When do you call off the race?

It was a stunning still winter’s morning. Once the frost melted, the day warmed up nicely. Not a breath of wind, and clear bright blue skies for as far as the eye could see.

We are mid way through the winter series, which for the last three Sunday’s has involved floating around the harbour at the mercy of the tide, waiting for the slightest breath of wind to at least allow the boats to cross the start line. Today looked like it was going to be a similar scenario…

Naval Point Club Lyttelton

Winter Series Racing

However, as every good boatie knows, you must always check the forecast before you head out.

Here is what it said:

Gale warning.
Sunday : Southwest 10 knots rising to 20 knots early this afternoon, and to 30 knots gusting 45 knots this evening. Sea becoming rough this evening. Fair visibility in a few afternoon and evening showers.

The race was due to start at 1.00pm, finishing around 3pm.

“Don’t make the decision too early!” Some sailors had commented in the past.

What call would you make?

At 10.00am, I got the message advising that the race officer had called off the race. So I got to work, sending an email to all the members, advising my crew, putting a notice with a link to the forecast on the club’s Facebook page, texting everyone I had phone numbers for asking them to spread the word. Advising the bar & kitchen staff that they wouldn’t be required. Contacting the volunteers and letting them know too.

At 12.30 there were some light wispy clouds far away in the distance, but at 1.30, the day was still calm, sunny and still.

Other than the forecast, the best indication are the ominous clouds brewing on the hill tops to the South. This is a pretty good sign that you are about to get hammered.

Southerly on the way

But still even by 2.30, the Southerly hadn’t arrived.

Being a race officer making this kind of call must be a tough job. Yes it is ultimately the skipper’s decision to participate in any race. We always have the forecast clearly displayed where people enter so they can form their own opinion of the conditions.

However we also have staff and volunteers whom the club does have an obligation to in regards to health and safety. Many of the boats that race are trailer yachts, and the rescue boats have to be launched from our lovely boat ramp which is fine in all conditions except for Southerlies. We sadly don’t have any safe places to shelter in a Southerly storm.

This is what the boat ramp looks like in a Southerly…

Naval Point Boat Ramp in a Storm

So I sit here at home typing this post, wondering what responses to my email this morning are sitting in my inbox in the office. Yes perhaps the boats could have been sitting like ducks in the harbour today again after all.

But finally at 3.07pm the storm hit. Going from no wind to over 40kts in just a matter of minutes.


What if the race did go ahead, and boats were damaged, or sailors injured? What if one of the club rescue boat volunteers was hurt trying to help someone? Who is then at fault? Is it worth the risk for what is supposed to be a fun recreational activity?

As a race officer would you rather be mocked for erring on the side of caution, or instead perhaps facing a coroner having to justify your reasons for not calling off the race?

I don’t have the answers. Perhaps there is some truth to the saying “You are damned if you do and you are damned if you don’t”

Either way, I’m glad we didn’t go out sailing. It is not much fun trying to row back to shore in a very low freeboard famous dinghy in any kind of waves. And I had a lovely walk on the beach and got some gardening done instead!



10 thoughts on “When do you call off the race?

  1. Good call Viki, better to be safe than sorry. The guys here had a big headache with the recent start of the Fremantle to Bali race. It was planned to Start on Saturday with a big fanfare and VIPs as well as getting customs clearance for the fleet. With a big storm forecast, the start was postponed until Monday.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Generally I believe the limit is 28 knots mean wind to call off a race so this is well withing the limits. Personally I would of called it off too, mainly because Southerleys can be early and it would be carnage at trying to retrieve trailer yachts in those conditions, plus its a strengthing Southerley not just a quick sharp snap. Its dangerous getting a keeler back on a mooring and returning in a dinghy too, Also have to remember that although I am quite happy with a tri-sail up in 40+ knots on Good Point I would not be happy if I was in a dinghy, at 3pm today I radio’ed the coastguard about a dinghy that had capsized 6 times trying to return to the Naval Point today, they must of been exhausted, coastguard was watching them and went to their assistance….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad the Coastguard were there to help! Perhaps they hadn’t seen the forecast of the ominous clouds? I agree with you Dudley, if we had a better protected launching ramp and a marina where we didn’t have to jump in the dinghy afterwards, then perhaps we would be able to make a different call with these kinds of forecasts!


  3. Good call. I’ve been on the ramp when a southerly has hit and have witnessed the stampede of yachts back to safety. I’ve seen a P-class hit by a large trailer sailor who was intent on getting to shore at all costs. If it wasnt for the quick reaction of a rescue boat that boy would have been under the hull. Safety first. There will always be other days to go sailing.


  4. Your post reminds me of the recent Dauphin Island Regatta here in the south (south USA, Mobile Bay, AL), where they didn’t call the race to disastrous results. Six people died. Glad your club made a different decision. Indeed, safety first, always.


  5. Pingback: The Windless Winter | Astrolabe Sailing

  6. Pingback: Accidents Will Happen | Astrolabe Sailing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.