Wednesday, March 08, 2006

At what point does the Committee cancel the race?

The feedback I've received so far is that my recommendations are too conservative, and that the race committee should call the race according to the abilities of the average or the more capable boats and crews, and not the less capable boats and crews. So, I have been informed that 30 mph is a more suitable cut-off wind velocity for racing.

The race committee chairman will also be checking with experts on our legal position in regard to liability for running races and at the skippers' meeting he will be very clearly explaining skipper and crew responsibilities to decide to proceed or bail from a race.

Instead of the race being cancelled by the race committee, the less-capable boats or crews should get off the water when conditions are too hairy, and their responsibility to do so should be stressed at every skippers' meeting during weekends when strong conditions are likely to occur. Also, for the group of mostly novice women sailors, there will be a lower cut-off threshold administered by the womens' sailing program. That threshold might turn out to be something similar to what I suggested.

One other input has been that the Beaufort wind scale would need to be corrected for mountain lakes because of the lower atmospheric pressure that comes with higher altitude. At elevation 4300 feet above sea level, wind pressure for a given wind velocity will be noticably less, reducing the heeling of boats and the size of waves. This is in addition to the limits on wave size caused by the limited size of the lake and hence the limited fetch over which winds can blow. Also, there's at least one opinion that one weather service, Accuweather, tends to give exaggerated wind velocity predictions when three or more days out from the date for which it's making predictions.

All of the skippers who enter boats sign a contract when they register for the race, and acknowledge their responsibility for deciding whether it's safe to race and for quitting when it isn't. That contract is the basis for us being able to have regatta liability insurance. Still, anyone can sue anyone; some skippers and crews may not have the experience to judge what is safe, may lack the courage to call a halt, or be too focused on the finish line; and we absolutely don't want to have crews at a high risk of harm.

Now, my two cents worth:

I would think that 23-24 mph sustained winds or 30 mph gusts would be quite enough to stop racing, given the boats and crews likely to be present. Cold weather with lots of wind chill or the presence of marginally capable boats could require us to lower this threshold.

With plenty of wind and short-course buoy racing, the races will be short enough that the race committee can assess the weather as the day continues. The challenge is at the beginning of the racing day when winds may be acceptable to start with, but have the potential to build.

My personal opinion:
If the sustained winds are already at something like 17 mph or gusts are at 23-24 mph by start time, and a forecast gives a possibility of even more wind, it would be prudent to postpone or cancel the start.

If, during the middle of a race, winds build suddenly to dangerous strength, then the race committee should take the extraordinary step and fly "November" to abandon the race, pull up anchor, and give assistance to any boats that might need help fetching port. This might occur if a race started in very acceptable 15 mph winds, but they built up quickly to 24-30+ mph with 30-40+ mph gusts.

If conditions are borderline, it could help if the committee boat goes out early enough to record winds, compare them to the forecasts, and get an idea of whether they're likely to build or weaken.

Also, the race committee should fly the Yankee flag to require PFDs to be worn and enforce the safety requirements that Larry and folks came up with after the Chute-Out (radios, adequate crews, safety boat).

Also, the race committee or responsible leaders will ensure that everyone gets and pays attention to a weather briefing on Saturday morning and stress the responsibility of each crew to decide their limits. Maybe if the weather gets really hairy, we even award a prize to the crew that's smart enough to get off the lake first in a fast and seamanlike way! Possibly crews will decide not to race certain types of boats (water ballast, non-cabin, or boats without auxiliary engines) and will insted help beef up the crews of the more heavy-weather-capable cabin keelboats if strong winds are predicted.

Skippers and crews should make absolutely sure that the boat and its rig, safety gear, and foul-weather clothing are up to their jobs, and that the race committee and all crew members are aware of any medical conditions or any special circumstances of crew or boat that could be significant to safety and health.

Also, the race committee will explain radio channels to be used and the signals to be flown for ensuring safety or canceling races. It would also be good if the race committee or someone jotted down the marinas or launching points of boats so it's possible to make sure everyone got home safe before dark. Also, it would be advisable for all skippers and crews to know how and where to seek local medical assistance (besides calling 911).

I may be way off base on some of these ideas, and plenty of other folks have lots more experience being out in the big wind, so please anyone correct me, add to this, or put in your opinions, suggestions, comfort levels, safety thoughts, etc.


Okay for races:

Beaufort force 4: 13-18 mph, small waves 1-2 ft. high, frequent whitecaps. Near Land: Good working breeze, keel sailboats carry all sails with good heel. On Land: Dust, leaves, and loose paper raised up; small branches move.


Conditions at the lower end of this range are fully acceptable for sound, heavy-weather-capable boats and crews. Consider forecast and conditions before starting a new race. Consider postponement or cancellation, or proceed with caution and with all safety measures in place depending upon capabilities of boats and crews, especially if winds threaten to approach the upper end of this range:

Beaufort Force 5: 19-24 mph, longer waves with some foam and spray, many whitecaps.
Near Land: Sailboats shorten sail.
On Land: Small trees in leaf begin to sway.
Kiters: Probably too much wind for most people.
Dinghies: this is a dinghy sailor's stormy-weather gale!

Cancel races in progress (but allow boats to finish if the boats and crews are heavy-weather capable and can finish quickly and without difficulty):

Beaufort Force 6: 25-31 mph, waves with foam crests and some spray, whitecaps everywhere. Near Land: (Larger, keel-ballasted) sailboats have double-reefed mainsails, vibration or whistling may be heard in rigging. On Land: Large branches of trees in motion; whistling heard in overhead wires. Umbrella use becomes difficult.

Request emergency assistance for any boats in trouble,
get boats off the water immediately:

Beaufort Force 7: (Near Gale, Small Craft warnings) 32-38 mph, Sea heaps up and white foam from breaking waves begins to be blown in streaks. On the ocean, seas reach a height of 12 to 25 feet (the limited size of the lake, altitude, and other factors limit the size of waves at the lake). Near Land: Boats remain in harbor; those at sea heave-to (this doesn't work for many smaller boats or some racing-type boats). On Land: Whole trees in motion; resistance felt in walking against wind. Whole trees in motion. Effort to walk against the wind.

My assumptions in making the above recommendations:

Crews vary in experience level, but there are no all-beginner crews or boats with small children who might be exposed to dangerous conditions. Boats are keel-ballasted cabin sailboats, keel-ballasted open sailboats, or water-ballasted cabin sailboats; no small dinghies or catamarans are present. All safety equipment that is required by law or by the race committee is present and available for use; personal flotation devices are worn. Recommendations are based on short-course (buoy) racing during daytime.

If all the boats are heavy-weather capable, soundly rigged and equipped, and the crews are highly experienced, allow about 1/2 an additional Beaufort wind scale interval (this is for lake sailing with nearby lee shores, not for ocean sailing). If crews and/or boats are somewhat marginal, implement the recommendations sooner/at a somewhat lower wind velocity.

BBiernacki writes:
> Hello,> > At what point does the Committee boat, or the club officers cancel the race? ...


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