28 races? no freaking way!
As usual we stayed with the host school’s team captain. It was partly because of the carpeting and couches abound, and partly because our varsity skippers have an undeniable bromance with one another. After emerging from our minivan with the grace of clowns piling out of a clown car, we moved our things inside.
In the kitchen, our host Ben* admits that the regatta was still lacking a race committee. It is important to note that Ben, this being said with total affection, has many mannerisms akin to a seagull. He often makes wild gestures, occasionally squawks, and he generally operates at a louder volume than most. Competing against his energetic yet laid back attitude is always fun and his endless supply of humor is welcomed on and off the water.
As the smallest district in the ICSA we are all close; sometimes you forget you are on a different team than your friends. When we travel out of district we tend to resemble a pack, hurtling down I-5 southbound in over-packed cars stoked to see the sun again.
Also, because we are so small, the district is only allotted two berths to Semi-final Nationals for the first and second place finishers at our qualifiers. In some years this has lead to drama and deep disappointment. It is a strange experience to see those that qualify looking as morose as those that don’t because their best friend/girlfriend/drinking partner didn’t make it.
This year however we were not even at that point yet and crossing our fingers we wouldn’t end up there. We started tossing out alumni and coaches who might be able to RC but the high school team race qualifier, Baldwin Cup, and general life commitments left few options.
Ben’s roommate kindly offered to blow some whistles for us, but it’s not in our nature to take a friend away from his snowshoeing adventure on Mt. Rainier, and declined his offer. We tucked ourselves in to bed to wait for what the morning would bring. Hopefully a race committee!
Morning came and we arrived at the venue a half an hour before report time, pleased to see a bit of breeze already on the water. With all the schools believed to be in attendance we went ahead and got started.
Ben welcomed us to Seattle with a whiteboard at his feet. Nearby a tent with a wonderful food spread was set up. Not for us though. The outriggers had a race that morning too and they seemed much better prepared.
Even though it was a little before the scheduled skippers meeting, plenty of familiar faces filled the crowd. Why not go ahead and get started? Before Ben could get into too much detail a few more sailors strolled up, the University of Victoria! How could we forget our favorite Canadians?! Finally, our entire district was gathered huddling in the cold Seattle spring as usual.
The skippers meeting didn’t take very long at all. First start in an hour, a few last minute UW alumni volunteers would serve as the race committee, we would attempt to do two round robins, etc.
One of the highlights was definitely the whiteboard at Ben’s feet. Upon closer inspection it had two charts explaining the rotation schedule on it for each A and B division. And although the homemade rotation was impressive the courses we would be sailing definitely outshone it.
Course 1: Start, Windward, Leeward (important note: the leeward mark is also the pin of the start line), Windward, Downwind finish. This would be marked by a green flag that they would use to sight.
Course 2: Start, Windward, Leeward (PIN), and finish upwind. This would be marked by a red flag that they would use to sight.
Pretty straightforward. Yes, we could race with these courses. One of the unique characteristics about this venue is a blue buoy located just next to one of the speed buoys. It is an unassuming buoy except for the fact that at the bottom of it is a keg. Leftover from an infamous party, they attached a mark to it and created a permanent buoy that works perfectly as a windward mark for one of the more consistent wind directions. It has always been difficult to decide whether this was a work of genius or just an unusually successful drunken notion.
Wow, it had almost all come together: race committee, sailors, a course and a rotation. As the meeting wrapped up Ben paused and then asked, “Do we need an ICSA rep? I think we might.” Someone in the crowd hollered, “I don’t know do we Mr. President?!” Much needed laughter at 9:30am ensued you would hope the district president would know one way or the other.
Ben looked over to the PSU coach and asked “Would you mind doing that?” As the rest of us chuckled Sean* agreed. Ben continued, “It’s just for a name right? Ok, if you have any issues go to Sean, except not.”
The day continued in a similar fashion, somehow avoiding many pitfalls and chaotic happenings as they presented themselves. Racing began as planned and we quickly worked our way through several sets. During one of the A division races we noticed the finish boat tie up to the blue permanent buoy. This was confusing; they had been using that buoy as the pin end of the finish line. Where was the fleet supposed to finish?
With a laugh my skipper Ed pointed, “They’re using the 5kt buoy.” Sure enough, he was right. The boats finished between the mark with a keg for an anchor and the orange and white speed buoy. Resourceful.
As we continued rotating and were only a few sets away from completing the first round robin, it began to occur to us all that two round robins was absolutely absurd. 28 races per division? In a weekend? At a collegiate regatta? No freaking way.
During one off rotations our captain talked to Ben about stopping after the first round robin. Once they managed to completely confuse themselves about how many races there should be in a round robin with seven teams (7 sets, 14 races per division, 28 races total) we all agreed one round robin would suffice. Even if we had to sail late to finish it all today, we were down.
Being vocal with the RC was not a problem, as most of us knew the volunteers pretty well. When a sequence was started without the course flag up Ed didn’t hesitate to point it out. One of the girls in the RC boat picked up the red flag and began putting it in the bundle of lines that held it up. “Is that the right flag?” Ed asked. Bob looked at it and calmly said, “Nope.” We laughed as she switched it and put the green flag up instead. There, that was better.
At about 1:40 in one of our starting sequences the RC seemed to be about 20 seconds off on their whistles. Ed and I are meticulous about keeping time and said something. The RC, Bob* who had just graduated a couple of years ago hollered back, “Adapt!” Ed replied “Okay!” and hit sync on his watch as they blew a minute. No one else seemed to mind, and the race started without a hitch
“A” division seemed to be taking a similar approach. As our captain sailed by he off-handedly might comment, “The pin is really favored right now.” A few minutes later the line would be square. Ben also gave the RC some queues from his boat. Every RC has to start somewhere, and with some very experienced sailors on the water there wasn’t any reason to not listen to them.
At about 6:00pm B division was back on the water. The wind had shifted from the southeast to the southwest and the race committee had to reset the course. All day it had been shifty and puffy with crews going from countering the skipper’s weight to fully hiking out in some puffs. By now it the breeze almost seemed to die off, but it was known to come back up.
We completed the first race of the set and the breeze died down again. My skipper Ed was worried that it was going to shut off completely and we’d have to come back in the morning for just a few races.
I had read in the forecast that there was supposed to be breeze that night and more wind tomorrow. After telling him that he said, “Ok, we’ll just have to wait it out.”
Not even two minutes later Bob, picked up the megaphone and said the words most people long to hear “That’s it for today guys, go on in.”
Immediately, Ed and I sailed over. “Let’s finish it Bob, the wind is suppose to come back up, let’s just wait it out.” We hailed the other boats to stay out.
Bob was holding the radio in his hand, hesitating. We persisted, “Let’s just get it all done, everyone on shore wants to.”
He nodded, “I don’t really want to come back here tomorrow either. I wanted to run four B division races in a row but Ben said not to.”
“Radio him back, we’ll rotate on the water, just get it done.” Said Ed. With that it was decided We sailed our last three races in shifty variable wind but there was breeze and for the most part the course was true on the upwinds and downwinds.
As we sailed in A division rushed to rotate and get their set done as well.
After we changed I sat with some Western Washington sailors on a bench overlooking the racecourse. The races looked slow and the conditions frustrating but everyone was determined. The top finishers had already been decided with the University of Oregon maintaining a lead in first and Western Washington placing a comfortable gap between them and UW who finished in third.
The WWU team captain Bill* was sitting right next to me. After watching a little bit of the race he commented, “Think about the last race in everyone else’s quals right now. This has got to be the chillest.”
In one day we sailed perhaps the most important regatta in our district. There were no protests filed, no issues with scoring, and no drama. The spontaneity, casualness, and fun of this event were everything I love about the NW district and the perfect example of NW sailing. There is still an edge of competitiveness and drive that we take into every event but here amongst our friends we seem to find a good balance and all together run a good regatta.
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty. – Anarchist Karen.