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Tips for Running a Summer Pursuit Race

So, you have the task of Race Officer for a summer Pursuit race at your club. These are fun races for all competitors and clubs should be encouraged to run summer pursuit races where possible, but they can put a real stain on the Race Team. Let’s take a look at a few key areas to make this more enjoyable for all…

Gul Wrecker Pursuit, 2017

Planning – Make your decision on race duration by considering how long the race should be for the slowest boats. Typically this might be a 2-hour race but often longer. If you are in tidal waters, do try to run the race over high water to give the slower boats a chance. A long beat off the start against the strongest tide will kill any opportunity for slow boats. Consider a downwind or down tide start to let them get away, after all, there will be only a few boats on the line at any one start.

Use the RYA pursuit race start time calculator to help set all the start times. This is easy to do, so you can clearly show each class start time before the race. Be clear to the competitors how you signal their start time – when their minute is signalled or removed?

The Start - Decide how to signal start times. We use a 5,4,1,Go for the first start then count up minutes on a display, with the boats starting as their minute time is displayed.

The race course should be fair for all. Some beats, reaches both wide and narrow to suit asymmetric as well as symmetric spinnaker boats and una-rigs! Use several turning marks to make finishing easier but consider the number of laps expected to be completed – you will have to monitor the laps as fast boats un-lap themselves.

Sutton Bingham Icicle - Phantom Start, 2018

Now the finish – this is the really interesting part, and how it goes will depend on your resources and ability of the race team. At the finish time, the fleet will be compacting so how do you know who has won, or more likely, sort out lower / mid fleet positions. It must be made clear how you will finish boats at the briefing and also outline your contingency plans if the patrol boats you expect to use are tied up in rescues.

I do not like telling all boats to sail to the next buoy – whatever you say about keeping station – they will NOT. This extends the race and gives faster boats an advantage.

I favour following the leader with a patrol boat and on the gun finish him and use the patrol boat to travel in reverse order down the fleet recording finishing positions. You can station patrol boats on buoys also recording positions as the mid fleet rounds the next buoy. This will give a pretty fair result. Remember waterproof pens and pencils in all support boats!

The fastest and most accurate way to finish a pursuit race is to use GPS trackers on each boat. With our new system, TRACACE™, using trackers for club racing isn’t as expensive as you might think and it really takes the pressure off the race team to nail the finish on their first and only go. Trust me, having the option to go ashore to watch a replay of the finish is just so invaluable for a pursuit race, and it also resolves any potential ‘disagreement’ between yourself and the competitors!

Starcross Steamer - Merlin Rocket Start, 2018

A word on results – it is key that the RO keeps a very close eye on laps completed by each boat, as this is a common mistake made as faster boats fly through the field to unlap themselves. Again, GPS trackers are game changers here, as all this is done for you – what a bonus!

What the trackers cannot be relied upon to do is make the very close call between two boats on different tacks or downwind angles. Trackers will help and suggest a result, but the RO has to see the action on the water and confirm his interpretation of the order. So, if you are using trackers, pay particular attention to the close order finishers, and use a mobile voice recorder or phone to record your thoughts as you see them.

Rescue boat crew at Starcross Steamer 2017

Finally, have a contingency plan - Brief competitors on what to do if all patrol boats are busy with rescue activities at the finish. The obvious method - make sure they check and remember who was in front and behind them when the finish gun goes! Again – GPS trackers will solve this issue.

Remember, pursuit racing should be fun for you as well as the competitors. Enjoy the summer regattas and as always, get in touch if Sailing Southwest can help with any advice in general or questions about TRACACE™ GPS Boat Tracking.

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