In the tower is a new series of articles for members. In this series, we’ll highlight different aspects of race management. The series aims to be a teachable tool for racers and novice sailors to provide a better understanding of race management.

Before the new year, we interviewed race officer Ross Flood about his experience as a race officer. We thank Ross Flood for his dutiful service to our race management team and hope you enjoy this informative article.

Lily Robbins: For those unfamiliar, what is a race officer?

Ross Flood: The race officer is responsible for running a yacht race. You are responsible for the complete running of the race: selecting the course, starting procedure, managing the recording of the race and finishing procedure. We record the race to review intermediate times as boats around the mark at different times, and if the wind drops out for any reason in the middle of the race, we have a record up to a particular time to determine a winner.

LR: What do you do as a race officer?

RF: We follow the standard operation procedure [which can be found on our website: On water > Race Documents > Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) > Tower SOP]. The race officer is responsible for initiating the procedure. It’s important to inspect and monitor the wind with all the wind reports we can access from around the bay. Then, the race officer looks for yachts competing. The slowest boat determines the course length so everyone can get a fair chance to have a fair race. It’s disappointing if some boats miss out due to the time limits by bad course selection.

LR: What got you into race management and specifically being a race officer?

RF: I started by joining laid courses on William Patterson as a general helper and did a lot of the flag work. It was under instruction from Dennis Livingston that I progressed. I saw the opportunity to provide something back to members to take on duties and did a race officer course. From there, I started as Race Officer (RO) from the tower.

Then I started volunteering in a number of international competitions, such as Sail Melbourne. It was a great learning experience under international judges and race officers who managed races for the Olympic games. The level of professionalism was impressive. It encouraged me to run races in the most professional, experienced way possible.

The biggest difference I noticed between the international and club races was the laid marks on the water. They are very conscious of wind changes. With anything more than a 10 degrees shift, they change the course to ensure the beat to windward is 90 degrees to the wind. Course changes at quite common at that level. At RMYS, with a laid course, we are more relaxed. We’re not contemplating a wind change at 15-20 degrees. It needs to be permanent, not just oscillation that happens all the time when the wind swings.

LR: What do you enjoy about being a race officer?

RF: I enjoy the personal satisfaction of a concluded race with everyone having a chance at fair sailing and a pleasant day out on the water where conditions match their abilities.

LR: How did you get into race management?

RF: It started when I joined the Squadron in 2007 with Charlotte. I started racing with Charlotte and had the opportunity to race more with Dennis Livingstone. When I got into race management, it helped me learn the rules more. Race management is all about how you can improve your knowledge and your racing experience. A broader understanding of the rules and how the race is managed will vastly improve your experience as a competitor.

LR: Do you have any reflections on the recent races you’ve managed you’d like to share?

RF: There was a tower start race on a Saturday some time ago. The course selection was based on boat speed and included all directions of the wind, including all varieties of sailing forms for the competitors. That way, the race is fair competition for handicapping purposes. This ensures, especially with a beat to windward but also reach and direct or quartering, means the race includes tactics as to which course a competitor takes, and the race is an overall competition rather than a straight out drag race. A course without a beat to windward, one that only reaches from one side to the other, is purely a test of speed rather than a tactical decision as to which side of the course is favourable based on wind strength and direction. It creates additional challenges for competitors. The race that Saturday in the tower was nothing special in that the wind at the time was reasonably firm at the start, but the forecast was to ease, and that was a consideration in the course length chosen. I was able to observe that the wind easing would in fact, occur during the race. It eased more than the prediction, but everyone could finish within the time frame, and we had a fair race. That’s the prime driver for race officers, to ensure the course is fair.

For novices, here is a brief explanation of the varieties of sailing that make up a great overall competition:

  • Beat to windward: a sail from the starting point to a mark directly into the wind, which involves sailing on different tacks in a condition called sailing hard to windward, going as close to wind direction as possible in a port or starboard tack.
  • Reach: where you’re sailing generally at right angles to the wind. The wind is coming directly from your extreme right or extreme left. The wind direction is 90 degrees from the direction the boat is going.
  • Direct or quartering direction: Quartering is running downwind with the wind at 45 degrees to your stern, slightly behind you or just coming over your shoulder rather than direct, which means straight downwind where the wind is coming from behind.

Thank you for reading the first article in the In the tower, a new series of articles for members about race management. The series aims to be a teachable tool for racers and novice sailors to provide a better understanding of race management.

Interview by Ross Flood, the article was written by Lily Robbins, Communications Coordinator.