John Rousmaniere does not seem to want to pass judgment regarding the wisdom of establishing a standard on whether to allow a race in life-threatening weather. (Seamanship, January).
At the same time, he makes a good, logical case for establishing such standards. They would guard against racers throwing caution to the wind and being won over by what he calls the emotional momentum of the race, and the knowledge that it will go on regardless of weather conditions.
Once a standard as to permissible weather is established, whether for all races under a certain jurisdiction or for any given race, then the emotional momentum would not get the upper hand. People might be upset and schedules thrown off, but the blame could be placed on the organizers-if there must be blame.
In light of the Sydney-Hobart debacle, maybe people would see how unimportant their irritations over race delays are relative to human life. If authorities such as Rousmaniere made a strong statement, along the lines of his article but stronger, race authorities might listen and change policies. It would even become accepted practice.
The answer from John:
Richard Wolfram is right. Race organizers should resist the temptation both to assign all the responsibility for carrying-on to the sailors and to subordinate all concerns of good seamanship to satisfying social pressures. They must independently make their own objective risk analysis of coming weather and try to establish go- or no-go standards.
But the question is: What's the right standard? It will depend on the situation. In a day race the call is easy: If the weather right now is so lousy that the boats can't cross the startling line, don't sail the race. A distance race, stretched over varying geography and many miles, adds complexity.
Just like cruising sailors heading out on a passage, race organizers should carefully articulate and examine their own standards of suitable forecasts and how they would balance them against the fleet's personal requirements. Making the problem more complicated is the tendency of some meteorologists to hedge their bets when a gloomy forecast is a close call. Remembering the fate of the boy who cried wolf, they don't relish earning reputations as alarmists.
All this places a tremendous burden on race committees. Dutiful ones will welcome the challenge and prepare themselves for it. Smart ones will make the right decisions. Lucky ones won't be caught in the bind in the first place.
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