Nationality: United States of America
This post is on behalf of Jeff Zarwell. It's an email he felt compelled to send to two competitors in yesterday's Duxbury Lightship race in San Francisco. He gave me permission to share it [lightly edited] to remind competitors about what the RC does, is obligated to do and how you can make the process easier:
Created: 18-May-14 01:40
I was the PRO (Principal Race Officer) for the Duxship race.
I would like to take a moment to share with both of you what the responsibilities are for not only me, but the entire race committee when managing a regatta, whether it is an event held entirely inside the bay or out in the open ocean.
From the moment you show up in the starting area until you cross the finish line I am to a great extent legally responsible for your safety. To a lesser extent, my entire race committee is bound as well. Before the race even begins it is my responsibility alone to determine if it is safe to even proceed with the event.
Beginning the Wednesday before, I am checking three different professional, subscription based weather websites. Additionally, I’m also looking at several NOAA sites for wave information and the base weather data from which the previously mentioned weather sites receive their data to use in their weather models.
On the day of the event, I am up at 5:30 in the morning taking a final look at all the weather sites mentioned above and review what has transpired the last three days, as well as what is forecast for the day.
At this point I have put in a full 8-hours of my time preparing for your safety and the event has not even begun.
At the beginning of the race I deploy three separate two-person teams to different areas of the race deck to spot and record every sail number that crosses that start line and the time at which they do so (even when over 30 minutes late), so that we have everyone accounted for. We also take note of boats that start outside the designated start line, because We don't know if you did that intentionally or not.
For the duration of the event we are constantly in contact with the Coast Guard, advising them of the status of our competitors (those that have AIS transmitters on their boats), what we are seeing in the way of wind and sea-state, based on what we can see with our eyes, on the various websites and later in the race from competitors who have finished.
I cannot comment on what other PROs do, or how concerned they may or may not be about your safety, but I go to great lengths to ensure your safety as best I can. To a great extent I am your lifeline.
Now that you know what my commitment is to your safety, imagine what is going through my head when you are more than 4 hours later than all the other boats in your division and I cannot make contact with you by radio. At this point, I have no choice but to advise the CG and the YRA that you are unaccounted for. I provide the CG with details of your boat(s) including sail number, they then advise all commercial traffic to be on watch for you. The CG is also gearing up their search and rescue teams so that they are ready for deployment if necessary. I am calling the harbormaster at the marina you keep your boat in to see if you have returned. And yesterday, knowing one of you just purchased your boat recently, I called the previous owner of the boat who was racing also, to see if he had heard from you.
All you had to do yesterday was to call me on the radio and let me know you had decided to retire or that you weren’t actually going to race and started outside the start line intentionally. By not being courteous enough (let alone not following the rules) you set in motion all that I mentioned above needlessly. I’m sure it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you or maybe you’re not concerned with your safety, but we are.
What if there was another boat that really was in trouble. Would we have been able to respond in time, when we’re preparing for the worst with you because we haven’t heard from you? How would you feel knowing if someone else had died out there because we committed rescue assets to you, thereby preventing us from responding to them in time?
If you are not going to race, but just sail the course, starting outside the starting line is great, but as a courtesy to me and the rest of the race committee you should advise me of your intentions. Understand too, that if you’re not going to race, but still sail the course I am still going to watch out for your safety and you should still be checking in with me.
I have been managing ocean races for the YRA since 1994. In that time I have had the misfortune of having tragic deaths occur on two different ocean races. I do not make assumptions that you are probably okay. If you are unaccounted for I begin the search process immediately, period.
To refresh your memories:
The sailing instructions require you to monitor the assigned VHF channel during the race.
The FCC requires by law if you have a VHF radio on your boat, that you must monitor channel 16 at all times.
The sailing instructions require you to notify the race committee at the time you retire, not after you have put your boat back in her slip hours later.
These are not fun sails on the local pond; this is open ocean racing. The dynamics of the open ocean are much greater than the energy inside the bay. As much research as I do, I still cannot predict a rogue wave or other conditions not accounted for in the weather models, yet I am still responsible for your safety. The very least you can do is to keep the race committee informed of your actions in a timely manner.
I hope I have successfully communicated my concerns. You may think I’ve gone a little overboard, but remember I’m looking out for you safety. Work with me, please.