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From the Protest Deck – Race Timing Niceties
December 30th, 2010 @ 11:16 PM EST by admin

by Douglas Creelman, Protest desk / Race committee

A recent ISAF Q&A reminded me of a practice we try to follow on Wednesday evenings, when starting races. Rule 26, which sets out the starting procedure, states that timing is to be taken from the display of visual signals.

But when, the Q&A asks, does “display” happen? Here is what my team does to make it clear – our flag person, Ming, was especially consistent in following the procedures this last season:

  • Thirty seconds before a flag is to be displayed, Ming grasps the halyard, well above his head. This gives timers watching from nearby boats a heads-up. Then, when the timer finishes the countdown he whips the flag up. To make sure it is “displayed” when the sound signal happens, the flag has been balled up in his other hand, so it breaks out precisely at the time of the signal. This way of doing things is not universal. I recall helping with Race Committee at a well-known club in the States, where the crew tried to raise the flag slowly, during the last minute or so, so it hit the top at the moment of the sound signal. This was ambiguous, un-necessary, and wrong.
  • The take-down also has to be precise. I ask my flag person to drop a signal flag sharply. This can sometimes lead to fun games – for instance when in a strong wind the quick pull down ends up with the flag flying free and wild, astern of Grand National because the halyard got away.

Race committees try hard to make signals precise. My favourite story comes from the America’s Cup races in the ‘60s, in Newport R.I., where the signal boat was the rather large powerboat called Black Knight. The Race Committee devised a system to assure quick display of visual signals. What they did was to set up a shock-cord loaded halyard so that at the appropriate time the flag could be fired upward to a horizontal spar high above the deck. Bang. Flag flies upward – winds itself tightly around the spar above, and can not be retrieved. Oops. We try. Sometimes we try too hard. When we do, all we can ask is that you bear with us in our embarrassment.