Last Sunday competitors had gathered at the CYCA for the final race of the winter point score series. We were there for the pre-race breakfast with friends.
As we’d driven over, the wind was quite strong and from the west. At the club we were glad to have brought our thickest coats and be sitting in the sun as the wind was cutting. Every now and then, a gust came through from the south-west and really rattled the halyards and flattened the flags. After each batch of gusts, the wind went north-west for a bit, before settling back into the steady westerly.
This caused a dilemma for the race organisers. No one wants to cancel a race, particularly the series decider. At the same time, the risk of injury to sailors and damage to the yachts had to be taken into account. While each yacht individually may have been able to handle the conditions, its ability could well be hampered in the midst of a large fleet.
Apart from the one-design Sydney 38 division, the race is a pursuit one, so you have boats of very different sizes, weights and hull shapes starting at the same time, rather than division by division. We had always enjoyed this series when we owned our Thunderbird because each boat you overtook made you closer to a win.
Anyway, on Sunday the start boat motored out to the open harbour to check and report on conditions there.
Of course, included in the Sailing Instructions for the series is the Racing Rules of Sailing Fundamental Rule 4:
The responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone.
But on Sunday the decision was made by club officials and the race was cancelled. The biggest gust recorded at Fort Denison was 43 knots from the west at 11.30 am – the exact time of the race start.
If you were cruising, you’d be unlikely to venture out in similar conditions. But the same rule should apply:
As skipper you are responsible for the safety of your vessel and the lives of your crew so it’s up to you to decide when to set sail, when to seek shelter and when to stay home.