Thursday, 9 August 2012

Olympic Learning

We would all say that learning is important, yet often the systems and processes we use prevent us even from transferring knowledge to help us improve performance, whether it be as an athlete, official, organiser or volunteer. When I started learning about the rules governing the sport of sailing in earnest I referred to an annual publication that the very experienced sailing judge, Bryan Willis, produced.

In sailing at top international events an International Jury is normally appointed. This jury, because of the experience and knowledge of its members, is permitted under rules not to have any of their decisions appealed beyond the event and yet the case law element of the rules, the Cases, are produced from interesting and pertinent appeals. Thus the interesting cases heard by an International Jury never get into the case law of the sport.

To solve this block in knowledge development Bryan would compile a summary of all the interesting cases from international juries on which he had severed over the season. Not all judges are as contientious to take on such a time consuming task, including me!

The same 'block' to learning and knowledge transfer can be experienced between the Olympic area and the rest of competition sailing. Here at Weymouth & Portland the organisers have incorporated many innovations in particular to make the event more accessible to spectators, supporters and the developing fan-base. The BBC coverage has been sensational - lead by Richard Simmonds and Leigh MacMillan, though the official Olympic Broadcasting Service less so (I guest they have less sport specific experience than APP Sunset + Vine, who are providing the feed and editing for the BBC coverage). And the Nothe Fort spectator area and beach Live Site have proved a massive success.

Let's hope the learning gained from incorporating these innovations can be captured and taken up by the Rio 2016 organisers.

I hope that the official Knowledge Transfer phase of organising the Games will be sufficiently effective enough to ensure the Olympic sailing regatta at Rio 2016 will be covered as least as well as that of London 2012.

Not originally included in the bid proposal the local organisers convinced of the merits of creating 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Integrating Match Racing

Once Women's Match Racing was confirmed as an Olympic event for the London 2012 Games, ISAF and organisers of the Sailing World Cup competitions have tried hard to integrate this very different form of sailing into the more normal fleet racing programme. A laudable objective helping to make the WMR athletes feel part of the event.

However, anomalies do occur. An interesting example would be the use of Starndard Penalties - an increasingly used innovation where Protest Committees refer to a list of specified rules breaches and associated penalties, some of which can even be imposed on athletes without a hearing by the Race Committee. In itself this is a great scheme as infringements and their associated penalties become standardised and consistency between different decisions and between events increases dramatically, a big improvement for competitors and spectators alike.

Though there are pit-falls; here in Weymouth & Portland there are designated Competition Areas, bounded by lines of buoys. There is a Standard Penalty for straying outside this boundaries, a penalty of 3 points can be imposed by the Race Committee without a hearing. This of course all sounds very reasonable, to a fleet racer .......... if you are a match racer having 3 points deducted is equivalent of being disqualified in three races, rather over the top by anyone's view!

This got me thinking - a dangerous situation I know! What about the difference between the 49er fleets and the others? The former race an Opening Series of 15 races and the latter only 10, thus the 49er athletes race 50% more. So the impact of a 3 point penalty is very different. Indeed an athlete with a high score is impacted less than an athlete with a lower score ........ should we go to penalties based on a percentage of an athletes score? If so which score, the one at the time of the infringement or their final score?


A Very Warm West Country Welcome!

Well how a week can fly by! The authorities here in Weymouth & Portland have done an amazing job - a great Park & Ride scheme, lots of cycle storage points, tons of friendly helpers to advise you and give you directions, pop concerts every evening, the Live Site with full Olympic coverage, and of course the Nothe viewing area. It's all fantastic!

Of course it's not the same as China, Qingdao is a city of millions not a British seaside resort but the welcome is just as warm and more personal rather than the almost military precision and impersonal feeling at the 2008 regatta.

Monday, 16 July 2012

 A Life In The Day Of, An Umpire At Skandia Sail For Gold, Olympic Classes Regatta, part of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, 2011

"You must be clear that the clear is clear", and other useful umpiring phrases!  A life in the day of an umpire at Skandia Sail for Gold, by Ewan McEwan

“I want to be the greatest sailor in the world”, of course at the relatively tender age of 11 my ‘world’ was quite a small one - just a few school friends sailing on The Broads in Suffolk for the Easter holidays thanks for the generous commitment of a geography teacher loyal to sailing and keen to introduce his charges to the sport.  Of course it's a much bigger ‘world’ I live in today!  Mind you, I was in good company learning to sail on Barton Broad as apparently Lord Nelson was said to have done and he was quite handy turning boats, or rather ships of war, in order to bear their guns quicker than the enemy – an innovative naval manoeuvre that lead to, arguably, Britain's ‘finest (naval) hour’.  Once I realised the 'world' was a tad bigger than I had originally imagined, and that took a few years, I started umpiring – a variant on the adage ‘those that can’t do, teach’!

It's a long way from Anglesey to Portland, island to island, though to attend the Skandia Sail for Gold to join the umpire team for the Women's Match Race, WMR, event made it a very worthwhile trip.  In total the whole jury was some 25 people strong, 10 of who made up the umpire team, and two of which were British, Sally and me.  Wednesday 8 June started early for me; a mixture of excitement - it's quite a privilege to be included in the umpire team at such a prestigious event in my home country during the build up to the Olympics next year - and a lot of sun shining though the window at 05:30, as it did for six days straight, unheard of.  "It’s not normally like this" is a cry we hear at events all over the world, but honestly Weymouth/Portland is not normally like this its 'normally' covered in horizontal rain and misty fog!  Even the competitors have appreciated the irony renaming Weymouth to "Weybiza" after the rather infamous Balearic Island.

Eventually I gave up fighting wakefulness, showered and dressed ready for another full, and I do mean full, day on the water; the women’s match racing started before all the other classes and finished after all the other classes - no wonder the ISAF's council have voted WMR off the Olympic slate for Rio 2016 (without even giving it the benefit of proving itself actually in an Olympic regatta), it shows up all the other 'part-time’ classes!  So ISAF; which decision was wrong?  Putting WMR into the Olympics or taking it out of the Olympics? Hmmm, a good question to ponder during the winter’s evenings.

Actually the reason we have such long days is that there are 24 teams competing and only 8 boats for them to race in, so the umpires and race committee end up umpiring and running three times as many races as any of the competitors actually compete in.  And what is rather frustrating is that at least a third of those races are a waste of time – if you are interested in the intricacies of match race formats I'll explain another time, suffice to say that the team racing fraternity has got the answer to this and have been using it for around the last 60 years, it's called the 'league' format!

My 'day job' is as a management trainer travelling the world delivering programmes for international and global companies - in all my time I have never paid more than Euro 150 a night for a room; the Rack Rate for the Moonfleet Manor Hotel were a bit more than that - I hope the RYA were getting a good discount!  If you divide the cost by the number of hours we got to spend at the hotel it would work out to be the most expensive hotel in the world, mind you the staff were very friendly and helpful, and I would highly recommend that any family include it in their list of options.  It is located in a truly wonderful area of our country and is perfect for kids to roam the surrounding countryside.

This day's racing was filled with mainly repechage flights; 6 teams, 2 from each of the three initial 'equal ability' Stage 1 groups, qualify directly to the quarter-finals leaving two places up for grabs to the winners of the repechage group, made up from those teams coming 3rd and 4th in each of the three original groups, simples!  If you think this is complicated wait till the Olympic regatta when there will only be 12 teams competing in one single-group round robin over two whole weeks, it could become quite tiresome, but then again maybe it's designed to be; it would endorse ISAF council’s decision as it doesn’t fit the needs of the future tele-visual and spectator friendly requirements!

The fighting in each race was intense and the umpiring had to match that intensity.  I am a particularly practical-minded person - it took me years to work out TSS diagrams much preferring to see situations in the flesh, so to speak – as a result I like to get to the race course early to check the downwind lay-lines and tune-in to the conditions on the way to reporting to the Race Committee on the signal boat down in the starting area, and securing a good supply of coffee for the day.  On this particular day the RC received Umpire 3 (our call-sign for the first rotation) with a more than frosty stare, you could even call it one of Paddington's 'special hard stares': it turned out that our in-RIB conversation on the 20 minute ride out from the marina to the Nothe Fort sailing area had been transmitted on open VHF channel as I had laid the handheld radio on the dash board with the PTT button down-most and our entire conversation (normally subject to the “Heathrow Rule” – what happens on-tour, stays on-tour) ‘dissing’ the rather rudimentary toilet facilities on the committee boat had been heard by dozens of people including the coaches, the competitors, our fellow umpires, and of course the race committee boat's owners, oooops!

I was officially “off” coffee privileges until further notice, only to recover them on the last day after passing over large quantities of fermented grape juice. And my bad luck did not stop there: several of the RIBs, kindly lent by their class coaches, used as umpire boats had external fuel tanks that had spent more time awash in the bottom of the RIB than was good for them or, rather more precisely, good for their engines, and ‘good’ for me!  Halfway though my tour as wing boat (the umpire team rotates around the various roles and this boat provides the reverse angle view information to the umpires particularly during the pre-start period) our engine spluttered to a halt; not to worry, one quick call to Ed Stevens and John Horwell using one of the ‘event phones’ previously used by John Derbyshire – so Ed thought that it was he that was calling and thus a speedy response – and rescue, and repair, was at hand.  Apparently we were not the first to have had this problem and it is one of the difficulties with large sailing event management where the provenance of the boats borrowed is unclear.

With a clean tank of go-go juice we resumed our duties only to be told that the “powers that be” had reallocated the 49er fleet to the Nothe Fort sailing area, or ‘circle’ as has become the common parlance, meaning we had to move the WMR course into the Portland Harbour.  With 27 knots blowing from just west of south-west, the Northern harbour entrance was mayhem and the new course area not much better with breaking crests and a short sharp sea.  The PRO did a couple of flights to show ‘willing’ and then made a very sensible decision to head for the marina.  The umpire team were kept ‘on-hold’ for a while and then ‘released’ at 18:00 – the event bosun having gone home at 17:30, he obviously knew what was happening earlier than we did - surprising how long it takes to communicate a decision.

However, that was not the end of the day for the umpires, once released from umpiring duties, they then volunteer their service to the jury chair to help with any backlog of hearings.  I got roped into three, though all very straight forward cases; a request for a redress claim withdrawal – all protest withdrawals have to be reviewed by the jury to prevent any coercion by another party or possible manipulation of the scores, which has happened in the past – and two protests from the Race Committee for breaches of the Tally system, a primary safety system using in the RS:X classes – apparently this system is not used at other ISAF SWC events, according to the competitors, and they had fallen foul by not following the requirements, and were subsequently penalised by a proportion of their scores in the appropriate races.

So, off to the pub for a quick bite with the rest of the gang, then to a well earned and needed shower, and a night cap discussing the merits of ……, well the night cap was so good I can’t remember!

Oh, and the title; imagine two boats overlapped on starboard broad-reaching down to the port lay line for the leeward mark, the leeward boat having established the overlap from clear astern and therefore subject to the restrictions of RRS 17, sail well beyond the lay line.  Of course the leeward boat would be penalised for a breach of the rule but should it be just one penalty or two?  The second being awarded for a deliberate breach of the rule.

If the overlap has been caused by the windward boat temporarily luffing to draw her stern line forward of the leeward boat, which becomes clear astern for just a short time, sometimes only a fraction of a second, then the umpires need to be clear that the clear was clear to the leeward boat before considering that the intent was to breach the rule deliberately.  Which is often not the case in these situations.

Nice these ‘simple rules’!

Ewan McEwan
June 2011


Ewan, based on the Isle of Anglesey off the North Wales coast, has been an RYA Umpire for many years attending events all over the world and is currently Chief Umpire for the Extreme Sailing Series.  He continues to race competing his 83-year-old renovated Fife in the Menai Straits.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Reflections ...... coming soon

Just got back to Beaumaris, bit of a culture shock! Have been writing a lot about my experiences in China. Will add entries over the next few days .............

Monday, 8 September 2008

1st Daimen Match Race, Berlin, Germany

After the excitement of the Extreme 40s at the iShares Cup in Kiel last weekend it was a pleasure to get back to - relatively - a more baisc form of our sport. The VSaW, a wonderfully traditional sailing club on the shores of the Wansee lake, south-west of Berlin city centre, was the host of this brand new match racing event for women. Using four chartered Skippi 650s we had two days of match racing in light but eventful conditions. The best lake sailing has to offer; lots of pressure variation and numerous shifts to keep all the crews busy and tacticians earning their titles!

The club hope it will be the begining of something special - its counter-part the Berlin Match Race will hold its 16th edition this Autumn. This year they plan to have both an ISAF Grade 1 Open event as well as an ISAF Grade 1 Women's event. It will be a joint effort by two of the main clubs on the Wansee, VSaW and the Berlin Yacht Club.

There was much discussion in the evenings about the proposed women's match race event in the 2012 Olympic Sailing Games, and plenty of speculation about boats, formats, and qualifying structures. Hope it all gets sorted at the ISAF Annual Meeting in November, Madrid, ESP.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

More 'extreme' than '40' at iShares Cup, Kiel, GER

Kiel, GER, hosted the latest edition of the iShares Cup featuring the Extreme 40 class. These boats, the race format, the Field of Play location, and the style of rule adjudication all add up to a fantastic presentation of our sport. What a great job Offshore Challange Events, OC Events, has done to show what the very best our sport has to offer.

More than 80,000 people came to watch over the three days of racing held just off the Kiel habour area in the inner fjord. Of course things had to be well timed; the ferries and commercial shipping couldn't be stopped but with short-course racing it was relatively easy to meet everyone's needs. And the ferry boat customers got a very close view of the action!

The commentators kept the crowds well informed and motivated, and when we did have a break in the racing - to re-lay the course - they organised 'fly-pasts' to trill the crowds - the biggest applause going to the boat flying the windward hull highest (one almost capsized which would have been a great talking point for the winter months!).

It was tough going for the umpires - although there were only ten competing boats competing the rapid change of bat speed meant that even if things settled down after the first top mark pressure points could easily develop at any stage of the race, and usually did! Hard work but great fun too.

Off to umpire 'normal' match racing next, in Berlin, GER ............