How are race decisions made at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week?

Thursday, 06 June 2013


It’s easy for competitors to criticise course setters and the race committee, without realising the complexity of the decisions that must sometimes be made. Rupert Holmes talks to Cowes Week Limited CEO, Stuart Quarrie, to gain an insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

1. What is the process involved when cancelling racing for classes on a specific day, especially in marginal conditions?

Each morning at 8am, there is a meeting of the Principal Race Officer together with the course setting team, the event meteorologist and the CEO. This looks at the forecast for the day together with the tidal conditions and, if conditions are marginal, decides which - if any - classes might not be able to cope.

Individual class associations are (a) encouraged to let us know the top limits of wind and/or waves in which they like to race and (b) able to nominate a person to ask us to cancel their racing on a particular day. Thus in marginal conditions, we often get one or two classes asking for their racing to be cancelled.

The consideration of whether to cancel racing is always taken very seriously and will normally be discussed with other race officers before a decision is made. Regardless of how extreme the conditions either actually are, or are forecast to become, there will always be some within any class who would like to go and race.

2. When difficult decisions have to be made, what are the key priorities that inform those decisions? Who gives the final authorisation?

The key priorities have to be (a) safety and (b) fairness. We know that some boats, particularly among the traditional day boats, are relatively fragile in steep waves and strong winds and no-one wants to see a fleet’s results totally upset because of damage to, or even worse, loss of a boat. There are also some fleets where, although a few crews might be able to cope with a particular set of conditions, the majority would put themselves in danger by trying to race.

The final authorisation for any cancellation is made by the Principal Race Officer of the day, after taking advice from all the others around him or her.

3. Last year’s regatta was plagued by an unusually large number of days in which southerly winds were dominant.

Why is this a challenging direction for Cowes Week course setters?

Southerly winds are hard for course setters because (a) the length of beats and runs is always going to be relatively short, (b) it is impossible to get beating first legs away from the start line and (c) tidal offsets make the calculation of the right marks to use much harder, especially for differing classes with very different boat speeds.

4. I know Cowes Week Limited is always keen to learn from competitor feedback and to use that information to improve race management.

What new measures are you implementing this year to help the team improve the on-water experience for competitors?

As usual, there are a number of small changes being introduced, mainly as a result of competitor feedback. I guess that the biggest change this year is that we are giving the SB20 and J/70 classes a regatta within a regatta with two races a day for the first four days.

We are also moving the main black group start line a few hundred metres east. This will keep boats away from the entrance to the Thorn Channel and also allow us to use the start line as a third fixed finish line for some classes. This, in turn, will reduce the congestion on the other finish lines and reduce the number of classes that need to be sent on long loops to get them into their finish.

Another small change is that neither ‘Z’ flag nor ‘Black Flag’ penalties will be carried over to subsequent starts.

Ben Cummings

Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week:

Cowes Week is one of the UK's longest running sporting events, having first taken place in 1826. The aspirational and inclusive sailing regatta is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting around 1,000 yachts in up to 40 classes. Around 8,000 competitors race during the week ranging from weekend sailors to World Champions and Olympic medallists.

The lively festival atmosphere at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week means there is plenty of social and exciting onshore activities for sailors and the thousands of spectators who visit Cowes each year. The next edition of the regatta takes place from 3-10 August 2013. Entries are now open online.

The event is supported by its Title Sponsor, Aberdeen Asset Management. The supporting sponsors also help to make the event a success: Boss Watches, Chatham Marine, Gill, Isle of Wight Council, Mount Gay Rum, and Volvo Car UK.

See Cowes Week images

Last Updated ( Thursday, 06 June 2013 )