US SAILING Communications Manager
Race Admin Road Trip
A Day in the Life of a US SAILING Certified Race Official
by Chris Petracco
Follow US SAILING Race Administration Manager, Chris Petracco, at the 2010 Intercollegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) Team Racing National Championship in Madison, Wisc. Chris shares his experiences and lessons learned, from start to finish, as part of the umpire team. If you have ever considered becoming a race official, his account is a practical and realistic expectation of a day-in-the-life of a certified race official.
The flight to Madison, Wisconsin for the 2010 ICSA Spring Nationals was quick and easy. A direct flight, and no delays, is always welcome. Nationals, hosted by the University of Wisconsin Sailing Team in conjunction with the Hoofer Sailing Club and the Wisconsin Union created a great combination for the three spring nationals (women’s, team racing, & co-ed). The women’s nationals were just finishing up on Lake Mendota and a few thousand people had already started their holiday weekend on the Memorial Union’s terrace.
So why am I at Wisco? To be part of the umpire team for the ICSA Team Race Nationals. We have 18 umpires travelling in from all over the U.S. to work the regatta… And even one Canadian.
After arriving and surveying the scene, the first to do is to check into the regatta housing. We are assigned to conference housing. After an initial local meal at State Street Brats (brats, cheese curds and a local libation) with Charlie Arms (Cal-Maritime) and Katie Maxim (St. Mary’s), I turn in and again review the ISAF Team Racing Call Book and regatta sailing instructions.
Saturday morning is an umpire meeting and then a competitor’s briefing. The regatta will be umpired with three boats on every race. Each boat has two umpires totaling six umpires per race. With three races per flight we have a full crew! While umpiring a race, umpires conduct in role play. This allows us to put ourselves in the position of the sailors; acting as if we are actually on the boats sailing. This is why I spend time reviewing the ISAF Team Race Call Book. To make fair calls, an umpire must understand the moves and plays that are being executed by the sailors. The Chief Umpire (“ChUmp”) for the regatta is Bryan McDonald (Cal). If you do not know Bry, well… it is always a treat. The day always starts with a bit of juggling, not schedules or assignments, but actual juggling. That’s what Bry does…
The rest of the team is filled out with some of the best team racing umpires in the world. There are also a number of individuals that are working towards umpire certification and some that are rather new to umpiring, but good team racers and sailors. The ability to learn and work with the best umpires is important for the growth of the umpire corps. This is on-the-job training.
A regatta that is sailed under Racing Rules Appendix C (Match Racing) or D (Team Racing) and is using umpires, adds a considerable amount of overhead to a regatta organizer. A fleet racing regatta can be run with a handful of individuals: the race committee, a few judges, on-land organizers, etc. When you race under a system that uses umpires, you will be adding more people. It does not end here. Lunches, umpire boats, and housing are all required. These umpires provide extra organization for the event host, and for quality and fair team racing.
Umpire teams are a pretty resourceful group. We can figure out the food and housing if need be. However, we can’t all bring our own boats so the event organizers must be able to supply enough boats for those doing course work as well as umpires. With three boats per race, Wisco needed to find and supply nine boats to the umpire team. This can be a stretch for any sailing program. Using the resources of the greater Madison sailing community, a very nice flotilla was assembled. Boats that run and run well are so critical to the success of the regatta. This includes the right size boat and good ergonomics for the boat driver. Umpires are going to be on the water and in the boats all day. I would like to personally thank Mr. Peter Harken for the left hand throttle, blue RIB.
Steven Wolff (Yale) was responsible for the umpire pairings and worked to make sure each race had a strong team of umpires. This requires balancing each flight with the right mix of experienced and less experienced umpires. What it also means is that you may be teaching or you may be learning. Steve performs this duty well. Each group of umpires has its own Race “ChUmp” and Race Protest Chair.
When a competitor flags for a call when they believe a rule was broken, umpires respond in one of three ways in college sailing… 1) Upon reviewing the situation and deciding a rule has not been broken, a green flag is flown and no penalty is given out… 2) If we decide that a rule was broken, a red flag is flown and a penalty is given to the violator… 3) The third outcome in college sailing allows for a yellow flag to be flown by an umpire if he or she cannot make a call, and then a protest hearing is held.
The actual umpiring of the nationals went well. Did anything standout? One race was abandoned after finishing. This resulted in a re-sail and a different winner from the abandoned race. There were also a number of rule 42 calls (Propulsion) that resulted in position changes, and turned winning combinations into losing ones throughout the regatta. A rule 42 call at the start of the Boston College vs. Georgetown final race essentially determined the outcome of the race and the overall results.
Another yellow flag hearing was reopened when new evidence was provided by the protester. While the protest committee agreed that the new evidence was significant, the video shown was inconclusive to change the results of the hearing. The important lesson here is any protest hearing or umpire call can be a learning experience for all involved.
With three boats per race, the umpire team kept busy even as the teams racing rotated in and out. No breaks for the umpires. The second day of racing brought what now has been termed, “Big Monday.” We umpired from 9 am until close to 8 pm. To say the least, it was a long day. But being in Wisconsin brought a special treat… Brats delivered on the water. I don’t think a brat has ever been considered brain food, but it made for a nice snack to help finish out the day.
This long day allowed the consolation round to be completed. This allowed more racing for teams who did not qualify for the gold round. In the format of college sailing, the ability to give teams as much racing as possible is highly desirable, even if they are knocked out of contention for the championship.
The final championship round consisted of St. Mary’s, Boston College, Georgetown, and the College of Charleston. The racing was tight, the wind light and the umpire team was prepared and did its job. In the end, this is not about the umpires, it is about the young men and women who are sailing and representing their schools. It is about the depth and talent of collegiate sailing. St. Mary’s Seahawks won the title, but each and every team that attended or Wisco volunteer that helped make this regatta a success, can be proud of the part they played. For the umpire team, we all had a great time and will be visiting again.
And now a small pitch - if you are interested in becoming an umpire, or building team racing in your area, contact me in the Race Administration office at US SAILING and we will point you in the right direction.
About US SAILING
The United States Sailing Association (US SAILING) is the national governing body for sailing. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the organization provides leadership for the sport of sailing in the United States. US SAILING offers training and education programs for instructors and race officials, supports a wide range of sailing organizations and communities, issues offshore rating certificates, and provides administration and oversight of competitive sailing across the country, including National Championships and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Teams. For more information, please visit www.ussailing.org.