Thoughts on Running Great Regattas

I remember the 1997 Albacore Worlds at Hayling Island. What a week - nearly everyone stayed on the island in the provided dorms, ate meals in the club restaurant, and spent every evening in the club bar. There was no driving - so our rental car served as a storage locker. It seemed like every night the club bar would be jammed to the gills with sailors drinking and whooping it up, only to close too seemingly early - even though it was after midnight. By weeks end I really felt like I had gotten to know just about everyone there on some level, had made many friends, and really did not want it to end.

Another great event was the 1998 505 Worlds in Hyannis. Over 100 boats attended. Every night the club had a post race happy hour that included a ton of food and booze. Every night everyone piled into the club to eat, drink, and laugh about the day's events. Each morning the same crew would show up for breakfast and coffee.

From 1989 till 1999 the US Albacore Association conducted its Nationals and two International championships in Rehoboth, Delaware. Each of these events featured beer at the club every day after racing, a dinner on every night, and the vast majority of competitors stayed at the Bay Resort Hotel which happens to be only a short walk to the "Starboard," a local watering hole. It turns out that everyone tended to stick together throughout these events making every one of them memorable.

What makes a truly great event? The type that you wish it would not end; the type where you forget what day it is during the week; one in which you think to yourself, wow, I can't wait to do that again. What these events have in common is the creation of a community where a group of like minded people spend several days doing something they all like - racing sailboats - and socializing before and afterwards. I believe that, in addition to running good races, an essential component of a successful event is to entice the entire group to gather and spend time together every day. I have participated in literally hundreds of dinghy regattas starting from a young age as a competitor, mark boat operator, PRO, Judge, Event Chairman, and bottle washer/floor sweeper and have formulated some thoughts on running successful events for your reading pleasure.

Selecting a Venue

Reliable wind tops of my personal list of event characteristics. No matter how perfect everything else is, if there is no breeze, the event will be a flop. This is why we never run major events on the Potomac River - in spite of the huge infrastructure, billeting opportunities, and alternative interest activities available to non sailors we have here. The wind sucks.

Ideally, you will want some sort of dinghy racing infrastructure with crash and committee boats, marks, ground tackle, flags, and the people who know what to do with them at a minimum and preferably an active local fleet. The event chairman and Principle Race Officer should have recent experience with the class. There must be some place to stage, launch, and recover the boats. Ideally there will be fresh water available to wash boats and gear immediately after sailing. There should be some sort of club facility with showers, a bar (a very important feature), and a place to socialize after sailing. If there is no club facility, then a temporary one can be set up using a tent so the party is not dampened by inclement weather. The host club should have web access so press releases and scores can be posted in near real time.

A range of housing options are necessary. Some teams consist of only skipper and crew. Others will bring children, infants, or others and may need to rent an entire house. The fiscally challenged will want to camp or get billeted with local members. The ideal venue will include all of these in close proximity to the club facility. Many great venues also serve as vacation resorts and as a consequence, are high priced. Some of these are ridiculously high priced for what you get. While the food and entertainment associated with an event can almost always be worked out reasonably, if the housing costs $250/night, this will dissuade many.

As much as I disagree with this, there are some people who do not sail. The ideal event location will include interesting activities for these people while others in their entourage are on the water sailing. Good shopping, restaurants, sight seeing, or other attractions enable those with non sailing spouses to have a family vacation. A spectator boat for major events is a nice to have as well.

When To Schedule

When planning the season, avoid coincident events or consecutive major events. The idea here is to give people a single choice as to when they can race. With events on consecutive week ends, some will select one of two, rather than adjusting their schedules to fit the one event available. Do not schedule local fleet races the same time as a major championship. If they want to race their boats, let them drag them to the major event and join in the fun. If there is an alternative, the attendance for both will suffer. This may sound draconian, but it is better to run a few really good events than a plethora of duds.


The earlier and more often you can go to press with the details of the event, the better. Not everyone will read the email list, nor will they read the printed news letter. I was astonished when several UK sailors stated that the reason they did not attend the 2003 Internationals was due to a lack of information on the event and other activities in spite of this information being available on the web site for months. Remove this barrier and its detrimental effect on regatta turn out by blasting all class members and the general public with several reminders and updates using every medium available.

One on One

Mass snail and e-mail is an excellent way to disseminate information, but this alone is inadequate. One must maintain a dialogue with prospective attendees based ideally on face to face communication or by telephone at a minimum. People can often be swayed to attend an event with only a small amount of encouragement. Sometimes a person will have some minor issue such as the lack of a crew or a minor trailer or boat repair - easily solved but only if one knows about it in advance and it won't happen through mass emailing.

Get the Boats Out.

Find some non boat owning prospects who would like to sail the event drawn from top sailors in the area, crews whose skippers are not sailing, or local sailors at the host club. Offer them a boat for the event - then find out who is not going to sail and ask that they loan their boat. We have done this in nearly every major championship for the past several seasons and this has facilitated several UK teams and members of other classes getting into an Albacore. In fact I will often tell people that "your boat is going to such and such event - the question is who is going to sail it."

Food And Entertainment

The importance of organizing some sort of social event including food and drinks and building this into the entry fee can not be overstated. Socializing before and after racing is the primary reason the vast majority of people attend these events. If they are prevented from doing this, they are, in my opinion, being cheated.

I recall a three day US Albacore Nationals where one evening was devoid of any dinner. The rationale for this was to keep the entry fee below some arbitrarily chosen value. On that night the lack of a central gathering place resulted in everyone scattering to a plethora of restaurants. From my standpoint, I had gone to great lengths to hang around with a bunch of sailing friends and was essentially being prevented from doing so by the lack of a built-in event after sailing. Had a pizza dinner been included, the entry fee might have risen 10 or 12 dollars. I ended up spending $40 dollars on dinner and a couple drinks that night alone and I am sure my crew did the same. Not including a meal on that night was a false economy: it reduced the value returned for the dollars and time expended in being there.

Some argue that people will not attend if the entry fee is too high. I believe this is utterly wrong. Food and drinks can be purchased far more cost effectively for a group of people than individually. A pizza dinner costs around US$4/head. A catered chili or beef stew, salad, and corn bread meal costs around US$8-9/head. A sit down dinner consisting of rubberized chicken, overcooked veggies, and a wilted salad conducted at a cheesy establishment like the Rusty Rudder in Rehoboth costs around $14/head. A keg of high end micro brew beer costs $125 with cups, ice, tap, etc and will yield over 150 servings - adequate for around 30 boats on average. Not using the group's purchasing power to effectively consume entire kegs of beer at a small fraction of the bar price is short sighted.

Getting all participants to show up in one place for the entire evening is a key ingredient of the best events. The best way to do this in my opinion is to build after sailing drinks & munchies and a dinner into the entry fee. This relies on the very simple theory that if people pay for a dinner and drinks in advance, they will show up and eat it.

Race Management

Volumes could be written regarding race management, but there are a few key areas that can spoil an otherwise nice day on the water. They all key in on maximizing the ratio of time spent racing to that spent waiting around.

Start On Time. Period.

Do not delay based on the # of boats sitting around on shore at a particular time - this is a case where the time consumed will expand, almost without limit, to fit the time available. A better approach is if things look slow in the dinghy park, send someone out to walk around and tell each person one on one that the start will occur on time and to get their ass in gear. The PRO may wish to postpone a short while on the water if a long transit to the racing area in light winds or an adverse tide delays the majority of competitors. It's a fact that some teams will be late due to oversleeping or traffic - and they may miss the first race. This is not the end of the world: its more important to get the races started on time. The 2002 Albacore NAs is an example of what not to do - the breeze was on for the last day. One competitor went out, capsized, and was not able to right her boat (the name of the skipper will be withheld but her initials were JOANNA BYRON). The RC had several boats on the course and stood by while the hapless crew tried again and again to get going. This was prudent except for the fact that the motor boat used was the one with the marks in it! The entire race was delayed 45 minutes since the course could not be set - meanwhile other motor boats milled around the area with nothing to do. In this instance, the PRO should have substituted a different boat to keep an eye on that unnamed sailor and had the mark boat set the course.

Zero Delay Between Races

I attended an event at which the PRO said during the skippers meeting that he would deliberately wait around between races for lunch. I raised my hand and asked there be no down time between races. The PRO said that he would take this under advisement but added that "if I see someone with a sandwich we'll delay the start." Yikes - some yahoo having a sandwich out controls when the start will be? This misses the point of why we are there. Sitting around between races rags the sails and gear and is not why we all travelled. The best events do not include a lot of sitting around.

Publicity During And After The Event

Many people for a variety of reasons will not make the trip to an event, but they will still want to know what is going on, to see the scores, and to hear how the party went, and any amusing anecdotes. All one needs here is someone who can summarize this information and post it to the sailing media, relevant email lists, and the class web master. The local press and local newspapers near the competitors' home ports will be interested in what's going on and should be included. It is imperative that someone be appointed to assume this task, to run around and obtain some interesting quotes, and to ensure that it gets done. After reading all of this from their office, perhaps the non attendees will make time to show up next year.


Ideally free housing in local club members' homes should be available for all who want it. An excellent example of this was the 2003 Bermuda race week I attended. The local fleet went out of their way to ensure that every out of town sailor had a place to stay in a club member. The high cost ( > US$250/night ) of hotels in Bermuda would have prevented most of those who attended for financial reasons.

At a minimum, call the local hotels and ask about vacancies for the period of the event, try to get a discounted room rates, and reserve some rooms specifically for the event. During one Albacore US Nationals held in Cambridge Maryland, we discovered that all hotel rooms were booked up. I called and asked for a room and said that I was part of the race. The hotel asked, you mean the bike race? I said er um yeah - and we booked a room. As it turned out there was a large bicycle race going on that week end. The bike race organizers had reserved large blocks of rooms at all the local hotels - leaving the Albacore class in the lurch no problem, we passed the word that all one had to do is to say they were part of the "bike race" to get a room: disaster averted - HAH!

Dealing with the Host Club

I attended the 2002 505 Worlds in Freemantle Australia. The entry fee for this event was over US$500 - I thought this was okay - but at the event I found that virtually nothing in the way of food or drinks were included. Beer and a sandwich were available after each day's race - at only slightly more than regular restaurant prices. Having run many sailing events over the years, I could not figure out where all the money was going. This was compounded by the fact that several sponsors had contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the club in exchange for naming rights. This blatant profiteering resulted in much grumbling amongst the sailors. Clubs have infrastructures to support - but they should not regard a sailing event as a cash cow to help them make their annual books. This issue is one that merits extensive discussion and a clear understanding before the club and class agree to host an event - particularly when the host club does not have a local fleet.

Ingredients for a great event include good attendance; well run racing; and an exceptional social program. People will attend if they feel they are getting good value for the time and money invested - I believe that the best value is not the minimum possible cost.

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