Race Committee Blues
(Based on a true story)
by Shirley Schroeder

Last year our sailing club had a problem getting a regular crew for the Race Committee. So we all took turns. My husband and I signed up for a Saturday in July.

When the day arrived the weather was a small-craft racers' dream - winds out of the southwest at five mph with gusts to ten. We arrived at the dock an hour early, launched our 15-foot fishing boat we use as the committee boat and motored out to set up the marks. We use four-foot high, bright orange balloon-type equipment with steel anchors at the end of ropes to hold them in place. We set the marks in a triangle-shaped course with one mark in the center and headed back to shore to help our fellow sailors get going.
Roughly half our racers sail their small craft alone so we held Sam's sidestay while he raised the main of his Laser and then gave him a nice sendoff. When Charlie found a broken shackle for the jib sheet of his Puffer, we helped him rig the line another way and he was able to race. Shar needed a crew for her M-16 so we rounded up one of Zach's teenage daughters to help her. Sue, one of our newest members without a boat, asked if she could go along on the committee boat. She hopped in to wait for us. Finally we shoved the last craft away from the dock and realized we probably should be out on the lake checking wind direction.
We jumped into the boat and struggled starting the 50-hp motor. Funny but we had no trouble starting her the first time. After several minutes yanking on the starter cord, Terry remembered to prime the thing and then it started with a roar.

Photo provided by Boatingshots.com.

When we arrived near the race course we met Sam who pointed behind us yelling, "Isn't that mark a bit close to shore?" Sure enough the first mark had broken loose and drifted way off course. The anchor hadn't held at all so we sped over to retrieve it.

Hauling it back to its proper place, we let the mark go and the line swung around to the back of the boat promptly fouling the propeller on the motor. The motor abruptly stopped and we sat there helpless. Terry quickly pulled it up and clawed at the tangle of ropes to free them from the propeller. He also yanked a bunch of seaweed off while he was at it. Then he took the mark to the front of the boat and slung it over the edge. She settled down and seemed ready to stay put this time.

We checked the wind with a handkerchief and positioned a perfect starting line just off that first windward mark. Meanwhile our eleven racers were milling around us asking when we intended to get started. Terry said, "Soon" and asked me to get each boat's sail number written down while he found the flags.

"What do I write them on?" I asked.

"On that clipboard over there on the seat."

"What seat? I don't see any clipboard."

And the search was on. Sue dug under the seats. I checked aft under the life jackets. No clipboard. Finally we gave up looking for it and I searched in my purse for something to write on. A grocery store receipt would have to do and I began scribbling down sail numbers. (Turns out the clipboard was "on the seat" alright, but in the car back on shore.)

Photo provided by Boatingshots.com.

Terry grabbed the flags and horn and put the five-minute-to-start flag up. Usually we begin with the ten-minute one but since we were already so late getting started we decided to shorten the time. Everyone was out there anyway.

We got the first of three races started and settled down in the boat to relax. Some time into the race Sue wanted to switch seats to see better and in the process slipped, wedging her foot between the seat and the side of the boat. I knelt down to help her and Terry yelled, "Get the records. The first boats are nearing the finish line." Sue had to wait while I scrambled for my purse, dug out the receipt and wrote the times down as the boats crossed the finish line. Race number one was over.

Terry set up the five-minutes-to-start flag while Sue and I worked on freeing her foot. We finally unlaced her shoe and released her foot from it. Then we easily freed the shoe itself. Sue flopped down on the seat, rubbing her ankle but OK.

During the second race the wind picked up and shifted fifteen degrees to the south. Our little fishing boat began some serious rocking and rolling and Sue's face became paler and paler.

"Have trouble with motion?" I asked.

She nodded.

"Try staring at the shore line or the tops of the trees. Looking at something stationery like that often helps," I said with a smile.

The second race was well underway when Terry exclaimed, "What's the matter with this watch? It isn't running. How'll we know the right time for everyone now?"

"Oh, no," I said thinking wildly. "Hey, I know. Quick start it now and we'll just take these times and add five minutes to everybody or wait, we'll use an estimate from the first race. That should be close enough don't you think?"

"OK. It's running now. Guess that's all we can do."

Before the last race we decided to reset the line. Terry put up the delay-race flag. I pulled in the anchor but it caught on the front railing of the boat and I couldn't free it. Terry came to help as Charlie sailed by asking why the cancel-race flag was up. Terry quickly lowered that flag and replaced it with the right one.
The wind was shifting every couple minutes so we finally decided to forget resetting the starting line and Terry concentrated instead on unhooking the anchor from the railing. Finally he gave it a shove with his foot and into the water it went with a splash. Up went the five-minute-until-race flag and we prepared for race number three.

Sue was looking less pale but wasn't much help slumped against the side of the boat. Terry and I juggled the flags, timer, starting and finishing horn and kept the scores ourselves. We finished the third race over an hour later than usual but felt good we got them all in.

I gathered up the anchor line and leaned way over the front end of the boat to make sure it didn't catch on the edge of the railing again. In the process, I accidentally bumped something and winced when I heard Sue yelp. I'd bumped her sore ankle. I apologized profusely as I flopped down next to her. We spun around to all the marks and hauled them into the boat.

When we got to shore, I took the grocery receipt list of race results to our Commodore who does all the calculating and announces the placings.

"What's this?" he asked with a frown.

"Sorry," I said. "We forgot the clipboard and that's all I had to write the results on. Hope it's OK."

Sue limped to her car with a frown on her face but gave me a half-hearted grin and waved when I yelled "Nice to have you along, Sue." Although a few things had gone wrong out there, we did manage to get the job done.

When the next season came we vowed to do a better job but somehow the sign-up sheet never got to us. Guess we weren't needed. And we never did see Sue again. She must not be into racing.

Shirley Schroeder is a freelance writer from Wisconsin and a member of the Lake DuBay Sailing Association.