US Virtual Regatta thoughts

History has taught us that interesting things can result when bad things, such as a global pandemic disease outdreak, happen.  Such it has been this year.  In the US, Bailey White and Bruce Mahoney came up with the idea of a national virtual regatta, but without travelling and to replace the NA Nationals.  As a result, we asked them to tell us more so maybe other associations, can have a go too.

Bruce now explains.

Bailey and I came up with the idea one evening while chatting on the phone this past summer.  I was sharing my thoughts on our super weird year with no racing, and how we were all unsure of when we would get back to normal events.  Ever since I was 9 years old, I've always had a regatta on the horizon that I was thinking about, preparing for, or traveling to.  This carried all through school, college, and all the way up until this year.  Without that carrot on a stick I was pretty unmotivated to make repairs to my boat and go through the effort.  I was just not really interested to be honest.  This had never really happened before, and for once I was kind of, "bleh" about my A Cat.  

Bailey, playing the role of fleet therapist, said he'd spoken with quite a few others that had expressed similar thoughts.  So we hatched a plan for a way to see our buddies, challenge each other and generate some good media that would hopefully motivate not just us, but others as well. So the idea of the Virtual Regatta took form.  

Doing a GPS top speed was an obvious first goal, but realistically there's only a small percentage of our fleet that would be able to lay down truly fast runs.  This didn't satisfy our "motivate the fleet" goal.  I wanted it to be more inclusive, so we came up with the Showboat section which was basically a car show of sorts, where participants upload videos.  This would increase participation and would be fun to see what people came up with.

We discussed the option of opening it to the world but my plan was to run it in North America only to limit the technical details.  And that way if it was a total disaster we had less people to tell us how we should have done it!

The North Americans and Worlds were scheduled for October, so we decided to run it then for 31 days so that wherever you lived, you were going to get some weather windows where you could get sailing.  We checked in with our brave neighbors up north in Canada, and they said it would get chilly but they were game.  So we had some drysuit days up there, and shorts and flip flops in the south, and everything in between.

Usually one of the main challenges for any event is getting sponsorship and a budget together.  This was one of the biggest surprises for me.  Once we shared our vision for the event, it took only a few emails and calls before we had over $7,000 in prizes!  Our 8 sponsors included Total Boat who are a new sponsor for our fleet and have a great line of tools, paints and boatbuilding materials.   Ronstan, Robline & Zhik are perennial supporters of our US class and they came through yet again with all sorts of parts, bags and clothing.  Mahoney Projects sponsored Zoom coaching time, SailMax donated standing rigging, USACA came through with funds for a new sail and GPS units.  Emmanuel Cerf came through with support for the website, Aworlds. This is the website for the next World Championship, so it was logical to piggyback on this newly launched site.

Now that we had an idea and a whole bunch of prizes to give away things got real and we had to sort out the nitty gritty details of how it would all work.  We wanted it to be easy to use, as we have about as broad of a technical slice of humanity as you can get. 75 year old guys who only use their cellphones for phone calls (gasp!) all the way to our Olympic guys in their early 20’s with active Instagram accounts.  So we put together a little tutorial in the NOR about video editing, made a list of videos to watch for camera mounting options, and setup the data entry on the website to be as easy as possible.

I have to thank Dustin Romey for his expertise in forms, spreadsheets, monitoring software, etc. He did the “brains” behind the scenes to make the data entry work.  Emmanuel set us up with one of his employees, George Patterson who is his Multimedia Content Producer at Polypack.  That lofty title means he’s good with websites and did a great job of tweaking the layout, look and functionality of the website.  Both Dustin and George were good sports, and were harassed literally on a daily basis by me as we’d add features, chase gremlins, and tweak as we went along.  A big thanks to both of them.

As this was a totally new format, we did learn as we went and added features like the Photo Contest, and came up with fun prizes for the videos like, ‘Best Quick and Dirty repair’ and ‘Most creative use of carbon fiber’. There was no entry fee, you just had to be a class member.  So this was one of the few events that nobody complained about the entry fee and how there wasn’t a keg waiting for them on the beach every day! 

All in all we think we achieved our goal of getting our fleet motivated.  People stayed home but got sailing, stayed safely away from crowds, and we all got to see what everyone was up to.  

We had 19 entrants, with the top speeds creeping up throughout the event to 20.6kts for Classics and 29.6kts in the Foilers.  There were 27 Video submissions across 7 categories.  We had an Endurance Category for the ironmen in the fleet where you recorded your number of days sailed and mileage.   There was a great 3 way battle for the total days sailed where Jeff LoSapio logged 27 days out of 31!  Ben Hall won the Distance division with 371 miles.  It was a lot of fun checking in each day and of course making calls and texts cheering on the sailors to get going.

We had our Zoom trophy presentation last Friday evening, and it was great to see everyone together and yapping about boats for nearly an hour and a half.  It was a lot of work to setup and manage, but it was totally worth it to see everyone again enjoying our great boats.  We will definitely do it again next year, maybe in a warmer month for the sailors up north.

There is one more prize available, so wherever you live, head over and vote on the Fan Favorite Video from the top 4 that the judges collected.  https://aworlds.com/2020-virtual-regatta/

Bruce Mahoney

USA 311