The Trials of a Race Officer – JD Miles

The Ramblings of the Assistant Race officer for the Blaze National Championships...

The Blaze National Championships took place at my local club, North Devon Yacht Club, in Instow, on the 8th-10th June, 2018, and I was appointed to assist the highly experienced Ian Bullock, a RYA National Race Officer with bundles of experience for the duration of the Championships.

To ensure NDYC offered the very best assistance and support for the Blaze fleet, we assembled our ‘A team’ of enthusiastic volunteers on the Race Support, Patrol Boat and Beach teams!

We promised the Blaze fleet that the wind always blows at NDYC. So, even with a summer ‘high’ sitting over much of the UK, a fleet of 50 Blazes battled the busy roads and holiday traffic to find their way to the North Devon coast.

Thursday evening arrived with registrations and GDPR opt-in certification. The race team were busy studying weather patterns. Easterly winds were forecast, combined with sea breezes from the W-NW – not good! But never fear, this is the North Coast of Devon and therefore the wind will blow!

So the big day dawned – Friday morning – sunshine – Cloud – no water – and no wind. However the locals among us weren’t worried. ‘Just wait, the wind will come with the tide!’ And anyway, the visitors needed to see where the sand banks and rocks were before going afloat. The full race team assembled for a briefing with the Headman, Ian. Race procedures and plans were discussed and duties allocated. Alright, here we go…

The start time approached, Ian expertly guided the committee boat skipper to the preferred race area and the fleet were instructed to get afloat. Instow beach, where all the boats had assembled, is opposite the Appledore shore giving a 10-15 min sail to the start area down wind in 4-5kn wind… 4-5 kn?? Surely we will see more than that in North Devon! Thankfully, the cloud cover hung around long enough to stop the NW sea breeze killing the race.

A triangle course was set to avoid rocks before high tide on the North Shore.

Look at www.tracace.co.uk to find the race tracks and replays.

49 Blazes made it to the start of Race 1. It was surely wonderful sight for the tourists on the quayside as a mass of red sails meandered across the scenic estuary.

BANG! The 5-minute gun boomed from the committee boat. Oh no, the poor RO was covered in debris from the deck cannon, and the sailor’s ears were ringing. It was the first time the crew had worked together on the committee boat, but all was fairly calm and efficient. The sailors, who had been warned they were starting with a 1-2 kn tide under them, were not so calm. BANG, BANG – general recall. Now going deaf, the sailors started to learn, but on the second attempt, with Uniform flag flying, still 4 boats were early starters receiving UFD (go look it up!). Finally though, the race was away and the twin objectives of a fair start, and even split on the beat were achieved.

No time for self congratulation, that was only race 1 and we had 2 more to get into the tidal window. So, fast turnaround – orange flag up – 10 min, Blaze flag, BANG! 5 min, 1 min, commentary recorded on any boats approaching the line (U flying). BANG – start and a good one! Slack water and almost all spread evenly down the line, 2m back – A RO’s dream! With the square course set, and the 5-6kn wind still present, a happy fleet headed off for race 2.

Race 3 was set as a sausage course with a leward gate. This would challenge the sailors into making a good decision with regards to tide and wind strength.

Start 3 was a real mental challenge for the sailors too. What goes up must come down, and that very much applies to the North Devon tide, which is the 3rd largest in the country. Now the water was flowing out of the estuary, but most competitors failed to make the adjustment. The start was, shall we say interesting, with most of the fleet allowing for tide under them. BANG! The start gun boomed once more, yet the line was hardly busy… in fact many of the boats were nowhere near the line! This might’ve been one of the worst starts yet, with some competitors taking 2 minutes to cross the start line! I’ll admit, we were watching the clock closely with a 4-minute limit set! So ended day 1.

That meant that in the first day of the Championships, the mark layers laid 3 different courses and ran 3 races in 3 hours – 3 is the magic number. A superb effort all around.

Day 2 was different – the wind started easterly, then sea breeze, westerly, northerly, NE …. Variable 1-6kn. The committee boat used every inch of the sailing area, courses were laid, mark handlers all over the place and after 2 or more hours finally we had a course and a race. It was a tough day in the heat, time to hit the clubhouse and a beer for all!

Day 3 – sea breeze! But not much. This time Ian headed the narrower estuary entrance. With 10-12 kn, the wind looked good but the tide was strong. BANG!!! Spectators on the beach took cover and the race was off, most taking a hard right off the committee boat seeking shelter from the tide. Local sailor Eric Evans took the pin end and hard left with 4-5 others. It was the right way to go with Eric taking pole position at the windward mark. Now the sailors had a real tidal challenge – left or right? The fleet split and the result was a good, close hiking race for all.

We had time for one last race… just. With a cut off time of 15.30 (warning signal) the race got underway with 5 minutes to spare - no time for a recall. We had 2 crew calling line calling plus 2 video cameras and a support boat calling the pin end. This had to go first time… No worries, the fleet were finally behaving!

The race however was full of wind holes and Flag N was at the ready but it stayed fair and even, so we eeked out 6 of the 8 scheduled races. Hopefully all were happy and the race crews and support boats returned to base, now a slick and well practiced team. Flags, guns, pin moving, new courses – we can take on any challenge! The A Team are now a fully qualified A+ team. Well done all.

Check out the Sailing Southwest website for race reports, photos, videos and more…

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