Thursday, March 02, 2006

Race Committee Boat Visitors Guide

A note I sent to someone who wanted a refresher on what would be expected of her when she helps out on the race committee boat.

Stuff to bring: PFD/life preserver but call us if you need one; we usually have several different sorts on our boat. Warm clothing - but in layers since the mood of the lake is so changeable; it could be 55 degrees and blowing or 75 degrees and feeling hot in the same day; it's nice to have layers for blocking wind, water, and for insulation. Water! Sunscreen. Maybe bug goop, lip balm, & sailing or other gloves. Hat. Shoes. Boat or athletic shoes with a good grip (even when wet) and non-marking soles are considered better than stiletto heels. Optional: a good wristwatch or stopwatch, nice book to read, camera or camcorder, binoculars, personal stereo & earphones, etc.

Basic committee boat procedure:

At the skipper's meeting, introduce the people who will be on the race committee boat. Describe which VHF radio channel will be monitored (68, 72, 16 etc.) and the starting flag sequence. The race committee should take care of any questions about the courses, rules, expected conditions, safety requirements, or protest procedures. Our racers usually leave rounding marks to port, but some races are different. Most of our races are relatively short-course "buoy races".

Check inventory of committee boat gear; anchor, pin buoy & its anchor & line, starting flags, code/course flags, aerosol horn, soft-sided portfolio with forms including race registration form with info on boats competing in the regatta, stop watch or wristwatch, etc.

Proceed to the race course area so that weather conditions can be checked, the pin buoy can be dropped, and the committee boat anchored with the line squared at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start.

About 10 minutes before the start: check winds to see if good for racing; adjust the line, or ask someone to move the pin buoy, or move up or down on the committee boat anchor as needed to keep the line reasonably perpendicular to the wind. Check to see whether boats are present and conditions look safe. Make last-minute check with race committee if in doubt about conditions or course.

If conditions are or are expected to be very breezy or windy (~20 mph steady winds or 25 mph gusts), the striped red and yellow "Yankee" flag is to be flown to require all competitors to wear PFDs (life preservers) when on deck or in the cockpit.

If conditions are too dangerous to hold a race (~27 mph steady winds/36 mph gusts depending upon the type of race and boats present), and the race is cancelled, fly the blue and white checkered "November" flag. Try to ensure that boats retire safely from the lake and are accounted for and crews are safe; request assistance from the state parks rangers if needed.

Otherwise, if the race is to be started:

Determine the initial course and put up signal flags (i.e., "1 Gulf" for a full-length upwind-downwind course beginning to the south; "3 Foxtrot" for a short "half-sausage" starting to the west). Courses almost always begin with an upwind start. The length and complexity of the course may be adjusted according to weather; good, steady winds and weather may call for full upwind-downwinds or courses that get a bit longer as thewinds increase, but thin winds, a shortage of time, or borderline hazardous conditions may call for a short, "half sausage" out-and-back Foxtrot course.

Honk the horn a few to several times to alert boats to the impending start. On windy days, distant boat crews may fail in their responsibility to hear the horn; try to get in a good blast in their direction.

At five (5) minutes until the start, start the five minute countdown; simultaneously raise the "class flag" (usually the yellow flag on a staff) and sound a horn signal. Keep this flag up all the way until the start.

At four (4) minutes until the start, raise the "preparatory flag" (usually the blue flag on a staff; often elsewhere the white-square-on-blue "Papa" or "Blue Peter" flag is used) and at the same time make a horn signal.

Keep both flags up until a minute before the start.

At one (1) minute before the start, drop the preperatory flag and make a horn signal. Now, in the last minute, only the class flag is flying.

At the start, drop the class flag and sound the horn. Write down the start time if the boats got off to a good start. Note whether any boats went over early. Raise the red flag to denote that a race is in progress.

* If, say one or two boats went over early and can be identified, sound an individual recall with one horn. Call out the boat(s) that was (were) over early by hail and by radio. You can also fly the "blue cross:" "x-ray" flag. Write down on the form who was over early.

* If a bunch of boats were over early, or it can't be told which several of the mess were over early, or the race committee horribly messed up the start, sound "General Recall" with multiple horns and its flag (yellow on blue First Substitute pennant), then give warning that you're re-starting the start sequence and do so.

Enjoy the view.

In the very extraordinary circumstance that a race has to be cancelled while in progress (due to very dangerous weather, a life-threatening emergency, a very prolonged period of no wind, impending darkness, etc.), use the radio, signal flags, horn signals, and the assistance of other boats, if possible; as a last resort weigh anchor and chase the racing boats down.

Otherwise, remain in position and record the time of each boat that finishes.

Continue to set courses, adjust the line if needed, and run race starts as appropriate. After the last race has been completed and all times have been recorded, weigh anchor and retrieve the pin buoy. Deliver the race committee forms and notebook to the race committee chairman at the end of each day. If necessary, participate in any protest hearings or post-race discussions. At the end of the weekend or regatta, deliver the pin buoy, signal flags, and other race committee gear to the next committee boat, or to the race chairman, or to storage in Rich Strasia's boathouse at near Rock Canyon.

That's all there is to it - and there will be someone there who knows the basic procedures.


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