Ooding with Ernie – the fastest milkman in the west

Well ok – he’s not really a milkman. He does however hold more trophies than anyone else in the club having swept the board (again!) in last year’s racing and this is the song we like to sing about his successes.  So last Sunday I found myself heading out to ood with Ernie and Tess (all the photos on this post are courtesy of Tess as I forgot my camera).  The plan was that we were going to be indoctrinated into the dark art of the ood.

I’ve done it before. Several times. It’s not been pretty – and I was hoping that having many hands and an expert to share the secrets would be a help.  It was.  In the first instance even just having someone who knew what they were doing having the same problems as you are is helpful – and it turns out some of it really wasn’t me!

The first difficulty is the setup. So you need a committee boat and everything that goes with the racing.  We have a pretty nifty flag stand so it only took us the half hour to find the additional shortened course and individual recall flags. This is despite the fact the same flags are used in the same boat every week.  I am sure we have flag pixies.

So then you need to find the idiot ood sheet to identify which is which.  But of course this is stuck down the back of the computer in the race office for some reason, and there is only one copy of it, so until it’s found just before launch you are guessing.

Its definitely one of these…..

Then you have to test the horn. And the radio. And the handheld radio for when the radio in the boat doesn’t work (usually when you have spilt your tea on it).

And then get all your extra kit (pencil, spare pencil, watches, binoculars, dry bag which is already wet inside, whistle and of course not forgetting your horn pressing finger).  There are other things as well but we forgot most of them, so well stick to the basics that we actually remembered.

You then need to make sure you are properly dressed – and have a buoyancy aid on.  Just because you are ooding doesn’t mean you won’t end up in the water when waving overenthusiastically at a patrol boat when the two radios you tested pack up.

So having done all this – we finally got on the water.  And now, at no charge I am going to share the secrets of the ood as imparted by the milkman.

The dark arts of the ood

Decide on your course. I always try to stick to triangles or a trapezoid.  I struggle with anything much more complicated as a competitor myself, but it turns out some races have specific requirements.    This is a great tip – turns out races are meant to be a certain length of time, and sometimes a pre-determined layout – SOOOO never knew this – so this should affect the course.  So should the type of boats.  This is when it is useful to have remembered the signing in sheet from the clubhouse so you know who is racing in what…

You can then work out where the wind is coming from and get your patrol boat to lay the windward mark.  Do this by holding up a flag and seeing how it streams.  Note – make sure you aren’t using the racing abandoned flag to do this.

Then attempt the impossible task of using a little gadget to work out where start line goes.  No, I don’t know what it’s called, it does degrees and stuff!  Having done this, start the impossible task of getting the pin dropped by the patrol boat.  Remember that instructions like ‘left a bit, right a bit’ aren’t going to help as they aren’t on the same boat as you.  This is also a good time to remind yourself that in good radio protocol you don’t say ‘Over and Out’. Or ‘10-4 good buddy’.

Having decided your course then hold it up on the board and try to make sure that you don’t fall in while attempting  to show it to boats as they sail past.  Hot tip – while doing this with boats sailing around the committee boat competitors will often shout you a question – if you don’t hear what someone shouts at you from their boat, don’t say yes in a vaguely distracted way.   You have almost certainly put your foot in it.

Now the next hot tip is about time.  We run on a three minute start.  But it’s all about the four minutes. Set the watches for four and all start them together – it reduces the things you do in the actual start sequence and also means you can check that all if the watches are running at the same time in case you accidentally stop one while waving at the patrol boat and have to rely on one of the ‘backup’ watches for times. This has never happened to me. Honest.

You can then count down from four minutes to the actual start of the three minute sequence.  Wise competitors can sail close to the committee boat to try and get a fast track into how the sequence is going as you count down to others in the boat with you.  If you find this is the case a good round of replacing the number with the word ‘rhubarb’ always throws them off the scent.  Remember this will also confuse the heck out of the others in the boat with you as well.

‘Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb!’

This next piece of advice is where I have fallen down.  Don’t ood alone.  I have normally ooded alone. Let’s be honest – I only ever do it out of lack of anyone else to do it. And it turns out this is the root of all evil.  At the start of the three minutes you have to switch off the radio, blow the horn and pull up random flag as detailed on the idiot ood sheet.   At one point in time I would also be trying to start my watch as well.   Turns out what you also need here is a minion helper to do one of these (get them to do the flags it’s scarier) while you count down and blow the horn. Continue to do this all the way through the three minute sequence while trying to not let idiot ood sheet blow away. Both watch the line for infringement and be ready to put up the recall flag if required.  Make sure you aren’t standing on it.

So as long as you get a clean start then its all good and having successfully navigated the start sequence give yourself giant pat on the back. Congratulate all others on the boat and sit back and watch the fun.  Remember to switch the radio back on ad check in with the patrol team.  It makes them feel loved.

You do get a great view of the racing and tactics while on the committee boat. So as long as it’s not cold wet and windy (hysterical laughter about the one day of sailing at Kielder that hasn’t involved at least two out of the three) then this can be the fun bit.

That’s the Boatfixer with his Dennis the Menace kite up!

But all too quickly the fast boats will be upon you – so make sure you have your pencil and paper at the ready.  There is no point using a pen.  The ink WILL run in the rain.  (of course it’s raining.  Its Kielder remember?)  Take times for each boat on each lap. That way if something goes wrong and the race is stopped for any reason or you forget to finish the race then you can still get some results.  Don’t wave at people as they go past – it looks unprofessional.  If there are two of you a good way to do times is for one to watch the line and read out tines, the other to note them.  If possible have two pieces of paper on clipboards to put your with times on – this is helpful for when one of them blows away.

Taking lap times is also a good way to get a measure of the time it is taking boats to get round – this will also give a measure of how many more laps you can sensibly run in the time remaining – if it’s taking 25 mins for one lap and its only due to run for 30 minutes then you need to think about shortening the course.  Who knew?  And you need to do this before the first boat has finished the lap you want to end on as you have to find the flag, press the horn and run it up the flagpole before they cross the line.  Realising it would be a good idea to shorten the course once a couple of boats are already over the line can mean that anyone you shorten on now will have to sit around and wait while the boats you released do the extra lap.  No one minds this – much.  Especially when it’s raining and there isn’t much wind so they are stuck sitting in the middle of the lake for 25 mins watching you watching the boats you let through before you made up your mind and cursing silently under your breath.

So whether you finish as you had planned, or you shorten the course early, the only difference with your last lap is that once they cross the line you blow your horn at them so they know they have finished.  Do not put up the shortened course flag and then get side-tracked into a conversation.  Boats WILL cross the line and you won’t have a time for them.

And that is apparently all there is too it.  Check the wind and your start line… and go again!

So what was the result of all of this?  I got a finish for every competitor in every race.  I didn’t run a general recall. I didn’t abandon a start sequence.  I didn’t; have to ask anyone if they had won.  I also didn’t go home feeling like I needed to lie down in a darkened room for a few hours.  I’m calling it a win.

I’m smiling and everything….

Ernie’s Tips

Make sure you go out onto the water well equipped – extra pencils, papers and watches are never going to go amiss

Make sure you know the length and course for each of the racing you are running.  If you aren’t sure this info should be in your race office somewhere

Display your course info clearly.

Get on with it – people are there to race, not watch you spend hours minutely adjusting a start line.

Have a friend to help with the flags and take times.

Start your sequence a minute early to give you time to prepare.

Time every lap

Be mindful of the different speed boats you have on the course and remember your race will be the length it takes you slowest boat to finish

Know where your flags are in case you need them

Concentrate – ALL THE TIME – the race might have just started but you still need to keep an eye out to make sure you aren’t surprised by any fast boats getting round a small course while you are still pouring the tea.

Get races finished and started quickly.

My Tips

Wear a hat – it makes you look more important


  1. I don’t know anything about the racing part of this post, but all drybags have water in them.

    They are called ‘drybags’ because they keep the water inside the bag from wetting anything outside the bag.

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