Re: race participation
Fecklessdolphin... I learned a little bit (stress on the little) about racing when I joined hoofers at UW-Madison over 20 years ago in grad school. Racing was on small Tech Dinghys and it was a blast! It was a great experience because many of the other racers were beginners also. I became hooked immediately. Unfortunately... Life, family, and my job got in the way and I had only sailed on other people's boats a handful of times over the past two decades. Then, last year I convinced my wife to buy our Catalina 320 and put it up on Leech Lake (hey, we have 4 kids and need the room... It's our weekend "cabin").
But to get to the question at hand... I was still dying to race, even if doing so from the RV division meant I'd get last place. A buddy of mine convinced me that the LLR Regatta would be perfect for us. He told me "It's a big 3 day party and other a few %^*holes, everybody is friendly and just there to have fun". I was sure he couldn't be right, because when racing is involved, people want to win... Or at least do well. I finally entered and had all the jitters talked about above. Especially the fact that I wouldn't be flying a spinnaker and was trying hard to remember starting rules from 20 yrs ago.
Turns out we didn't get last... Maybe about 65th out of 70 boats and that was mostly due to <3-5 kt winds on the last two days that definitely wasn't going to help out a spinnakerless, grill toting, 11,000lb RV masquerading as a boat!!
But it was the best time I've had on a boat ever. Key to me entering was my friends insistence that "everyone was just there to have fun!". I would urge you to keep a fun atmosphere... And even though its still a race, try to de-emphasize the competition part for the newbies. Maybe the first couple of weeks you can have separate starts for people who are seriously trying to "race" and those that just want to learn how to sail their boat better and have fun. I think that within a couple races, more of those boats will be itching to start with the real racers to test themselves.