The Mark Foster interview

Mark Foster is a renowned International Race Officer, and we posed a few questions to him regarding the RaceSense and Atlas 2.

Can you share some highlights from your sailing career and how your experiences have shaped your perspective on on-water management?

I have been sailing competitively for 50+ years and won a few world and national championships along the way. I try to run races as I would like them to be run if I were sailing in them. I understand that sailors like to sail and not sit around. As the PRO I realize I am the tactician for the fleet, so I try to get the RM team to stay ahead of the fleet and anticipate the next move. This keeps things moving along.

As a PRO, you've overseen numerous races. How do you approach the challenges of ensuring fair competition and an enjoyable experience for sailors, and what key lessons have you learned along the way?

Sailors came to sail not watch us set the perfect course. A PRO told me a long time ago, “no matter how I set the line or where the puffs come from or how the wind shifts the same old sunburn faces always show up at the top”. I tell the race management team we are framers not trim carpenters. If you have ever built a house you will understand that statement. We need to set the course and get them out racing. That also goes along with setting the starting line. We get the signal boat on the course an hour before the race is set to start. I receive wind direction from different points on the course, throw some bread in the water to look at current, watch the boats sail, call a few coaches over to ask which side of the course they would want and then set a line that is fair. As I tell the sailors the line will be fair and square for 30 seconds during the sequence. Not necessarily consecutive. Then let the sailors tell me what is going on by their actions and I adjust things as I get input from the fleet.  My goal is to see the entire line being used, have an all clear start and watch a race. 

RaceSense has been making waves in the sailing community. From your standpoint, how has it revolutionized on-water management, and in what ways do you think it enhances the overall sailing experience?

Race Sense allows everyone to see the starting line as the wind and current moves the line around. Pings tell you where the line is based on your ping. Both ends of the line are moving all the time as we swing on the anchor and puffs or waves roll through, the stating line is dynamic and not static as your pings would have you believe. Races Sense help keep you informed as the line moves. It also stops the parade of pings which is where I see a lot of close calls as boats jockey for position.  It takes away the ability to hide on a starting line which I learned a long time ago. One of the biggest changes it brings to the game is it makes the over early call instantaneously so you can return and get back into the race.

In your role, precision and accuracy are crucial. How has RaceSense contributed to making your job as a PRO more efficient, and what specific features do you find most beneficial in terms of course-setting and race management?

When you decide on a time to start the next race the entire fleet knows at the same time. I make radio calls to tell the fleet but with all the noise on a boat you many not hear them. Pinging takes time and that time can be used to be in sequence and racing, not waiting for boats to ping the line. It also allows the PRO to adjust the line up to the Prep signal as the rules allow to square the line. In theory it should reduce the use of penalty flags to get sailors to stay on the correct side of the line. It saves time getting races started. Time is one of the only things you cannot make more of.

As a seasoned professional in the sailing world, how do you see technology like RaceSense influencing the future of sailing events, and what potential do you envision for further innovations in on-water management?

As a seasoned volunteer I enjoy giving back to the sport.  I see it making the PRO job a little bit less stressful. It allows the PRO flexibility in setting the starting line by using a bot which allows you to make line adjustments quicker. It will provide more accurate finishes in large fleets. At some point it will be able to identify and broadcast the zone helping sailors follow the rules. I do not see it replacing the PRO, it may reduce the number of people and boats you need on the water to run races.

RaceSense is designed to complement the Race Committee's efforts. How do you see this collaboration between technology and human expertise evolving, and how has it impacted the way you work with your team?

Race Sense is a big help on the starting line and the prestart actions of the fleet with the information it provides.  You will still need a PRO to interpret the weather and watch wind shifts to stay ahead of the fleet. Just like the automated start boxes. Drones and Marksetbots it will be another tool to make the time on the water more productive for the sailors and the volunteer race management team. 

Looking ahead, what do you believe are the key factors that will continue to shape the role of a PRO, and how do you see technology like RaceSense evolving to meet the evolving needs of on-water management in the sailing community?

US Sailing does an amazing job of training race officers. That is how I received my training. I encourage anyone who runs races to look at all the information that is available from US Sailing. Technology will continue to evolve and slowly trickle down to the local yacht clubs and become better. As younger people who have used technology all their lives it will become more accepted. I still have to ask my grandsons to help me with my lack of knowledge on new gadgets.