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Regattas Behind the Scenes – Race Organizers Meet this Month

Imagine a regatta with no marker buoys outlining a course, no starting gun to launch the fleet, no judges to settle protests and no rum-and-reggae parties kicking up on shore. Yes, sailors are the stars of these hot yachting events, but it takes an all-star supporting cast of talented folks working behind the scenes to not only put on a regatta, but also do it well.  Over the next several months, All At Sea will dedicate a column to regatta organization and its players.

October is the ideal kick-off for this column as the Caribbean Sailing Association’s (CSA) 5th annual Race Organizer’s Conference (ROC) takes place October 24-25 and sets the tenor for the 2008-09 season to come.
The purpose of the ROC, says Cary Byerley, CSA president, “is to bring together representatives from all the Caribbean regattas to exchange ideas, knowledge, joint marketing thoughts and network.

“Meetings such as this have ended the ‘my regatta is better than yours’ mentality, says Byerley. “Organizers have grown to become partners in regatta orchestration and have come to realize the importance of working together to make beneficial changes in all regattas, therefore helping the whole Caribbean region.”

Topics for discussion can be just about anything.  Julie San Martin, director of the St. Croix International Regatta, explains, “Last year, for example, we spent a lot of time on marketing and sponsor ‘management’. No marketing, no sponsors, no regattas. In theory, a regatta should be able to be put on from the entry fees, but in actuality, these represent no more than 40 percent to 50 percent of the funds needed. Sponsors make and often control certain aspects of the regatta.”

San Martin continues, “Also last year, there was discussion about the CSA versus IRC rating rule. Class allocation and rating assignments, registration and timely race results are always a challenge for everyone.”

“There’s also the difficulty of getting an appropriate volunteer race committee and work boats out on the course,” San Martin adds.  “It appears that all the islands have the same issues of aging out and low volunteerism. We have started going to each other’s regattas and working as race committee, sometimes for room and board, sometimes on our own ticket.”

Race organization, says Peter Bailee, who chaired Tobago Race Week last year, “requires a lot of preparation to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all, both on and off shore. Lots of boats, people, communications, people on standby in event of a crisis, entertainment, and most importantly getting sponsors aboard.”

Planning is key, says Judy Petz, director of the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival and CSA vice president-north. “The major difference among regattas is scale. It takes all of the same elements, from advertising, race officers, food, entertainment, committee boats, sponsors, awards, volunteers and then of course getting sailors to come and race. The BVI has a full year document of all the areas and tasks to cover.  Larger events have full time managers.”

The major players, says the CSA’s Byerley, “are the ones that put the regatta together in the correct way. If you do not have the ground work in place then it is very hard for the visiting officials to do their work to the best that they can.”

The regatta director, adds St. Croix’s San Martin, “operates as a dictator with a highly competent committee. Next up is the sponsor and marketing manager. This job falls to the director in the smaller regattas, but seems to be developing as a distinct position for many regattas. Then, there’s the International Judges and PRO – Primary Race Officer. In recent years we’ve seen a new style that calls for different racing circles, each with its own PRO. We run three in St. Croix, as does Culebra, St. Thomas and the BVI, for example.”

San Martin adds, “The reason we all use visiting officials is to expand our knowledge. By bringing in the guys who are working the events in the US, we have the opportunity to stay current—and to learn and improve!”

Organizing a regatta in the Caribbean has its own unique challenges.

One of the biggest, San Martin says, is “the lack of fleets. Because of our small size, we don’t have large one-design classes. Instead, we have an odd mixture of boats that the organizers handicap so they can race each other.”

Another challenge, says San Martin, is “last minute registration. This is a problem for all the Caribbean regattas. In the U.S., registration is usually cut off about two weeks before a big event. In the Caribbean, we only have about 40 percent of our competitors identified two weeks ahead of time.”

Of course, the region’s biggest advantage also presents its own challenge.  The BVI’s Petz says, “The Caribbean has the most beautiful and perfect sailing water in the world. Our largest challenge is letting people know about the events. To achieve a laid-back atmosphere with high tech and professional standards is essential to have sailors spread the word and return.”

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