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…
However, as every good boatie knows, you must always check the forecast before you head out.
Here is what it said:
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.
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…
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!