Regattas from the Perspective of a Newly Licensed Ref

by Bob Weiss | Jun 01, 2007
The sport of rowing is in dire need of additional referees, so we asked one of our newest referees to give us his perspective on what it is like to see a regatta from his viewpoint. Bob Weiss of Tampa, Fla., was licensed earlier this year.

The sport of rowing is in dire need of additional referees, so we asked one of our newest referees to give us his perspective on what it is like to see a regatta from his viewpoint. Bob Weiss of Tampa, Fla., was licensed earlier this year.

I have been involved with rowing for many years, as I began rowing when I was 13 and am now 57.  Like many others, I became a referee as a result of my appreciation for the sport and admiration for our athletes. I became a licensed referee in March of 2007.

I was recently invited to work at the Southeast Youth Championships at Clemson, S.C., on May 12-13. I was a referee on the water in the morning of the first day, assistant starter in the afternoon and, fortunately (which you’ll understand why later), a referee on the water for the finals.    

The first thing that stood out was that the Clemson University men’s rowing team that hosted the regatta did a spectacular job in planning and execution. Many of the men working the event had graduated the day before all of the competitors arrived. They were assisted by Alan Eubanks and his colleagues from the Oak Ridge Rowing Association. The planning for this regatta began last spring when the decision to hold it in Clemson was made. The men’s team began planning for housing and feeding the rowers, coordinating with the police and University for parking, traffic and crowd control, coordinating with the local hotels for all of the parents, ensuring the proper equipment was in place for such a major regatta, arranging for housing of the referees and dealing with the myriad of questions from coaches, competitors and athletes. Since Clemson’s men’s team is a club, it didn’t have the support of the Athletic Department, which made the work much more difficult. Added to all of this, Clemson’s commencement was the same week, so it is easy to understand the enormity of their task. These men did a great job.  

There were 249 entries from 39 clubs representing 22 cities and five states.

Clemson’s course is on Lake Hartwell and is noted for its tough cross wind. Fortunately, that wasn’t a major problem until the end of the first day when a terrible storm appeared in an instant. It was at this point that we had the only mishap at the start. Two crews in the women senior four collided just after the start. The race was halted, and after their oars were separated, the starter had the crews move to the marshalling area so we could start the next heat. As the boats were moving off the course, the regatta was halted due to the storm. We were instructed by the chief referee, Tom Lotz, to have all boats return to the docks. Suddenly, the referees, marshals and police had to get all boats and volunteers off the water quickly and safely. I was the assistant starter and had the responsibility of getting the crews in the marshalling area to move back to the docks. 

I remembered reading Mike Siconolfi’s article on “Crisis Management at the Regatta” and the statement that “the cardinal rule in speaking to a group of people is that less than 1/3 will get what you are saying the first time you say it; therefore say everything three times in hope of getting about 90% of your audience to comprehend.” I can attest to the “cardinal rule.” Only after the fourth announcement were all boats moving back to the docks. In between the announcements to the crews, I was on the radio instructing the referees on the water to safely marshal the crews back to the launching area. Simultaneously, the starter, Brenda Jennings, was getting the stakeboat personnel off of the platforms and coordinating with the chief.  Everyone worked very well together, knew their roles, acted professionally and calmly, and got everyone to safety in a minimum amount of time. Thanks to the professionalism of everyone involved, no problems or injuries resulted.    

Throughout the day, a major obstacle for the rowers and referees were the jet skiers, party boats and pleasure boats. Lake Hartwell is the one of the largest in South Carolina, and these vehicles caused an enormous concern throughout the regatta, since they came from all directions and usually at high speeds. Police craft were positioned at strategic points along the lake, which helped, but one of the primary responsibilities of the refs on the water was to direct boat traffic all day long. While trailing a race, it is impossible to direct boats crossing in front of a race, so the referees coming back to the start had the added responsibility to watch for this traffic and calmly but firmly tell the drivers what to do. While most boaters willingly followed our instruction, there were a few instances where we needed to be extra firm. Again the referees on the water knew their job, executed it professionally and no safety or fairness issues resulted. 

I was impressed with the strong competition that occurred throughout the weekend and ended with an exciting men’s senior eight. At the 1,400-meter mark, the first four boats were separated by one seat. Leon Crew of Tallahassee, Fla., made its move at that point and took a three-seat lead, which it held until the end. Second, third and fourth place were separated by four seats. I was one of the chase referees for this race and clearly had the best seat in the house. There is no better vantage point to see the strategy of the crews take place than following them. Standing in the chase boat and listening to the coxswains and seeing the rowers respond to those commands and their competition is incredible. My driver, a member of the Clemson team, said that he thought that as a driver he had the best job of the day until he thought about it and realized that I did.

The Southeast Regional was an excellent first major regatta for a newly licensed referee and an exciting one, as the racing was exceptional. The referees were very professional, and it was interesting to see how they have to work together and with the local organizing committee. It was wonderful to be part of such an exceptional event.

The final thing I would like to say is that the Clemson Men’s Rowing Club did a remarkable job and should be thanked by all of the participants.

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