I am compiling a booklet that I hope will be helpful for people who want to run sailboat races. It will be tentatively titled "Essays in Race Management: Sea Stories for Race Officers". One section will be subtitled "Learning From Mistakes", which comes out of an Advanced Race Management seminar where the participants were asked the question “What is the worst mistake you’ve made while running a sailboat race?” That question has stuck with me as I am a firm believer in the maxim that we learn more from our mistakes than we do when everything goes smoothly. We all make mistakes - goodness knows there are a thousand ways for a race officer to screw up on a race course. The important thing is to learn from the mistake and not repeat it; or, better yet, find a way to recover from the mistake so that the competitors are not disadvantaged.
So, herewith, is my biggest mistake. I hope that you will share yours and the lessons you learned from it and allow me to compile it in my booklet.
I was running a high school regatta a couple of years ago, and it was what is referred to as a Tier 3 event, which means that the teams racing were not attempting to qualify for any other event. As a consequence, things were a bit more relaxed and I was trying for a “kinder, gentler race committee” approach where we were responsive to the high schoolers’ questions and trying to not make the race committee as intimidating as it can be at times.
Prior to the start of the first race, before the sequence began (i. e. the boats were not racing at that point), a competitor sailed past the committee boat and asked, “Do we have to sail through the gate before finishing?” The course was set up as a windward/leeward with a windward mark, an offset mark and a gate above the start/finish line, which was directly below the gate. Wanting to be helpful to the young high school sailor, I very cavalierly replied “No, you don’t have to go through the gate before finishing. Of course, in spite of the fact that I had written the sailing instructions, I got it wrong. The sailing instructions very clearly showed that you had to go through the gate prior to finishing.
Then the inevitable happened: the competitor did not sail through the gate before finishing and was promptly protested by another boat. I had to go to the protest hearing and testify that it was my mistake that the competitor did not go through the gate. Redress was awarded to the competitor and they were allowed to retain their finishing position.
Talk about egg on your face. To this day my son, who is also a race officer, likes to remind me that I couldn’t remember the sailing instructions I had written.
Lesson learned: When asked a question about the sailing instructions, before answering, ALWAYS LOOK IT UP! A corollary to this is what judges learn: whenever a rule comes into play, always pull out the rule book and read the rule before answering.