Casual Sailboat Racing: Saved by a Sneaker

Last weekend I was invited/asked/arm-twisted to help run the West Ferry Laser Invitational, a casual event in our back yard. The organizers, Dan and Karen Neri, knew other Laser sailors would really like racing in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay. After all, what’s not to like? We’ve got the same reliable breeze as Newport’s East Passage, but without the traffic and mixed-up sea state of too many powerboats going every direction. So after thinking about it for a few years, they organized an “event”, which Dan dubbed the “First and Last Invitational.” That way there’s no pressure to do this again next year, unless we all want to. (Though judging by the atmosphere at the after-race party, we’ll all want to.)

Laser sailors Newport RI

All 14 Lasers rounded the committee boat for the final run, a great photo op.

Now when I say “organize,” here’s what they did: they sent out a few emails, bought a few burgers (veggie and otherwise), and loaded up on beer of various types. Then they rounded up a race committee of five dinghy sailors, borrowed marks and an automatic timer from Sail Newport, found a second powerboat to move marks, et voilà! It’s a regatta.

No trees were harmed by printing scads of sailing instructions. No valuable time was wasted on a skipper’s meeting, though I’m sure Dan answered a few questions while the fleet rigged up on the beach. We all knew what was important: running as many decent races with clean starts as we could fit into an afternoon, keeping track of the scores, and having a great party afterward.

The main committee boat was normally used for harbor cruises, so we had to improvise on a few things. The most visible example of repurposed equipment was at the boat end of the starting line, which we made more visible by adding an orange-soled sneaker to the top of the boathook. Orange-side out, of course. If it didn’t work, no one complained; perhaps the sailors realized that if we’d had a flag of any sort, it would’ve already been flying.

The sneaker that made the starting line visible, and its owner.

The sneaker that saved the day and made the starting line visible, and Matt, its owner.

The sailboats (14) outnumbered the powerboats (2), unlike what we see at many big regattas these days. The courses were varied and included a “Harry A,” which used the committee boat as a turning mark and led to some great action photos. As long as we had the line within range of square, the starts were amazingly even. And only one of the five races had a course skewed enough to be obvious, at least from a race committee boat with a shoelace for a telltale.

There is a place in the sailing world for perfection. I would be very disappointed to get to a top level championship and find some hack like me running the event, instead of experts like Tom Duggan and Hank Stuart and all the others who take race committee work so seriously. But for casual Sunday racing, maybe we should dial back the quest for perfection. Because as it turns out, all you need to run a sailboat race is an automatic timer, a couple of marks, and an orange-bottomed shoe on top of a boat hook.

 

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