I just thought you might like to hear what we did for a successful non-racing event at the club last weekend where we were staging one of the RYA Sail for Gold events. It worked for us, maybe others would like to have a go.
I designed an Orienteering event which required participants to visit all of 15 markers placed around the reservoir. Markers were one pint plastic milk bottles, mostly attached to sinkers (small flower-pots with rope loop and filled with sand and cement mortar). Each bottle had its number marked on with a permanent pen, and for the purposes of the Sail for Gold theme, an Olympic Sport icon too. Each boat was given a sheet of paper with a set of compass bearings to find their way to each marker in sequence, the bearing pointed to a landmark on shore adjacent to where the marker was to be found, so that in the event that a straight course was not possible, a tree or a pylon could be used to close in on it.
On locating each mark the crew noted down the sport represented by the icon on that marker.
Some markers were on-shore and a small plastic square on a stake hammered into the beach showed where to land and an arrow and distance writted on the square told crews which way to go looking for the marker.
Boats were started at 15 minute intervals to avoid following boats simply going where the boat in front went.
On the day, light winds meant that the course lasted nearly 4 hours, but it is an indication of the level of interest that 8 out of the 10 starters finished the course, and have asked to do it again. I think the combination of skills needed to complete the course made it interesting, the markers were small enough to be almost invisible until quite close-to and by putting them in awkward places, presented a challenge in boat handling. At the end the returned bearing-sheets from those who completed the course showed that everyone had followed the correct course although the Scouts down at the other end of the reservoir had pinched the landing marker near their canoeing centre, making it a little more difficult for our lot.
Fast boats did not have a particular advantage over slower boats so I see no need for handicapping, in fact having a stable platform to make compass use easier and a dry boat to help keep the paper dry is an advantage.
There is scope to make the course and method of completing it more complex but we seem to have found a level that everyone enjoyed and this is something I will be doing again. As I have bemoaned before, it is hard to get people who don’t want to race to get their boats out of the weeds in the boat park. Orienteering might just be part of a solution.