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Forty Years Among the Stars - Chapter 15

Forty Years Among the Stars


Commodore George W. Elder

Chapter XV - World Championship Mechanics

The World's Championships are the core, the sun of the solar system around which the Star class revolves. Being the first annual world-wide championship in the history of yachting, Star members had to develop their own method of conducting it. They also had to work out the system of eliminations leading up to it, so that every Star skipper had an equal chance to qualify and compete for the title each year. This story would not be complete without a summary of the mechanics involved. Most of them originated with the Star class and some are still only to be found in the Star class. The same methods, as applicable, are used in lesser Star championships.

As soon as a World's Championship is over, preparations for the next begin. The place is determined by the point system. The date depends upon local weather conditions, although it is usually in late August or early September. The person selected to handle advance local arrangements has a difficult and most responsible job. He becomes a sort of chairman ax-officio of other local committees, in charge of transportation, housing, entertainment, etc. He is the contact man between the host fleet and the central office. That reduces errors, which would probably result from dealing through various channels.

Necessary forms are sent to fleet secretaries at a very early date. Challenges are usually required by the first of July. They indicate the approximate numbers of entries to provide for. Entry forms must reach the central office twenty days before the opening race, or sooner, that the eligibility of yachts, skippers and crews may be checked, and score cards printed by the host fleet. Copy of the race circular is checked in New York and often printed there.

The home fleet must furnish the daily prizes. During the first week in July, it is sent a check in the amount of all W.C. taxes and interest received during the preceding twelve months. The association buys the series prizes. Now I am going to let the reader in on a top secret. It usually buys those prizes by weight. Old junk? Not at all. Silver is silver, whether melted and cast again or one hundred per cent renovated. I defy anyone to tell the difference, because there is none.

his practice has enabled the association to obtain much finer sterling trophies and for much less money than it would have paid for so-called new ones, even at a wholesale price. I know, as I bought these series prizes for twenty-seven years. At one time we bought them through a purchasing agent, for a very big firm, a friend of Pop's. He received a larger trade discount than any club, but those prizes were not nearly as good as the ones given today.

Series headquarters must provide a private room for the I.R.C. hearings and a bulletin board. Many other things must be done locally and at the central office, which I will not bother to mention, as this chapter deals with matters pertinent to the World's Championship and seldom, if ever, found elsewhere.

Due to the large number of entries these days, several measurers are kept busy for two or three days, before the series, checking masts, sails, rudders and keels. Oddly enough, a number of violations are found each year, which the skippers themselves did not know about. Measurers also have the right to check any integral part of the hull, which obviously does not conform to specifications or shows signs of having been altered since the certificate was issued.

The races are conducted by the I.R.C., consisting of five Star officers, automatically selected in order of rank. Except for the probable chairman, no one really knows what ranking officers will be present and eligible, by reason of not being contestants, until the I.R.C. is ratified by the annual meeting, held the afternoon before the first race. You can only be sure that the event will be run by qualified Star officers and not by some local club R.C., which cannot be expected to be versed in class rules or Star championship procedure. The alternates are selected in the same manner. Then all other series officials are approved. Mark and course officials work in pairs. One, in charge of the boat used, is recommended locally and the other is a visitor from another fleet. All have to sign a pledge, agreeing to strictly enforce rules, investigate alleged violations, regardless of protests, etc. This system tends to prevent collusion, partiality and softheartedness.

Typewritten instructions, consisting of several pages, are given to all series officials. Much time and study is given to revising these instructions annually. If it was only a question of telling them what to do, they could be printed, but it is even more important to warn them against what not to do. Each year some little errors crop up that have not happened before. They usually go unnoticed and seldom cause any damage - but they could. I have always made a careful record of such incidents to prevent any repetition These revised instructions, in my opinion, have done more than any one other thing to continually improve the management of the event, by gradually eliminating faults.

The morning of the first race is a hectic one for the I.R.C. Having just taken over, it has to check every detail. Required paraphernalia must be there and must be put aboard the boat that is going to use it. A couple of items have usually been mislaid and have to be replaced in a rush. The measurers have not yet reported on a few spars and sails. Everything happens at once. Spectators pour into the club and the clatter of voices becomes deafening. The chairman is bombarded with questions and constancy interrupted by phone calls, greetings from old friends and other irrelevant matters. There are always a few skippers each of whom feels that he has been a victim of circumstance and is entitled to some sort of special dispensation. Everything is always adjusted, however, before the I.R.C. has to leave headquarters.

The chairman is invariably called upon to make several emergency decisions, without time to confer with the rest of the I.R.C. In matters connected with the mechanics of the race, he must use his best judgment. Often, however, this applies to answering questions and granting last minute requests. In the latter case, I have always adhered to a fixed policy. If the slightest doubt exists in your mind, "no" should be the answer. Then you can never be wrong. Anyone has the right to change his mind later, after sleeping over a problem. I have always warned other Star officers against being stampeded into a spontaneous "yes." If you make a mistake because you did not take time to think it over, you are quoted and a precedent is established, even if you did not have authority to make a ruling. Eventually it has to be corrected, of course, but the damage has been done and you subject yourself to a lot of justifiable criticism.

If a start, with a windward first leg, cannot be established from the probable starting line, the committee displays code N and moves the committee boat to the selected line. As soon as it has anchored, the marker yachts come alongside and are given the distance and direction for placing their mark. After the stakeboat is anchored and an official put aboard of it, the marker yacht takes its station. That is about seventy-five yards behind the stakeboat and in a line with the course the competing yachts must sail. It displays a large white flag to make it easier for skippers to spot the mark. There is a red and yellow cylinder, about four feet by two feet on the upright of each rounding stakeboat. That combination of colors was recommended by an expert as the most easily discerned against any other words, all these seemingly minor details are the result of intensive study. Mark officials watch for fouls. They also time and record the order of rounding. These records are given to the I.R.C. and, since most fouls happen near a mark, are often valuable in establishing the facts connected with a protest.

As soon as the marker yachts have been instructed, the I.R.C. establishes the starting line. Here again we have learned from experience that a club work boat, with power, has many advantages over the conventional stakeboat. It can place itself more quickly and accurately than a launch can place a stakeboat. If it drags at a critical moment, the engine can be started and it can hold its position for a while, at least long enough to bridge the emergency. Such a boat will accommodate several officials. They can watch for fouls on all sides and see the number on the sail of a Star making a premature start. One man in a dinghy, being bounced around in a seaway, cannot be expected to have eyes in the back of his head, or do everything that should be done at the same time.

After the start, the I.R.C. immediately shifts the line mark to the proper position for the end of the first round and finish. Again having a mark with its own power is a great advantage. At least it obviates the risk of having a launch go off and not return in time to shift the mark. That has happened.

Courses are given by sliding numerals and letters, painted on cardboard, into a signal frame. Full sized code flags are also painted on such slides. In very light air they can be seen, whereas a real flag would hang limp on the halyard and could not be distinguished. The I.S.C.Y.R.A. owns its own signals and ships them from one locality to another.

The I.R.C. then prepares for a dress rehearsal at the end of the first round, with everything except the gun. That is especially important the first day. Whistles and cheers from spectator boats make such a din at the finish, that it can be very disconcerting to a comparatively new official and cause him to make mistakes. He must know how to do his job almost automatically. On the last day, with a gun for each Star to finish, it's pandemonium, but by that time the I.R.C. can do its work blindfolded.

Finishes are handled pretty much the same as in any yacht race. A couple of the I.R.C. write down racing numbers in order of finish. One, who stands near the timer, writes down the times only. Ordinary ruled yellow pads are used. A vertical line is drawn near the left-hand margin. The horizontal rulings are numbered from one to the total number of entries. They indicate the position of finish and make checking easy. The man who sights the line, blows a mouth whistle, as each Star crosses. He makes no attempt to decipher racing numbers but concentrates upon judging which bow hits the line first. He has two assistants who spot the racing numbers as the boats approach. In a close finish, once the order has been judged usually by the color of hull (or by referring to the near or far boat) they furnish the correct number. When there is a break, the judge says, "Rest. How many boats?" The timer stops counting the seconds and, writing down the results, states the number on the left-hand margin of their pads. Two or three others, with no specified duty, also keep track of close finishes, just in case of any disagreement.

Once the I.R.C. is ready, the recording committee is organized. It consists mostly of wives of the officials. Five thin legal sheets, with carbons between, are inserted into a portable typewriter. This later becomes the official record, subject to protest. It is dated and the chairman supplies the time of start, wind and course. The positions, starting with one, are typed close to the left hand margin. Then the other columns are headed: yacht's number, fleet, skipper and Star's name, if there is room. After the first race, there are three columns for points - previously won, won that day and total.

A liaison officer is appointed. He copies the racing numbers and time by looking over the shoulder of those writing this down. When there is a break, he rushes back and gives his sheet to the recording committee, being sure to write the next position on his next sheet. One girl types, one reads these sheets, one locates the entry on the score card and gives skipper's name, etc. The typist announces the daily points won. A fourth girl adds them to the points previously won and states the total. The recording committee can keep up with the finishes and is always finished by the time the last Star crosses. Then the chairman checks with the official records, to make sure there has been no mistake.

When the committee boat contingent gets ashore, a typewritten copy of the results is immediately posted on the bulletin board and another handed to the press. The mark officials, who are usually waiting on the float, give their reports to the chairman. One of the I.R.C. remains at headquarters to receive protests, if any, and posts a notice of a hearing the following morning. The other officials can return to their rooms, rest a riffle, shower and dress for dinner.

Compare the above with the old method, when the I.R.C. had to figure out points and make several result sheets in longhand. After a long day, no one felt like working. It took a good half hour to corral them and get started. Even with a locked door, there were frequent interruptions Press reports were delayed and everyone was kept waiting a couple of hours, often longer. A recording committee saves the I.R.C. a lot of time and work. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been tried, except by the Star class. Why? Because the average R.C. is prejudiced against trying anything new. When I first introduced the idea, the others on the I.R.C. were positive it would not work, until it was proved that it would.

Hearings usually start at nine o'clock the next morning. Alleged violations can often be settled the night before by a few questions, so that no hearing is necessary. All I.R.C. decisions are written and posted. All protests and reported violations on the previous day must be decided before officials and contestants leave headquarters for the next race. A skipper is entitled to know, before a race starts, which rivals he must watch.

The only hearings held in the late afternoon are on the day of the last race. On that day everyone is warned to remain at headquarters after the race, in case they are needed as witnesses. This is necessary since the final results must be known in time to present prizes at the final banquet.

The day after the series is over the I.R.C. is supposed to gather together all the paraphernalia belonging to the association, check it and get it ready to be shipped to the locality holding the next Worlds Championship. By that time, I regret to say, series officials feel that they have done all that should be expected of them. The job is left to some local, who does not tackle it for a couple of weeks, and several items are usually lost.

Let me add a recommendation to the foregoing. The chairman of the I.R.C., or any R.C., should have no prescribed duty, other than being general supervisor. No one can concentrate on one job and keep a weather eye on everything that is going on. A free lance chairman will gravitate to where he is most needed.

With a flock of boats milling about the line, the best officials are apt to have their attention distracted temporarily. Timers have been known to take their eyes off the chronometer at a crucial moment, upon hearing two yachts collide. An experienced committeeman can never be spared to handle the cannon; there should be two, in case of a misfire. If the trigger is cocked before the lower, the usually inexperienced cannoneer is apt to get excited and fire on the lower count. Do not laugh - I have seen it happen to some of the best club R.C.'s. These are the sort of little things that the chairman must constantly keep in mind and guard against. Many a mistake has been narrowly averted by a timely reminder.

A free lance chairman can answer hails and is really the only one with authority to do so. At the last moment he is often called upon to make a quick emergency decision. That would be impossible if his mind was occupied with some routine job. I have taken the line at the start and finish like the rest. In recent years, however, I have found myself turning it over to another more and more, in order to be free to check something else. If two or more entries make a premature start, there is always considerable confusion. A lot of things have to be watched and done all at once and the chairman is held responsible. He must know his business, but he must also be free to give orders and see to it that everything is handled properly.

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