Race Committee Duty

So, You Have Race Committee Duty
By Dave Ellis


There are few clubs that have perennial volunteer race committee members for PHRF races. Don’t take them for granted. Most of us have to volunteer on a rotating basis, giving up a few days a year to run races for the fleet. While we have all complained about an RC’s performance on occasion, it can be daunting to be thrust into that job without training.

For many years I was an employee of St. Petersburg Yacht Club, managing the Sailing center and serving as regatta coordinator. Major regattas were run using multiple vessels and dozens of volunteers on the water and others doing shore duty. But Friday night “around-the-cans” PHRF racing was staged by a small Whaler-type powerboat and only occasionally with any helper at all.

How can you produce a great racing experience for your peers? Here are some tips for the shorthanded race committee duty.

Somewhere out there are a written Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions. Often they are online on a club’s Web site. Read them. Bring a copy with you. It will make you a genius.

Usually the course is chosen among several government buoys or permanently set club marks. Try to set the starting line where there is a good upwind course to the first mark. Most sailors prefer a windward start as it separates the fleet and gives more options to escape a bad start than a reach or run.

If there is any current that is not perfectly in line with the wind, do not rely on your homemade batten with a length of yarn to tell the wind direction. Instead, ask one of the competing boats, preferably one without an overlapping jib, to go up beyond your anchor line and go head to wind for you. The direction that the boat is pointing is the sailor’s wind, including the current effect. In light air this can be a major change from what your anchored wind direction indicator shows.

If you use an existing mark for your starting pin, set yourself at right angles to the sailor’s wind. Simply face the direction that you have decided is to windward and put your left arm straight out to the side. The pin should be there or maybe a little to windward of there to try to get sailors away from your precious boat that you have volunteered along with your time. For more security, float a little buoy a few feet behind your transom with floating polypropylene line.

Have plenty of anchor line so that you can drop the hook to windward of your chosen spot and drift back, with the option of changing the scope to be in the right spot.

If someone else is setting the starting pin, the pro’s way to do it is to hold the anchor in the attitude that it will be when hooked, with the buoy on the anchor line full length behind the mark set boat. Slowly go up the sailor’s wind towing the mark. The RC crew sites the mark with their arm raised high. When the mark gets to where you want it, drop that arm with authority. At that time the mark set person drops the anchor. The buoy will sit there while the anchor drops. Do some homework to make sure there is only a few feet more anchor line than the highest wave at the highest tide of the day so the line doesn’t tangle keels and rudders.

Any time you see someone throwing one of those little anchors, be prepared to have a drifting mark. It tangles in flight and upon landing more often than not. Drop marks.

Before starting your flag sequence for the start (Racing Rule 26, page 11 in your rulebook; back cover for other flags) count how many boats are in the fleet. This is a safety measure.

You have flags to show which fleet is starting. Put them on the deck in the order of start. Spinnaker A, Non-Spinnaker, True Cruising, etc.; each will have a “five minute” debut. Some clubs use one flag and the Sailing Instructions show the order of start. But that can be confusing since it is the dropping of the class flag that means “GO” and the raising of a class flag that means five minutes until the next start. Read the Sailing Instructions for direction.

PHRF racing depends on accurate timing of each boat’s finish. It is best to use two watches, one being a stopwatch that is started at the GO signal. With running starts, simply subtract five minutes for each subsequent fleet. When you start your sequence, do so at a convenient time of day. For example, start your five minute sequence exactly at one o’clock with the second hand straight up. Write that time down on your finish sheet. The actual start time for the first fleet will be 1:05:00; the second fleet 1:10:00, etc. If there is a problem and a start has to be delayed, just write down when the start did occur.

The biggest danger during volunteer race committee duty is enjoying too much adult beverage while waiting around for the finish and not being prepared for the onslaught of boats. So get your ducks in a row early.

Someone calls the finish line saying “MARK”, or “NOW” when ANY part of a boat crosses the line, including a spinnaker. Someone with the watch or stopwatch records that time along with the sail number of the boat. The scorer may not know the boat’s name or the skipper, so record the sail number for them.

If boats are really close at the finish, do your homework with the numbers on the sails as they approach. The line caller can then simply say, “Far boat, near boat, middle boat,” or whatever they see the order of finish was.

Most scoring programs will separate boats to their proper fleet by sail number. Getting that number correct on the finish sheet will save the scorer much head-scratching.

Finally, count finishers on your score sheet to make sure all are accounted for.

Guard that finish sheet well. Many experienced officials make a copy. Sheets have gone overboard, including at a 100-plus-boat Optimist Dinghy regatta. Ouch.

Oh, and if you have set marks or a starting pin, don’t forget to pick them up. Bundle the flags, gather the horns and stopwatch and deliver them back to the club.

Just think, next week you can critique the RC with authority.