Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thoughts from the Birthday Regatta

When my spouse, Carol Anne, meets with her fellow community college instructors, they often end their meetings with a “plus delta” review of the meeting. Pluses are the things that went well; deltas are the “opportunities for improvement” or items that need discussion. The idea is for the reviewers to concentrate on improvements without focusing on being critical or negative in tone.

In a similar vein, I tried to track the Arizona Yacht Club’s 2009 Birthday Regatta – the 49th in the club’s history, if I recall correctly. Cautions are, of course in order; my perspective is an outsider's and my information is limited. And, often, things are done in a certain way because of the history of an event, or because of what resources are available or not, or because of constraints imposed by finances, limited volunteer availability, or rules made by outside agencies.

Arizona and New Mexico sailors have much more in common than differences. Primary differences are that the Valley of the Sun has a much larger and more concentrated population base than New Mexico and far west Texas, more large corporations headquartered there, and two sailing venues, one fully within the urban area. And, there’s more of a marine and sailing infrastructure, with the Sailboat Shop at the lake, two West Marines in the urban area, and Valley Marine providing a lot of support for sailboat owners.

However, Tempe Town Lake is restricted to dinghies and has only been in operation for a relatively short time, and most sailors face a drive of from half an hour to an hour and a half to reach Lake Pleasant. As with the Rio Grande Sailing Club, the AYC does not have a bricks-and-mortar clubhouse. Conditions on desert/mountain lakes are similar between New Mexico and Arizona; sailors and race officers from the coast have difficulty in appreciating how fickle our winds can be. Neither state has much of a tradition of corporate or public support of sailors. Only fairly recently has Arizona begun a youth sailing program, while New Mexico is just taking its first steps in that direction. College sailing is fairly limited in both states, with Arizona State’s club program very limited in its budget and lacking a coach and other resources; college sailing in New Mexico is also extremely limited and ad hoc.

And, in both states we share the challenge of incredulous disbelief from the bulk of the populace who just plain don’t know that there’s sailing in the southwest.

The AYC and the Birthday Regatta have done a good job of integrating dinghy sailors into its ranks, which seems to have brought new blood with lots of new members into the AYC. The development of TTL as a dinghy sailing venue has given city residents an accessible option for casual sailing. The Birthday Regatta has a casual, friendly, down-home feel and a distinct lack of pretentiousness or snobbery. The development of the Arizona Sailing Foundation is a huge bonus for area youth, as well as a potential source of community goodwill and further new members for the AYC.

This year’s Birthday Regatta participants enjoyed blue skies, mild warm temperatures, and mostly good wind. Competitors were able to get in as many as eight races, allowing for lots of intense on-the-water action and opportunities to overcome bad luck in one race with good performance in others. Sunday’s winds were particularly strong and steady, giving the regatta a very successful, exhilarating, and somewhat early finish –- just in time for some participants to move on to watch some other oddball sporting event happening that Sunday afternoon.

Most race committee work went very well and there weren’t too many glitches; the r.c. was able to give competitors lots of races and get fleets started efficiently. On Sunday, the r.c. was able to complete two whole starting sequences without a break. The automatic timer/horn worked very well; even skeptics or first-time users were impressed with it. The pontoon boat is a big, fairly stable platform, and the new paint job is gorgeous.

The Birthday Regatta apparently set some records this year. Something like $67,000 was raised for the Leukemia Society’s research programs, and attendance was high, with 240 diners at Saturday night’s steak, swordfish, or chicken dinner. Bidding was spirited on many auction items, and the regatta received significant support from generous corporate and individual donors, who supplied prizes, auction items, microbrews, and even a small cruising boat. The mellow guitarist who played on Saturday night was good, with the volume kept down just enough so people could talk without being blown out of the tent, as happens at some regattas.

Items for discussion fall into the categories of the race committee boats and equipment, race committee actions, and generic notes. As noted before, my perspective is limited and many of these items have likely been noted and may have already been dealt with or recorded for future reference. Others maybe can’t be done because of limited resources.

Here goes:

Race Committee signal boat (big pontoon boat):

 The boat didn’t have power to back off dock on Sunday against strong wind. Moving forward and along the dock, the boat tore out a couple of screws holding a piece of trim molding/rub rail a bit above the waterline, port side aft corner. Perhaps if the fenders had been placed lower, the rub rail wouldn’t have pulled out. With competition across the bay, the marina might possibly in future years be more accommodating about providing regular slips to support the regatta.

 It seemed harder to recruit volunteers to get up early on Sunday to staff the r.c. than on Saturday.

 Later, a low-oil pressure light came on and the crew had to re-fill the oil reservoir (adjacent to the fuel tank in the port aft locker) in rough choppy conditions without an oil funnel to prevent spillage or rags to clean up the spillage, which got onto some volunteers' clothing and personal items. Having a funnel on board would have been useful, and perhaps an oil level check could be part of a pre-regatta check-up. Apparently tools are not kept on the boat because of the history and potential for theft/"borrowing".

 The pontoon boat had only one anchor; in the past it has been said to have had two. Perhaps the spliced anchor line could be replaced with a single long rode with depth flags sewn in at regular intervals (the winch might eventually chew the depth flags, but at least for a while the r.c. would have a more consistent idea of depth and scope). If someone were to be so generous as to give the r.c. boat a depth sounder that might be a useful toy.

 Some of the crew were unfamiliar with how to start the boat and use the keys or operate the automatic horn. Maybe it would be useful to have a laminated SOP on how to set up and operate the boat.

 The head door seems to require two keys and is "fiddly" to open. Early in the weekend some hardware on the inside of the head door was loose.

 An organized way to gather trash would be useful – a small trash bin or frame to hold a small trash bag perhaps.

 A perhaps silly-sounding but nice luxury would be having some cup holders. That would lessen the chances of spilled coffee or sodas and rolling water bottles making footing more treacherous, and avoid crew crunching water bottles when they open the lockers.

 With the line sighter in the bow and the scorers aft, communication was difficult between them. David A. has discussed this problem. Unfortunately, moving the scorers forward can make the bow congested. Maybe a courtesy board rail could be added port side, allowing the board people to work just one side of the bow and a couple of scorers to come forward. Also, in case times or sail numbers are missed by a scorer, perhaps a digital audio recording could be made from the line sighter’s position, allowing a chance to recover missing information. Yet another idea would be moving the finishing mark on the boat aft from the forward mast to the middle of the boat, perhaps at a second mast or at an orange flag.

 About 2/3 of the way aft along the courtesy rail (starboard forward side of boat) used to display fleet boards, there’s a spot where several of the boards wouldn’t fit in the track. Perhaps that could be filed or reamed out until the boards fit.

 One of the Viper fleet boards was too tall and hard to force into the flip rack; it could be filed down an 1/8 inch or so.

 One of the green PHRF spin boards was too short and tried to fall out of the rack.

 One of the "H" (Horse Island) course boards had the H made with duct tape and not painted.

 Neither the signal boat nor the other boats were equipped to signal a change of course leg; there would need to be a C (Charlie) flag, green and red flags, plus and minus flags.

 It was not easy to signal an abandonment for only one fleet; pretty much a crew member had to hold an N flag or board over a fleet board, supplemented by sending the mark-set boat out after the fleet.

Race committee actions

 We were inconsistent day-to-day about the exact procedures for displaying courses; on Saturday we gave competitors the first mark but on Sunday we specified all the marks.

 On Saturday, we displayed Yankee to require life vests, but on Sunday, when it was windier, we didn’t put it up – perhaps an oversight.

 It was necessarily hard to be consistent about signaling finishes; we most often used the forward horn when not running sequences and just called out time marks and sail numbers otherwise -- and not always as consistently as might be possible.

 As noted before, we needed better communication between the line sighter and scorers. Perhaps moving the finishing position to a mid-boat position would help.

 The PROs didn’t always have good info on which fleets had completed a race; as a result, we started the multihulls on a Saturday race when they hadn’t all finished. (Fortunately or otherwise, the wind had died and they weren’t having much fun anyway.)

 On Friday, some of the scorers were using a clipboard with a clock attached to it that had not been synchronized to correct time; as a result the finish times needed to be corrected to mesh with the starting times.

 The mark set boat had a good radio, but communication with other boats wasn’t as good. It would be good to have a means of discussing race committee business or even a way of having “sensitive” conversations privately.

 The on-water race committee volunteers didn’t have a list of phone numbers to answer questions about the boats or regatta. A printed phone tree could be posted on the boat during the regatta, or at least given to key volunteers. The list could also have names/boat names and cell phone numbers for the fleet captains.

 The SI’s didn’t use the word “obstruction” when specifying that the start and finish lines were closed to boats racing after their first leg and before finishing. Working the word "obstruction" into the SI could clarify and emphasize the need to respect the line.

 The SI’s did not have a hard time limit for finishes; this could be amended in various ways. Although the RC/PROs can come up with bases for shortening or abandoning a race due to poor wind or advancing darkness, hard time limits would give them more authority.

Generic comments

 The provision in the SI’s for protests is more suited for regular regattas. Perhaps the SI’s could specify that protest time will be sounded at a designated location adjacent to the regatta tent, and that protest forms will be available and protests will be received at a specific designated location at the tent, rather than at the more generic and out-of-the-way “Spinnaker Point” in the SI’s.

 The regatta web site didn’t have a provision for volunteers to pay for meals or order shirts during the week before the regatta, or for already-registered competitors to order more items, without incurring a late fee.

 Maybe the "how to save money" e-mail could be expanded into a guide for first-time Lake Pleasant sailors and Birthday Regatta participants.

 The regatta did not have a bulletin board. Bulletin boards could be set up to display lists of fleets, interim results, protest information, lost and found, crew availability and needs, volunteer sign-ups and assignments, schedule changes, maps for the park and area, resource lists, "brag" articles about the Leukemia Society, Arizona Sailing Foundation, etc.

 The regatta didn’t have a volunteer stationed at or near the tent entrance as a “traffic director” or greeter. It would be nice to have someone in that role (who knows all the who's whoms), and a marked station, and equipped with schedules, forms, phone numbers of key people, etc.

 Regatta volunteers didn’t have a well organized or specifically located place to gather and to find out where they were supposed to go, and when. That may have contributed to events starting off slowly on Friday and Saturday.

 Competitors weren’t as aware of the rules as they should have been, such as the start/finish line being closed, and some boats had to be scored as DNF because they violated the line. Competitors often didn't understand the use of the AP + H or N + H flags to end the day's racing.

Maybe or maybe not worth doing:
Putting an underline or stripe at the bottom of course boards to indicate the bottom and lessen the chance of a board inserter putting a board into the flipper upside down.
Having the mark set boat crew run a GPS track and be able to give the race committee a precise distance to the mark.

Again, some of these things may have been discussed or fixed already, or there just may not have been enough people to go around to do everything that wanted doing. The regatta depends on volunteers, and everyone needs to be grateful to them for providing their time and energy. And, the regatta was a big success.

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