Was the RC particularly focused and on the ball? Did all the boats behave well at the line, minimizing recall distractions? Did the RC set a separate finish line with separate personnel to handle finishes?

  5. Pat, mostly it was a determination to do it and a good sense of timing the starts. Starting sequences were 3 minutes without getting everyone's attention before the 3 minute signal. Winds were consistent. There were two sets of marks, but just windward and leeward with no offsets. There were no general recalls. The most surprising thing is that the there was one start / finish line in the middle of the course, making correct timing essential.

  6. Thanks! I enjoy watching how different RCs get things done and how they adapt to circumstances and the "culture" of different racing groups.

    I think a good race committee can get into a nice groove or rhythm, which is a fine thing when it happens, with even interruptions or alterations handled gracefully and efficiently.

    vw: bless