mall cop

The Canadian ILCA National Championships were held this past weekend at the Buffalo Canoe Club.  There were 133 boats spread across the three classes. The winner in the 7’s was Norman Struthers from Royal Canadian YC.  The 6’s were won by Rory Walsh from Royal Vancouver YC, while Angus Beauregard from Hudson YC won the 4’s.   Full results here.

As an umpire, I wasn’t really in a position to watch the race, and no one really cared about who tacked on who and when.  Being an on-the-water umpire for the first time gave me an interesting perspective on some things that happened behind the scenes.  Generally, the regatta had a great vibe, and the talent level for the vast majority of this fleet is exceptionally high. 

The 7 fleet was loaded with talent including six former Olympians.  Oscar Johansson, CAN 2004 and 2008 Tornado.  Chris Cook, CAN 2008 Finn.  Greg Douglas BAR 2008 Laser and CAN 2012 Finn, Bernard Luttmer CAN 2004, Rob Crane USA 2012 Laser, and Lynne Jewell Shore USA 1988 470.  

The Canoe Club has a long history of running major championships for Lightnings, FD’s, Sharks, Sunfish and most relevant for the ILCA, the  300+ boat 2002 Laser Radial Worlds. When Regatta chair David Starck asks me to help with something, I usually just say “When am I supposed to show up?” because I know anything that David runs will be very well organized and fun.  He’s obviously a great sailor, and more importantly, he has superior leadership skills that benefit the sport. 

As it happens, he’s about to become the President of the Lightning class. As usual, he assembled a great team of well over 50 volunteers, many of them North American or World Champions, or otherwise excellent sailors, who worked their butts off, especially the scorekeepers who had to sort out colossal jam-ups at the finish on a couple of races.  It’s what happens when the best-laid plans go sideways when one fleet as three general recalls, everyone compressed at the finish line, like literally 100+ boats finishing in giant clumps within moments of each other.

I have been involved in various aspects of race administration for more decades than I care to admit.  I was very active within USYRU/US Sailing when all the match race umpiring rules and procedures were being formed, and I’ve been around match racing a long time.  While I had never sailed in an umpired fleeted regatta, I have sailed in enough umpired match races to I know the general process from both sides of the umpire boat. 

My concern about being a first-time umpire was because I really do not know the tendencies of Laser sailors, and the edge to where the rule gets applied. David got Lightning and Snipe sailor Darryl Waskow to be Chief Umpire/Jury Chair, along with Dale King, and Katie Coleman Nicoll so I was always paired with an experienced umpire. Among this group of very experienced umpires, I felt like a mall cop.

At our first umpire meeting, Katie stressed the fact when it gets light you have to stop the rocking very early, otherwise it turns into a rockfest very quickly. Living and sailing in Toronto and judging a lot of major events all over Canada, she knew the tendencies of the fleet very well.  

The wind on Friday was one of those “it’s never like this here” days, an atypical light northerly with overcast conditions.  Two races got off in challenging, but raceable conditions.  I was paired with Katie who I have known almost my whole life.  As a young sailor at the Canoe Club, you are taught very early about rules compliance, respect for race officials and the consequences of not playing by the rules so I had a pretty good idea how tightly she would call things. 

Race 3 in the 7’s turned to crap after a couple of legs.  It got very light, basically a drifting match.  True to Katie’s predictions, things went rocky very fast.  We had thrown a few flags earlier in the day, but this condition was now extreme light air.  One guy was seriously frustrated, he was venting to anyone who wanted to listen, (and we really didn’t have a choice), about how lousy the sailing was.

We’ve all been there, and having the wind shut off just a bit before the finish line is frustrating for the race committee as much as it is the sailors.  As his voice level increased, so did his rocking, then it got the point it was clear he was breaking the rules, so we flew the flag.  F bombs rained down.  Katie and I looked at each other, and discussed a Rule 69, but both agreed to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, because he never said “you fucking suck” to us, it was more a “fuck the situation” thing, but it wasn’t cool for anyone.  That was the low point of the regatta in terms of behavior.

But then an interesting thing happened. Suddenly, one boat that was probably 200 yards behind us started screaming “THAT’S NOT SAILING”.  It sounded as if they were trying to get us to throw a flag, not realizing we already had, and we were trying to defuse the situation.  It was heartening to see that level of desire for rule 42 compliance by other competitors. It was not a lone voice, there were many. – Peter Huston.

Part 2 tomorrow.