Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dillon Open Race Management Lessons

Because the New Mexico Sailing Club will soon host a one-design regatta with boats from out of the region (with me holding the bag as the principal race officer), I paid particular attention to how racing was organized at the Dillon Open this past weekend.

Although the Dillon Open had a strong corps of volunteers, and although as competitors and sometime race officers we appreciate their unpaid work and understand their hardships, certain aspects of race management could have been improved.

Ideally, regatta organizers would be eager to improve the regatta and race management and are open to learning a visitor's point of view. However, I did not see a ready means for providing feedback to the Dillon Open organizers and race management team; indeed, since the team members were announced orally at the skippers' meeting, it might be hard for a visitor to figure out where and to whom to send feedback -- or whether feedback is wanted.

(1) Secret sailing instruction:

"Competitors with boats in the Frisco Marina shall not be allowed to protest any other boats. This changes the protest eligiblity requirements in the Racing Rules of Sailing, Rule 60.1."

No, that wasn't a printed instruction, or even anything intentional, but it was effectively in place. Protest time was cut off 45 minutes after the race committee signal boat docked at the Dillon Marina. (The default in the RRS is two hours after the last boat finishes, but can be changed by the sailing instructions.) For boats using the Dillon Marina, this was no problem.

However, for boats that had to sail three or more miles across the lake to the Frisco Marina, then send someone to the parking lot to a vehicle, drive through Frisco, around the lake to Dillon and Dillon's marina, find a park, hike down to the DYC, ... time ran out. We learned this the hard way on Saturday ... even though we were in the first start/finish group and returned promptly and directly back to Frisco immediately after our last race, we couldn't drive back to Dillon and get to the DYC in time to file a protest. We were close to making it ... but not quite close enough. Boats in later finishing groups, or without motors, would have absolutely no chance to get back to Frisco and then send someone to Dillon to file a protest.

By making the protest cut-off effectively much shorter than the RRS default, the regatta deprived Frisco boats of their rights and potentially gave other boats carte blanche to foul the Frisco boats, knowing that the Frisco boats couldn't do anything about it. However unintentional imposing the short cut-off was, this could affect the fairness of the regatta for any Frisco boats involved in a protest.

This wouldn't be so bad had it been clearly understood that the Dillon Marina was where visiting competitors were expected to stay. However, the regatta management encouraged visiting sailors to use the Frisco Marina, and the Frisco Marina was a sponsor of the regatta. Visitors were told that the Dillon Marina might not have room for them. Worse, with visiting boats and race committee boats occupying the courtesy docks, there wasn't room for a boat from the Frisco Marina to drop off crew to file a protest. We understand that the time limit shouldn't drag on indefinitely and that it can be hard to keep potential protest parties in the area for an extended time, but I think the situation of the Frisco-based boats was never really considered when the protest time limit was written.

What could have been done:
At the very least, warn boats using the Frisco Marina not to expect to file a protest.
Better: Provide a protest facility at the Frisco Marina or on the race course.
Or, reserve a "drop off" space at the Dillon Marina where a Frisco boat could drop off a crew member to file a protest.
Or, extend the protest cut-off time long enough so that a boat that needs to file a protest can get back to Frisco, and send a crew member to drive over to Dillon in time to file its protest.


(2) Nitpicks about postings and communications:

(a) Competitors who wanted to look at the official announcement board and race results had to walk past signs that read,

DYC Private Function
Members Only

No doubt, these signs were intended to restrict the general public, and not competitors, from going to where results were posted. But, taken literaly, the signs meant that ONLY Dillon Yacht Club members were permitted to look at the event results and bulletin boards -- and competitors who were not DYC members were banned from viewing the results. Even if people weren't stopped by the signs, the message was not very friendly to competitors from outside the club.

(b) On Saturday afternoon, two different versions of the protest-time cut-off were posted ... though they were only a few minutes apart. One of the posted cut-offs was on a scrap of yellow notepad paper taped to the inside of the clubhouse window ... not very official looking.

(c) On Sunday, the results up to that point were removed just as we arrived at Dillon after having sailed the boat back to Frisco. The results were posted long enough for all the Dillon boats to see them, but not for people who had to commute from Frisco.

(d) Changes were to be posted by 10:30 Sunday morning, but boats were to check in at the race course in plenty of time for the noon first warning signal. For boats from Frisco, that means that changes could be posted AFTER the Frisco crews had their last opportunity to view the bulletin board before getting back to Frisco in time to get a boat out to the race course.

(e) Although much of the information given in the skippers' meeting repeated the Sailing Instructions, this was probably necessary because the SIs were only made available on the morning of the race. Quite a lot of information, however, was given out orally, in a noisy, crowded tent. Some of the info made it to the bulletin board, eventually, after the skippers' meeting -- well after we had to leave for the race course. Some of the info never made it to the bulletin board, such as the assignment of numeral pennant flags to correspond with fleets. Some SI changes (a typo in the instructions for keelboats, but more significant changes for dinghies) were announced orally but were only posted after competitors were leaving for the race course.

What could have been done:
Better, more organized, more correct, more welcoming signs.
More accessible bulletin board.
Try harder to get more info into the printed SIs... which should have been possible, since they were only made available shortly before the skippers' meeting.
Post signs to direct competitors to where to file a protest.
Start the skippers' meeting earlier, or start it exactly on time and hold it rigorously on schedule.


(3) Check-in confusion

In 2006, on-the-water check-in was at the race committee signal boat. In 2007, competitors were told to check in with the finish/check-in boat, a pontoon boat with a red canopy. During check-in, this boat would be positioned near the Dillon Marina.

In practice, this didn't work well for us and for other boats from the Frisco Marina.

Because the skippers' meeting started late and ran slow, we had to rush from the skippers' meeting to our vehicle, drive to Frisco, and motor out to the race course as best we could. Then we had to sail past all the boats from the Dillon Marina to try to find the check-in boat. We saw a pontoon boat that matched the description, but it was moving ... then it turned out to be not the correct boat. It was a pontoon boat with a red canopy, but we had to get close to see that it had no r.c. flag ... some poor family must have been wondering why all those sailboats were chasing after them! Then, running out of time, we asked a competitor from our fleet about what had happened to check-in, if perhaps a change had been announced. The competitor gave us incorrect information, sending us to the signal boat on an embarrassing "wild goose chase" and wasting more time. Fortunately, we were allowed to check-in by radio on Saturday only, perhaps because we were not the only crew inconvenienced or confused by the situation.

What could have been done:
The check-in boat could have been more conveniently postioned for boats coming from Frisco.
Or, Frisco boats could have been given special arrangements ahead of time to check in by radio or otherwise.
(And, for other reasons as well, we now know not to rely on information from a competitor.)


(4) Starting line snafus. Although the starting line was not an obstruction under the rules, or closed by the sailing instructions, the race committee repeatedly told the competitors that boats that were not starting or racing should stay away from the start line. Competitors were so told during the skippers' meeting as well as repeatedly by radio. However, dozens of boats that were neither racing nor starting ignored the request. We were interfered with and had a bad start on Sunday because of such a group of boats. A trio of Stars, who were not scheduled to start until after our group's start, used our class start as a practice start, interfering with us. This breaks the rule that states that a boat not racing (not racing at that moment, but entered in the regatta, such as boats that are in between races) shall not interfere with boats that are racing. (RRS 22.1 If reasonably possible, a boat not racing shall not interfere with a boat that is racing. )

One thing that could have been done was that the r.c. could have stated clearly that such obvious violations were infractions of the RRS, and not mere discourtesy. The r.c. itself could have threatened, and then followed through, by protesting boats that abused the system.

Also, the r.c. could impress upon competitors the possibility that breaking the non-interference rule could also break Rule 2, Fair Sailing. (See http://www.racingrules.org/guide/guide10.htm#22.1)

Perhaps the r.c. could set a starting "box" and use patrol boats to try to shoo non-racers out from behind the start line. If sterner measures are needed, a couple of US Coast Guard rigid inflatables with the usual armament and flashing lights, sirens, and loud hailers mounted on board should do the trick quite nicely.

Also, fleet captains could be encouraged to communicate with fleet members and they or the r.c. could have a chat with skippers who seem cavalier about the rules and respecting the rights of other boats.


At 6:13 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger Tillerman said...


Not sure I understand your last point though. If boats not racing interfere with you while you are racing then they have certainly committed an infraction of the RRS and you can protest them. (Of course as you say earlier this may not have been practical for you anyway.)

It's not often done but I have seen it done once when boats that had finished sailed back through a fleet still racing.

There's no need for the RC to restate that this is an infractionm of the RRS, or invoke Rule 2. You can just protest them yourself if they interfere with you.

At 1:38 AM, August 10, 2007, Blogger Carol Anne said...

Well ... we could have protested them if we didn't have to take our boat to the other side of the lake during the time allocated for protests.

And in addition to the three Stars that got in our way right at the start, pretty much the whole Star fleet was right around the starting line during our start sequence, even though their start wouldn't be for another 10 or 15 minutes. I couldn't tack or gybe without yet another one being in our way. I wonder whether a protest committee would have been willing to DSQ an entire fleet.

Of course, if the entire fleet had been DSQed for Sunday's race, that wouldn't have changed the standings from Saturday's end-of-day results. The fleet leaders would probably not mind, although the boats that were behind might regret the loss of an opportunity to catch up.

At 4:12 AM, August 12, 2007, Blogger Tillerman said...

The situation I saw before where a boat was protested for interfering with boats still racing was a protest by the Chief Measurer of a certain large dinghy class against the guy who is a multiple World Champion in the class. After a long, long protest hearing (while the rest of us were enjoying a few drinks in the bar) the measurer withdrew his protest. But the point had been made. None of us who were there will ever forget the lesson.

At 4:16 AM, August 12, 2007, Blogger Tillerman said...

So if you're concerned about protesting the whole fleet of Stars, just protest the Star boat leading the regatta. That will make a difference to results (if the protest is upheld) and that guy certainly cares.

Of course before that I would do a lot of shouting and tell them to keep clear of our start area and/or boats still racing. Quoting the rule number at them may make them realise you are serious too. Flying a protest flag should get their attention if that doesn't work; they probably don't know that your marina logistics prevent you from following through.

At 9:45 AM, August 12, 2007, Blogger Pat said...

Our tactician, who has sailed on both sides of the pond, did yell words to the effect of,
"We're racing! Protest! Protest Star 1-2-3-4-5 !" at the nearest/worst offender, and we waved a red flag at them.

However, that didn't have any appreciable effect on the interfering non-racing boats. Once a bad situation has been created, it's often too late to un-do it, as happened here. We had to peel off near the committee boat 30 seconds before our start and do a 360 turn to come back to the line, making us about 45 seconds late for the start.


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