Hollowell Return to Racing


Following the easing of lock down restrictions we know some clubs have restarted racing, but we are also hearing from many that have not yet done so. So here is an example of a club organising racing in a way that reduces the number of volunteers required to run the racing and helps to implement social distancing ashore and afloat.

Hollowell SC have introduced self-managed racing at the Northamptonshire club, as a way for people to satisfy their competitive instincts in a COVID compliant way. And the early signs have been very promising.

Commodore Graham Smith explains: "Once everything was in place to get sailing again the question became when could we race?"

"We knew we had a lot of things in our favour; a big lake, wide beach, three pontoons and five separate slipways. It's not an issue now, but you could have 20 boats on the water at the same time easily dispersed and with lots of space to exit the water. It then became about finding a way to make that all work in a racing format."

The "self-managed" mantra

Arguably another thing Hollowell had in their favour were the concerns from NHS professionals within their club membership and the committee calling out the club's obligations to vulnerable members.

These critical friends sense checked the safety of everything being proposed, and what were proposed were two types of race - Self Managed Personal Handicap and Self Managed Boat Handicap Pursuit races.

For the Self Managed Personal Handicap racing, the Duty Officer (DO) sets the course and a start/finish line either two buoys or the pontoon and a single buoy by the patrol boat. Other course marks are at fixed position. Competitor Personal Handicaps are in the range from -10 to +5 and each handicap is given a time to cross the start line.

After 50 minutes, once the lead boat passes the start/finish line, there is a grand-prix style finish, with the sail number of each boat recorded as it crosses. Sailors are tasked to mentally note who is directly in front and behind them too. Timing is managed by competitors and the DO who synchronize their watches to a big new radio controlled digital clock in the club house - £20 from Amazon!

Results are then posted to the club's members Facebook Group and the winner starts a minute later in the next race. No results are recorded on Sailwave to avoid touching the Race Office computer.

The Self Managed Boat Handicap Pursuit racing works in a similar way. The Class start and finish times for each race are published on the club website and sailors note their boat start and end times before they go afloat as there are no starting signals and they may not hear the whistle for race end. The race ends at the published finish time and the DO records the boat positions assisted by competitors, who mentally note who is in front and behind them.

On the water there are two experienced DO's in single-crewed patrol boats, in line with their sailing safely with minimal safety cover approach. The key to it all is the self-managed element.

Graham continues: "If we run a race for 45 minutes, everyone finishes at different parts of the lake, we've then not got everyone heading back to the beach at once.

Our rules to race are the same as to do free sailing; every sailor should only go out in conditions they are capable in and there is no sailing if the forecast is above a Force 5, as there is a high risk of capsize.

"Sailors are getting changed in the car park or arriving ready and you can't physically get in the clubhouse galley, bar or lounge. Toilets are open and accessed via one-way system. Beyond that there is no reason for anyone to touch anything apart from their own boat and kit."

For the win

Graham believes the different type of racing is capturing the sailors imaginations too as sailors are focusing on other things than they would in fleet racing. There's a new challenge to seeing how many boats that started before you you can close down and overtake, for example, or how close you can get to the front in each race.

And the relaxed, informal, non-pressured nature of it all is enhancing the sense of club community that people are pleased to be experiencing in real life again, instead of just being sat at a screen.

Hollowell have made sure what members actually wanted was front and centre of all the decisions taken to get back on the water, and their Facebook Group acted as a platform for a genuine two-way conversation for ideas and feedback.

For example, early format proposals saw the RS400s only getting a 27-minute race so the ensuing discussion resolved that having Toppers, not Optimists, going off first gave the RS400 a credible race time of 40 minutes.

The weekly e-newsletter has also been a vital and well-received source of information letting members know exactly what's on when, what the parameters are what the expectation is on them before they take part in any activity.

Hollowell now have racing scheduled in on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, with recreational sailing running at different times too.

As Graham concludes: "I had a couple of long-standing members tell me it's the best weekend of sailing they've ever had! It doesn't matter how many boats are on the water racing as long as they're socially distanced. The boats just happen to be on the same course sailing at the same time spaced apart. It's been a really positive start."

If your club is looking to restart racing activity you can find the guidance and frequently asked questions for clubs on the Return to Boating page.

We'd like to hear from you if your club has decided to trial or continue with alternative forms of club racing as we settle into the 'new normal'. Get in touch by emailing sportdevelopment@rya.org.uk