A View from the Committee Boat in Annapolis!
This is the time of year when we’re starting to have windsurfing events coast to coast every week, and while most of the attention goes to the action on the water, it’s important to remember that none of it would take place without the hard work and dedication of our friends on race committee duty. Often overlooked, the race committee is responsible for setting the tone for the event: they’re the guys organizing the ball, selecting the DJ, and making sure there’s enough quality punch for everyone! Jane Price gives us a view from the committee boat on Memorial Day Weekend at the Annapolis Windsurfing Festival.
By Jane A. Price
My name is Jane Price and I’m a new windsurfer – this summer is only my third summer in the sport! I grew up sailing though: I always had a Sunfish growing up, we lived on a lake, and I even went to a wonderful sailing camp on Cape Cod. My ‘Aha’ moment was about five years ago, when I traveled to San Francisco (our Sunfish was in the shop for repairs) and I saw people windsurfing in the Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge. Here was something that was exciting – and portable! I could fit it in my car and travel to lakes around Pennsylvania, where I live. I found out about BABA (the Baltimore Area Boardsailing Association), attended their learn-to-windsurf event, took some lessons, bought some old equipment to get started and I was hooked!
As a newbie, windsurfing is a big challenge for me. It’s a physical challenge, for sure, but it’s also a mental challenge: it’s not always easy to translate what an instructor is saying into action! I have to engage my brain and my body (I’m not at the point where I can simply rely on muscle memory) and this is precisely what makes it such a great hobby: it’s totally absorbing!
I’m making up for lost time: I take every opportunity to windsurf at Lakes Bay near Atlantic City (NJ), where I’m a member of the Lakes Bay Recreation Association (LBRA), and I’ve gone on many trips to Hatteras with the BABA group. I’m also a member the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater (WET) in the Newport News / Norfolk area (VA). There’s nothing like spending time with like-minded people and helping make the whole experience better for everyone. I’m slowly acquiring better gear too: so far this season, I’ve bought a new mast and an Exocet Nano 155!
How did I get hooked into race committee duty? Last year I had an extra week of vacation in the spring, so I volunteered at the U. S. Nationals in Yorktown, VA. I learned what to do with the race flags and horns from Ute Wells and Race Director Darren Rogers. That event had 120+ racers, several different classes of windsurfers and several different formats of racing, so it was a handful, but I was taught by the best! There was a lot of wind on Day 1, equipment was breaking, and it was difficult to spot the racers when they went down in the heavy chop. The start boat engine quit on us that morning too! We towed it to the start area, anchored it and didn’t find a minute to worry about it until all the races were done for the day at 4:30 p.m. Needless to say, we had a lot of adventures, and I learned much from watching my mentors on the race committee stay cool and composed through it all. I also learned much from watching people unload their gear, looking at how they stow it in their vans, how they rig, launch, and time their races. Even though I wasn’t racing at the event, I feel like my sailing improved that week.
I volunteered at the East Coast Championships later that season, and that takes us to this past Memorial Day weekend in Annapolis, where I was thrilled to volunteer at the inaugural Annapolis Windsurfing Festival (AWF). This was the first time that the local sailing club, Severn Sailing Association (SSA), hosted a windsurfing event, and it attracted 40+ racers! People traveled from as far away as Boston, Dallas and Orlando to participate. What a treat. With an equal number of competitors in each of the Raceboard, Kona and Windsurfer LT classes and a promising forecast for the weekend, the AWF was sure to be a big success, and it was! But as race committee, we still had to do our part and make all the right decisions.
It seems like the tasks of the race committee should be super simple: register the racers, convey the potential courses and number of laps, figure out who is in what class, study the evolving wind conditions, start the Ollie automated start machine, determine if anyone is over the line early (and, if so, recall them), track the start time of the race, count how many racers begin each race, start the next race, keep track of who finishes and in what order and in which class, time late finishers, etc. Simple enough, right? Well, in one race, we took a poll of the five of us on the start boat of how many people started that race and came up with five different counts!
What else might (and did) go wrong? Some racers had not checked in with the start boat but still raced; the leaders of one class regularly leapfrogged racers in the following classes; some racers were finishing right as the next race was starting (we were doing start and finish from the same boat); some left the course area without warning; some sails had no numbers; some had duplicate numbers; some sail numbers fell off and became new numbers; people switched up equipment between races and ended up sailing with other people’s rigs; some racers who had not started a race even managed to finish that race – how does that even happen?
The AWF was a windsurfing festival, open to all levels and even relative beginners. There were experienced racers who were positioned perfectly at the start line every single time, but also newer racers who hung back to stay out of the way or wiped out on the line under the pressure of the final countdown. It was great to see them all helping each other out throughout the event, and pointing out changes to the course to one another when we moved the buoys around. Our duty on the race committee was to keep things simple, run smooth races and keep track of everyone, and I think we did an awesome job!
Volunteering on a race committee is a great mix of many of my hobbies: it allows me to travel to new cities (I love traveling!) and to new windsurfing spots (even better!), take pictures from the best seat in the house, and there’s even some computer work involved in scoring the races. And with this article, a bit of writing too! I cannot even begin to list what I’ve gained from volunteering for race committees: learning the intricacies of the rules of sailing, how to set a course, how to manage the start sequence, water safety, handling power boats, etc. I’ve made many new friends at each race, shared homes, hotel rooms, Airbnbs, PB&Js, home-cooked meals, dinners out and great conversations. I’ve received many invitations to stay with people and join them to windsurf and sail at their home spot. Some of us are even planning to share a house in Bonaire this winter.
But as much as I love race committees, I don’t want to be seating on a boat all the time, so I plan to sail in a low-key race this summer. As I’ll be sitting out race committee that week, we’ll need new volunteers. I hope you will consider volunteering and I’ll see you on the start line!