Committee Boat

Most races are volunteer-run, cooperative, endeavours, especially if they’re a “series” like most clubs put on. For instance, we’re taking part in the racing series that happen every Tuesday night at our yacht club. It’s basically a bunch of boats of all shapes and sizes getting out and working on our skills and having a friendly rivalry while still having some level of formalism. As a result, each race, one boat is appointed the “Committee Boat” which basically means you set out the starting line and starts the other boats, and then watch them sail off while you wait for them to return so that you can get their elapsed time, start-to-finish, hand that over to the race chairman to do some black magic voodoo computer program stuff that takes into account handicaps for different size/makes of boats and comes out with winners in different divisions.

This week was Opus’ turn to be committee boat.

The wind predictions were anywhere from 6 knots to 30 knots. In other words, we had no idea what was going to be happening out there and were not looking forward to bouncing and rolling at anchor while the other boats hared off on the same course that we had sailed the previous week, but responsibilities are responsibilities.

1/2 the crew had called in with unable to attend, so we were down to three people aboard this week too, however it doesn’t require a full crew to hang onto an anchor and watch other sail boats, so it worked out well.

The starting line is marked by a float that is dropped by the committee boat at one end, and the committee boat itself at the other end, usually the “starboard” end of the start line is the committee boat. The line has to be long enough to give sailboats a chance to pass it more or less en masse.

Opus motored out after collecting the “stuff” from the race chairman (float, placards, etc.). Our usual helmsman was one of those that had called in to be absent, so it provided an opportunity to give others a chance at the helm. We dropped the float, backed off a bit and dropped our own anchor, paid out line, “set” the anchor, hung a red “5” on our port side (that tells the other boats that the course is out marker #5 and the red means you must keep that marker on the PORT side as you round the mark), made sure we had our timer set, flags ready and waited. At 18:54 we made our first “recall” sound as a courtesy (as per the suggestion of the race chairman. 18:55 was the “CLASS” flag going up and short sound. At this point boats should have their engines off and be purely under sail. 18:56, the PREPARE flag goes up with another short sound. This means all boats that are not in the class about to start should stay clear of the start area and gives the racing boats a second chance to synchronize their start timers to the official one. 18:59 and the PREPARE flag comes down with a LONG sound signal signifying one minute before start. At 19:00 the last flag comes down, a short sound signal is made, and the race is on! As we approach 19:00, our job is to keep a sight down the starting line for any boats crossing early, which none did for this start (technically, the start line goes from the float, to the mast of the committee boat, so you sight down that line).

About 5 minutes after the boats had started, there’s another sailboat frantically putting up their sails while motoring towards us. It’s another competitor there late. They got their sails up, engine off, crossed the start line, and were off chasing the others.

The winds were up, though nowhere near 30 knots and were the sort of conditions that were just made for Opus. It was doubly painful watching the other boats sail away. We hunkered down to wait, weathered a light rain shower, and watched. at around 20:39, the first boat back crossed the finish line (same as the start line, but in the other direction), to be greeted with a sound signal to signify official end of the race for them. 3 minutes later the second boat crossed the line. These were the only two boats from Opus’ division that were racing. The last boat crossed about 1/2 an hour later.

We took down the information of each boat as they crossed – name of boat, elapsed time – in an email, then it was time to pull up anchor, motor over to the float, pull it up, and head for home. Arriving home, secured, crew brought the supplies back to the shed, we cleaned up, and all headed home.

For acting as committee boat, we get our “average” number of points from previous races added into our cumulative score. in this case, that actually hurt us. If we had raced, the minimum points we would have gotten was 0.33 points but acting as committee boat, we only got 0.28 points. Hey, that 0.05 points might make a difference!

Well, mathematically, it might. In reality, it won’t.

And did I mention that I lost my hat overboard? Darn, I really liked that hat too.

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