As in most yacht races, the general terms for the Olympic Regatta are set out in a Notice of Race (NoR) while the details are covered by the Sailing Instructions (SIs). Both of these have been published and are available on the World Sailing Website www.sailing.org. Like many NoRs and Sis, other documents are referenced - in the case of the Olympic Regatta there are Equipment, Competitions Area and Support Team regulations, while athletes are also bound by a Media Guide. Overarching all these are the comprehensive agreements that athletes enter into with the International Olympic Committee through their National Olympic Committees.
These documents will come under intense scrutiny, not just by sailors and their support teams as part of their normal preparation, but also by the team of officials that will be engaged in ensuring a fair competition both ashore and afloat.
For most of the sailors at this level, there should be no major surprises in the sailing instructions as they will have used these or a version of these in qualifying events, World Cups and Major Championships.
Let us catch up with an imaginary sailor as they prepare to go afloat. Their base is Marina Da Gloria in Guanabara Bay, in what is Rio's middle harbour. While waiting for flag D - the signal that they can go afloat - many sailors will first apply barrier creams to protect against sun and bacteria. Then they will visit the Omega cabin to deposit their accreditation and to collect their tracking module which they will affix to the boat so that we can follow their race progress. Once flag D is up they will proceed to their designated course area, taking care not to stray out of the competition area while also remaining clear of other course areas and official boats. Infractions of any of these area controls may incur a penalty.
Once at their designated course area, things become fairly standard for them, although not every observer will be familiar with the sound signals guns every minute in the countdown that are now used at this level. This table explains the sequence our sailor will encounter:
|Minutes Before Starting Signal||Visual Signal Displayed||Visual Signal Removed||Sound Signal||Means|
|6||Class flag, P or starting penalty flag (U, or Black flag) if required O flag if applicable||Class to start Starting penalty RRS P5 (RRS 42)|
|5||White flag with number 5||One||Warning signal|
|4||Blue flag with number 4||White flag||One||Preparatory Signal|
|3||Pink flag with number 3||Blue Flag||One||Three minutes|
|2||Red flag with number 2||Pink Flag||One||Two minutes|
|1||Yellow flag with number 1||Red Flag||One||One minute|
|0||Green flag||Yellow flag||One||Start signal|
|+1||Green flag and Class flag, U or Black and O.||No Sound|
The format consists of an opening series of up to 12 races (12 in Skiffs and Windsurfers, 10 in everything else) with a maximum of three races per day and a final medal race between the top ten in each fleet after the opening series.
Thus our sailor can expect up to three consecutive races, although if the schedule is maintained it is more likely to be two a day.
While the courses are generally windward/leeward or trapezoid, there are some variations afforded to the race officer, such as final slaloms (possibly windsurfers only), inner or outer trapezoids and different finishing directions for windward/leeward courses.
Rio's location, with a large bay and open ocean close by, offers a considerable variety of course areas and seven have been designated across the three distinct areas of Inner Harbour, Middle Harbour and Ocean. Several of these offer shore viewing and all, except maybe one of the ocean courses, will be considerably influenced by the presence of the land.
Our sailor will need to be wise to the designated course for the day, and once there, will need to be keep their head out of the boat to recognise the influences exerted by wind and current on their course.
At the end of racing the sailor returns to Marina da Gloria where an extensive cleansing of boat, equipment, clothing and bodies will follow. The anti-doping team will be randomly selecting sailors for testing and once over this hurdle sailors can pick up their accreditation while returning the tracker before catching the shuttle to the Olympic Village.