Here’s a question from a reader:
— What is the goal of Marstrand Big Boat Race,
and why do you think it’s so popular?
Maybe there’s a ”unique selling point”?
Sorry, but I there’s no easy answer.
But I’ll try to formulate my perspectives.
The most important thing is to always, always, always understand who’s your primary ”customer”. Who do we need to keep happy, no matter what. For me, it’s the yacht owners.
They are the ones that has to go through all the hassle of getting the boat to the starting line, pays most of the bills and struggle with crew and logistics. And who might want to bring their, and their crews, families to the event.
Naturally there are many other parties involved; crews, families, media, sponsors, clubs, etc, etc. But in any decision, we always try to figure out if it adds value for the owner or not. Or if some things actually make their experience worse.
More regattas should have a clear value proposition – that everyone understand.
In the 80’s and 90’s, we used to have a weekend regatta in July, Marstrandsregattan, where hundreds of J/24, Maxi Racers and Albin Express raced hard and partied even harder. Most local owners raced as crew, and still talk fondly of late night shenanigans.
With bigger boats, and higher expectations, we wanted to recreate the same feeling ”with a splash of St Tropez”.
We also targeted a specific segment; local crews who races regularly, mostly for fun, but with some ambition. This would be their yearly “must-do” event that were planned a year in advance. With this in mind, we knew that the more ambitious, semi-pro, crews would if enough boats gathered. And at the other end of the spectrum, we would get crews that wanted to try this type of racing for the first time.
Making a regatta for the 10-15 best boats in the region, and making everyone else feel un-welcome, is one of the biggest mistakes I see. Setting the bar to high, often makes it hard just to get to the starting line, and most of the crews feel disappointed if results are the only priority.
As always, the devil is in the details.
So, we tried to figure out what we (as sailors) love. And what we hate.
Starts. A tight starting line with 35 big boats is exciting, and not something you do every day. So, I don’t mind a couple of extra starts as long as we’ll be able to stay on schedule.
Racing. That’s why we’re here. And we don’t need a perfect course and stable conditions to get going. Great race management isn’t about perfection. It’s about racing instead of waiting, and getting in three good races a day.
To know what’s going on. If race management is moving marks, waiting for a shift or wrestling with the anchor. Just let us know. If all communication is open, we understand that you’re doing your best. And when it comes to communication, more is almost always better.
Also on land. Every morning we send an email and a text to all the owners with agenda, important events and a short weather briefing. Takes 10 minutes, but it’s invaluable if you want to plan your day.
Beer. And hanging with the crew. No-brainers. But we don’t want to take our crew around town for this, and risk losing them along the way. So we took the ”dock party”-idea from Spi Ouest and make sure there’s a party going on as soon as you dock the boat.
A contact person. There’s always questions before entering a regatta. How hard can it be to to have a single point of contact to actually help those who want to take part? We’ve all experienced the black hole of email@example.com, where no one answers.
Logistics. The hardest part about yacht racing! Getting the boat to and from the regatta, getting people to the right spot at the right time, registration at off times/locations, finding the sailmaker, … It never ends. So, we thought really hard about how we could minimize those problems.
Looking for a parking space. Arriving late with a 45-footer trying to find a good spot. Pretty stressful. So, we organized all the moorings and sent out a simple map. A word of warning; this can be like planning a wedding dinner, were everyone has opinions on who should sit next to who ? We choose to group boats by brand… and trying to mix crews that know each other with new friends.
Trying to gather the crew in the morning – and feed them? The most stressful time for any skipper/owner. So we arranged a big breakfast, where everyone can meet up, talk to other crews and just hang around for the skippers meeting.
Unnecessary safety regulations. What’s up with this? Do we really need to enforce Category 3 to race in 40-footers just outside the islands? Do we really want ex-military in big RIBs to shout at us for being at the wrong place? Do we want to make it as painful as possible to clear a security checks?
Waiting for results. A no-brainer. No one wants to way for hours to know how a race ended. Even worse, we see examples were race management struggle for days to publish results. Make it a priority and put some good people on the job, and it’s possible to have results between races and before the boats reach the harbor. One year we even made sure paper copies were handed out when the boats came in.
Naturally, there will be conflicts, where Race Management and the sailors think differently. But most of the time there’s a way to make a decision that will benefit the sailors.
So, the secret sauce is putting the competitors first. Not really rocket science, but many organizers seem to have forgotten why people came to their regatta in the first place.
And, as said, the devil is in the details. Having a small project group aligned is one thing. Getting many volunteers and partners to deliver on this promise is another. But I think we’ve shown what can be done.
This is also a good opportunity to thank Hjuvik BK, Marstrand SS and everyone else that really understands what we want.