By Donald Wieneke, J/105 Owner; Past Fleet Captain for Fleet #1 San Francisco; US Sailing National Judge and Regional Race Officer.
How did San Francisco’s J/105 Class Fleet #1 Stay Happy and Healthy while Racing During a Pandemic?
The answer is by continuing to race. Here’s how we ran a safe six-day series over the summer without a yacht club.
The major clubs usually run our races but this year it was quite different. By mid to late March, most big clubs that host racing events for fleets, including the J/105 class, began listing as “canceled” events that had been on their racing schedules. They did this for good reason, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fleet #1 of the J/105 Class in San Francisco is the largest fleet in the country. With 57 dues paying members and 25 plus boats regularly racing, we needed to do something to keep the fleet active besides practice. After all, you don’t buy a racing one design boat like a J/105 to just day sail. Okay, for full disclosure, we actually have more than a few J/105s that do exactly that; but this article is about racing.
So, with that in mind, we needed to develop a plan to keep programs active and perhaps provide incentive to grow the racing fleet. How to do it was the question.
Earlier in the year, we had a coaching event with Quantum Sails’ Jeff Thorpe. Jeff worked with Ian Charles and produced racing exercises that were designed to improve racing skills no matter what your level of competence was.
But by early summer with no events scheduled, we knew we needed to do something more than just practice, we needed events. We needed to race. So, we began to seek a solution based around a coached series and here is what we came up with.
We could run our own races at least until the various clubs began hosting their events again. The big question was: Could we allow coaching during the series and still stay within the parameters of the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) and Class Rules? How should we do this?
What we came up with was a series with more coaching provided by Jeff Thorpe of Quantum Sails. The class allowed us an exception per RRS 87 to have coaching and stay within the Class Rules. We modified on-the-water coaching to stay within the RRS and did Zoom coaching debriefs a few days later.
More Issues and Solutions
Okay, we devised a solution but wasn’t there still a Pandemic going on? How could we deal with that, especially considering that the venue we picked crossed several counties with different health guidelines.
The solution we worked out was that instead of writing specific rules to try and police compliance with a complicated set of county requirements, we simply wrote following in our racing documents:
“COVID-19 POLICY: All boats entered in this series are expected to follow state and local health requirements.”
Judges especially don’t like words like “expected” which sets an unenforceable requirement, much like using the word “may” vs. “shall”. Nevertheless, expectations needed to be set and stated publicly with the intention of preventing unnecessary protests and hearings for no-mask protests.
Still, staying healthy was important to all of us. Fortunately, in California and the San Francisco Bay area, we are allowed to participate in outside activities with masks. Mask compliance in this area has been very good. Since there were no post-racing get-togethers for trophies or drinks at a club, compliance was pretty easy for teams. Since the weather tends to be a bit chilly and windy here, wearing a mask is also good protection against the adverse effects of sun, wind and cold. We were good on this requirement too!
Next to consider was: Who was going to write the NOR, Sailing Instructions and then actually run the events? How were we going to take entries? And what about boats, marks, flags and people who knew the behind-the-curtain art of running an event? How do we secure a Race Committee? These people walk among us or so we’re told. But where do we find them?
Here Is Where They Are
US Sailing has a list of all certified race officials including PROs and Judges. Here’s the link: https://www.ussailing.org/competition/rules-officiating/resources/find-a-race-official/
For the management of the entries, bookkeeping, communications and scoring we used: Regatta Network: https://www.regattanetwork.com
And, of course, at the top of every NOR and set of Sailing Instructions you typically see: “The Organizing Authority is” (usually the club running the event). A quick read from the Racing Rules of Sailing RRS 89.1 showed how to solve that issue too. And a quick look at the US Sailing website showed how we could be an Organizational Member giving us the ability to be a regatta Organizing Authority under The Racing Rules of Sailing ($225 a year). Here’s the link: https://www.ussailing.org/membership/organizations/
Once we did that, we’ve got an Organizing Authority and were then entitled to write a NOR (under the RRS). We secured a PRO from the US Sailing’s list of officials and last, but certainly not least, secured a Chief Judge who would arrange a Protest Committee and solve rules issues for the competitors in a knowledgeable, fair and impartial way. Sounds good, huh? Read on.
What Actually Happened
It turned out we had fleet members with RIBS to use as coach, mark-set boats and a Signal Boat. The PRO had a long list of race committee regulars to choose from. The Chief Judge had no trouble assembling a stellar jury of all National Judges for hearings via Zoom.
Turns out the clubs were more than happy to allow us to use some of their race assets but no boats or identifying equipment. It was enough to make it all work.
How Did It All Work out
We ran three weekends of coached racing over three months. Each weekend had six races scheduled. After each weekend, we held a debrief over Zoom with a review of possible improvements including analysis of the top boats since their techniques could be applied to the mid and back of the fleet. In fact, the front of the fleet improved too. Everyone improved and as a result, most teams are suggesting that our fleet host another coached event in the early part of next year. Chief Judge, Rob Overton, held several protest hearings that left competitors shaking hands instead of heads, all done virtually via Zoom.
Here’s the link for Regatta Network for our race documents, scoring, protests, and probably everything else you might have questions about: https://www.regattanetwork.com/event/21197
Find a Race Official: Officials to run the event and capable of taking insured responsibility:
Become an Organizing Authority. US Sailing Organization Membership:
Regatta Network: For everything needed to organize and communicate with competitors from an NOR to Protest Hearings and Official Notice Board: The best part of Regatta Network is Ken Taylor’s almost instantaneous tech support: https://www.regattanetwork.com
The Racing Rules of Sailing for 2021-2024: