Running a Pursuit Race

This is an aide-memoire for the Race Officer running a pursuit race at HLSTC.

Pursuit principles

First, a recap of the basic idea behind the pursuit race. We may be more familiar with handicap races, in which we start all boats at the same time, and then we correct each boat's finishing time to deal with differences in boats' inherent speed. With a pursuit race, we apply all the handicap allowance at the start, by starting classes at different times according to their designed performance. Slower boats start before faster ones.

You have a choice of race durations, from which you can select according to the conditions of the day. Depending on which one you choose, boats in the middle of the fleet will sail from around 40 minutes to about an hour; slower boats will start earlier and sail for longer; faster boats will start later. The exact duration depends on which boat classes are taking part on the day.

If we have calculated the start times correctly, and if all boats are sailed with the same skill level, then (apart from wind variations and sheer luck), when we arrive at the calculated finish time, we should expect all the boats to have covered the same distance, and so to have arrived at the same point on the course, though we can't predict where that might be. In practice, the more skilful sailors will have sailed beyond this meeting point, whilst others will have fallen short. The winner is the one who has covered the greatest distance, as indicated by position relative to other boats.

So if, at the finish, boat A is ahead of boat B (after taking account of the numbers of laps each one has sailed), then boat A has beaten boat B, and so on for all the others. There is no more calculation or correction to be done.

The pursuit course

You use exactly the same ideas in setting the pursuit course as you would for a handicap, except that, if you only have a few boats - say up to three - going off at any one start time, it is not so critical to have an upwind start, and you may choose to run the start near the clubhouse on a different point of sail. (But NOT a dead run; go around the other way!) There is NO finish line for a pursuit race.

The pursuit briefing

Before you start the briefing itself, you need to make a list of all the boats taking part, starting with the slowest and running through to the fastest. Turn up the appropriate Pursuit schedule in the Race Officer Handbook, and read off the column of times for this set of boats. You need to note all the start times AND the finish time; you'll use the list in the briefing, and also for running the actual start sequence. If you are not familiar with these tables, this guide will help you to find your way around them.

In the actual briefing, you describe the course in the same way as for a handicap race, and then you make sure that all sailors know the start time that applies to them. You should also remind everyone that, at the finishing time, they need to keep track of their position relative to boats near them.

The pursuit start sequence

You set the official watch in the usual way, for a 5-4-1-0 start, and run through the normal start sequence of flags and signals. When the watch reaches zero, you start the first class with the usual flag and sound signals, and then, for all the rest of the classes, the only official signal is a single hoot for each, with no flag signal. But it will be helpful to the sailors if you make an announcement (like "one minute to the Laser start") at an appropriate time after the start of each class, to give reasonable warning for the following class, and again ("Laser start") at their actual start time. Each boat should already be aware of its proper start time, but some may have been out of range when you gave the initial start signal, and thus be needing a bit of help.

Recording pursuit progress

If there is a wide spread of start times, you are quite likely to have slow boats coming around again through the start line before you have started the fastest boats, and you need to keep track of this and record it in the usual way. Once you have got everybody started, you carry on keeping track of progress, paying particular attention to which lap each boat is on, because of the staggered start.

The pursuit finish

Keep an eye on the time as the race goes on. It is important to finish the race at exactly the right time, or the positions will be meaningless. Sound the hooter (one long sound) when the watch reaches the figure you read off the bottom of the column. Everybody has now finished, and you write down the finishing order (who has sailed the furthest), except . . .

Occasionally there will be two or more boats in close competition and in such a position that you can't see which one is leading; in this case you can only ask the sailors themselves, or others close by, if there are any. There may also be occasions when even the sailors themselves don't know - if, for instance they are on opposite sides of a beat. In this case they have to sail on until they next come together, or to the next mark, when the position will be clarified.

The pursuit result

Once you have got the tricky cases sorted out, you write down the finishing order on the score sheet, and that is the official result. There is no further correction or calculation.