Discussion: General Recall Problem
From Andrew Bohl, NCSSA President
“My fellow C-Boaters,
As many of you know, this year at a few of the larger regattas the fleet has had issues getting clean starts off. This led to numerous general recalls, Z flags, and black flags. Nobody wants this. It limits the number of races we can get in, makes the days longer, and is generally undesirable. The question is, what do we do about it?
Below is an open letter to the C Fleet written by long-time C-Boater Kent Haeger and NCSSA Treasurer Will Haeger. In it, they state what they believe are the primary causes and possible solutions for the “General Recall Problem”. They also attached a letter from Tufts sailing coach and long-time PRO Ken Legler with his thoughts on General Recalls.
We have turned comments on for this post and encourage your feedback here in the hopes of starting a dialogue and working towards a solution. All C-boaters and judges are strongly encouraged to read the letter and contribute to the discussion. Let’s get this fixed.”
Open Letter to the C Fleet:
Meant to provoke discussion.
Disclaimer: We believe that the RC acts in accordance to what the fleet wants so this note is directed at changing fleet expectations.
Problem: The C fleet has way too many general recalls and postponements within the last minute of the start. This results in less races sailed and unfairly penalizes boats that were not OCS during those starts.
Causes: There are certainly numerous things that have led to our general recall problem but we’ll try to list the most pertinent ones below.
• Competitor Incentives: Because there are so few individual recalls (especially on I-flag starts), sailors feel as if there’s no penalty for pushing the line. If they actually are over, they assume the start will be general recalled and they will not be penalized. If they are not over, they have gotten a great start and avoided line sag. Thus, the incentive is to always push the line on I-flag starts. This phenomenon is self-reinforcing- the more general recalls we have on I-flag starts the more sailors actively expect a few generals before a given race.
• Improper Race Committee Expectations: The Race Committee exists for one main purpose- to ensure fair racing. Keep in mind that this does not mean that their job is to make everyone happy all the time, or to try and get a start off where nobody is over. With that in mind, it seems as though RCs are hesitant to have individual recalls at all. If all boats are “close” with some potentially over, it’s all clear. If there are more than a couple boats over, it’s a general. General recalls are supposed to only be used sparingly, in the case where there are so many boats over that the RC could not possibly get a reasonably accurate count and the race would be unfair. Any boat that is not over during a general recall (AKA boats following the rules) is adversely impacted by the general.
• Electronic Equipment: Equipment used to “ping” the line can cause generals in two ways. First, it leads to these boats setting up much closer to the line than they might otherwise, which causes boats around them to line up similarly to avoid getting shot out the back. Second, by assuming that you “have the numbers”, these boats pay less attention to where the flags may actually be at a given time (due to waves, wind shifts, etc.).
1. Set Expectations with the Race Committee and Competitors: Reset expectations about what starts should be general recalls and which should be individual recalls. Encourage strongly individual recalls over generals, except in extreme cases. Let all RCs know the C fleet’s intentions and communicate said intentions to the C fleet at large. It will likely take a couple of individual recalls with 10+ boats over for people to get the idea but it will be worth it in the long run as people reset their expectations.
2. Stop Giving Sailors Extra Time to Ping the Line: If the line is set and sailors are out early enough to ping both sides, great. If sailors are out late or do not have the time to ping both sides of the line, tough luck. This will encourage people to get out earlier, use their eyes more, and reduce the advantage given to those that can afford electronic equipment.
3. Start Calling OCS Boats at 1 Minute: Have RCs begin calling boats as soon as they’re over. The RC hail is a courtesy, not mandatory, thus you can do with it what you will. As soon as the first boat is called over, the fleet will recognize where said boat is and adjust their expectations of where the line is accordingly. If a large part of the fleet is over, this gives the RC a long time to capture numbers before having to resort to a general. Furthermore, if you are over, it gives you a better chance to clear yourself such that you have a better start and you’re not in the way of boats starting cleanly.
4. Mid-Line Boat: In large regattas, over 50 boats, use a mid-line boat. This provides additional eyes with which to call OCS boats and provides a closer flag from which competitors can assess where the line.
• Moving to Z-flags or harsher penalties to discourage generals is suboptimal. A lot of boats travel great distances to compete in what may be only a couple of races, so to take away their ability to sail in a given race is brutal.
Let us know your thoughts, and whether you agree that this is something worth emphasizing in the 2019 season.
Will Haeger Kent Haeger
PS: See what noted PRO Ken Legler says about general recalls below
by Ken Legler, National Race Officer and Head Sailing Coach of Tufts University
Long before there was a Black Flag rule I had the honor and challenge to PRO the 470 class World Championship with 75 boats. Former Olympian Gardner Cox came along one day as an on-board observer. So I asked him, “What do you do if you set square lines and too many boats keep starting over early?”
“My son, at some point you have to start sending them home.”
I didn’t want to do that. Every entry in that event traveled a long way, some from halfway around the planet. We were using a mid-line boat and discovered two tricks that solved the problem. By dropping the mid-line boat back just two to four feet, competitors arriving in the front row could see two flags lined up and stopped moving forward. They could see the line! They also knew they would be caught if they went any further because we used the one-minute, round-the-ends-rule, now known as rule 30.1, I flag rule.
Using three line boats properly and flag I for prep signal this method virtually eliminates recall problems. When competitors first arrive on the line they know to go no further because they can see the line flags lining up. More important the race committee has not one or two, but four sets of eyes watching different parts of the line, one spotter on each end and two spotters in the middle boat looking both ways.
Why flag I? It’s not about the penalty or threat of having to sail all the way to an end if caught. It’s about the ability of the race committee to write down any boat they see from one-minute on, rather than trying to take a mental photograph at the gun.
It is my firm belief that general recalls are very unfair. General recalls are also a huge waste of time. Let’s say boats A, B, and C make awesome starts but boats D-J are over and only a few can be identified. Two guns, first repeater, do-over start. Now the Black Flag comes out. On the next start A, B, and C are over but D-J make great starts. A-C are told to stop racing but D-J are fully exonerated. What happened to the great starts by A-C at the scheduled time and where is the penalty for D-J starting illegally the first time? See the inequity?
With a little race committee practice it can be done when it counts. Write a script for different possibilities and practice on the water with ground tackle and radios for twenty minutes before the first race.
Some sailors like the Black Flag. Why? Because it eliminates some of their competition before the race even starts regardless of entry fee or distance traveled. What a shame.