Splitting a Big Fleet

Tuesday, 27 December 2016 20:25
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by Pietro Fantoni, SCIRA Vice Commodore

At a major international event (essentially at a World Championship or an Open European Championship), with many boats, I believe it is better to divide the fleet in two and sail qualifying races (during the first 2 days) and then the final races as gold and silver fleets.

I know, it is a hotly debated topic and discussions have often been lively. In my opinion the "critical mass" is 70 boats. So if we have an event with 70 teams or more, we should divide the fleet into two.

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Historically, the Snipe World Championship had a narrow selection criteria and very few boats on the starting line. It seems very strange today, but until 1973 there was only one entry per country, when the fleet doubled in size—to two entries per country, plus the current World champion. In 1992 the class moved to a quota system based upon the number of registered boats in each country for the prior year. There was a maximum of 4 entries per country, plus the Hemisphere champions. In 2001, the entry quota changed again to include the average number of registered boats for the prior two years, and a sliding scale of entries from a minimum of two to a maximum of 8; plus the Hemisphere champions; plus the top two junior world finishers; plus an additional entry for the host country and fleet.

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Here are the numbers for the past twenty years:
1997 San Diego, USA - 52
1999 Santiago de la Ribera, Spain - 56
2001 Punta del Este, Uruguay - 61
2003 Landskrona, Sweden, 58
2005 Gamagori, Japan - 51
2007 Porto, Portugal - 57
2009 San Diego, USA - 49
2011 Rungsted, Denmark - 59

In 2011 the Deed of Gift was radically changed, effective in 2013; a re-allocation of quotas per country that allows more competitors to attend the Worlds if they meet certain criteria.

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So, in the last two World Championships the number of boats increased: 77 boats in Rio de Janeiro (2013), Brazil and 83 in Talamone, Italy (2015).

And now potentially at the next 2017 Worlds in La Coruna, Spain, we could have 116 boats, according to the "Worlds Quotas 2017". More realistically, there will be 80-90.

It is a good thing to have more boats at a World Championship or Europeans. Good for the Snipe sailors, good for the organizers who have an event with more visibility and attractive for sponsors, and good for the class in itself because it is more attractive for other sailors.

However having many boats demands careful planning and managing the logistics, not only on land, but also on the water.

I was lucky enough to be in Santiago de la Ribera, Spain during the 2016 Open Europeans. It was a "record" event for the Snipe Class, an international regatta with 109 boats. SCIRA and the organizers were smart and wrote special (and new for the Class) Sailing Instructions. The huge fleet sailed the regatta always divided into 2 fleets (yellow and blue qualifying fleets, and then gold/silver for the final series). There were two different race areas with two separate race committees, juries, support boats etc.

The regatta was managed very well by the RC; there weren't too many general recalls, the mark roundings were OK, and the level of compliance with the rules by the sailors was decent. Ultimately the races were quite fair.

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Someone could argue that the best team would win whether there was a big fleet or a small fleet. Probably this is right. But we need to assure fair races for every sailor.

Someone else could argue that the tradition of the Class is for the old rule: "one regatta, one fleet, same race course, same starting line." I am not sure this tradition should stay in place now that we have big fleets at the Senior World Championship and at the Open Europeans. (The tradition for these events was much smaller fleets and closed events.)

In the US, the Nationals with a high number of entries have always sailed with the fleet divided in two (the Crosby qualifying series, and then the silver and gold Wells and Henzerling Trophies).

For sure having two fleets involves organizational difficulties. But these difficulties are managed by experienced clubs already for other classes' major events with huge fleets, as for the Optis, Lasers, 420s, 29ers.

The Stars and the 505s have different systems. Very long race courses and one long race per day for the Star Worlds. "Rabbit starts" and very long race courses for the 505 Worlds with only 1 or 2 races per day. In the 505 they are able to reach 130 boats or more, but the rabbit start is a "unconventional" starting procedure and – I am sure - many of us don't want to test it for the Snipes.

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Personally when I race, I prefer not to waste too much time on the water with general recalls, AP and Zulu flags, and long waits to set very long starting lines. Whatever the results of my race, I want to spend as much of my time on the water racing as possible.

Some of you were in Talamone at the 2015 World Championship and will remember what it means when a world-caliber fleet of 83 boats lines up in an unstable offshore wind on a very very long starting line. With 83 boats on the same starting line, we had a line of 0.30 miles (about 550 meters), which means big leverage. With a line so long, a wind shift of only 10 degrees results in a very big advantage to one end or the other (29 boat lengths). When the wind oscillates 20 or 30 degrees, the advantage (or disadvantage) of one end over the other was even more amplified (56 boat lengths for a 20° shift, and 82 boat lengths for a 30° shift).

Read more about long starting line: http://www.snipetoday.org/articles/articles-from-the-experts/tactics-strategies/item/2584-world-class-starting-lines-geometry-and-geography

The conclusion was that with an unstable wind, and more than 80 boats, it is almost impossible to set a square starting line. And when the line is not square, we see a big mess of boats at one end, all pushing, crashing and yelling, which will force the Race Committee to hoist the AP or general recall flag so they can reposition the starting line. That's why we spent eight hours on the water to finish only one race per day, despite the efforts and hard work of the Race Committee.

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With 2 fleets of 40 boats (or 54-55 as we had in Santiago for the Open Europeans), the length of the starting line is more or less half of what it was in Talamone. So it is much easier for the Race Committee to set a square line; and if the line is not square, they can reposition it much quicker. Also the leverage between the pin and the boats is less important and the RC can easily recognize sail/bow numbers for OCS and individual recall.

120325 ONSnipeMM 0597Another issue to consider is the mark roundings.

The Snipe is a class where the speed differences are not so pronounced as in other classes (especially skiffs) and so we are often in the middle of a crowded mark rounding at the leeward gate or we hear unpronounceable words toward port tackers at the top mark. The problems become more complicated when there are 80 boats. And the problem is not solved even if the first leg is stretched by the Race Committee more than the usual length up to 1.25 NM (which is a very long beat).

I remember - almost like a nightmare - the mark roundings at the leeward gate in Rio de Janeiro 2013. One mark of the gate was very often favored and 20 boats could arrive there almost at the same time, with crews screaming and yelling. At the end of each day there was a lot of repair work to do on many boats with filler, fiberglass, and gelcoat. Many protestors, many protestees, many witnesses, many hearings till late in the evening. For sure less fun.

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At crowded mark roundings, often the most arrogant team is clearly favored. But this is not "boat racing", it is another sport, mybe "boat wrestling." In other cases the more fortunate is able to gain a lot, but not based on merit.. Again in Rio I remember that, just before the leeward gate, I was more or less 20 meters behind a big group of boats (among them was the other Italian boat Michel-Longhi). All the boats decided to round the left mark (looking downwind), which was much more favored. We were very lucky, because at the time we were approaching the mark, all the boats in front of us (more or less 20 boats) were rafted up with each other, like a pontoon out of control, drifting downwind with the current and the wind. At the end we had a 5 meter gap between the mark and the "pontoon"and we were able in 10 seconds to gain at least 20 boats. Ridiculous!

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These are the reasons why I am in favor of splitting the fleet in two for the major events with more than 70 bats. Fair races, respect for the racing rules, less damage, less yelling, less time wasting for the start: more serious sailing, more serious fun.

And you, what do you think about this topic?

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Pietro Fantoni

Website: www.snipetoday.org Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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