The man with the golden start gun

The Daily Sail speaks to Mr Race Officer, Peter Reggio

Thursday December 4th 2003, Author: Andy Nicholson, Location: United States
Peter Reggio is one of those people in the sport who is rarely the focus of attention. He has created a niche within a sport of niches and is one of the most highly regarded Principle Race Officers in the world. He is the pro’s pro PRO.

The Daily Sail caught up with Reggio, known to many as Luiggi, in Miami at the Rolex Farr One Design Invitational. He ran the successful match racing ‘pre-event’ for the Farr 40s before moving aside for David Brennan and the Storm Trysail Club to manage the main fleet racing event.

Reggio is a highly entertaining character; his views and opinions are borne out of his vast experience on the water, both as a competitor and as a race officer. He is also passionate about being on the water and being involved in the racing scene. Sometimes he may come across a little brash, but this is not really the case, merely his enthusiasm overtaking. He has a huge knowledge about his chosen topic and by his own admission “probably too honest with what I say.”

He was most recently in the spotlight as PRO for the Louis Vuitton Challenger series in Auckland. So what has he been up to? “Since getting back from Auckland at the beginning of February, this week in Miami is the 23rd event I’ve been at,” says Reggio.

The list of events that Reggio has been PRO at in the last few years is exhaustive: “J/24 Worlds in 2000, Finn Gold Cup in 2001, Mumm 30 Worlds, Farr 40 Worlds…” Reggio starts to lose count, “Urgh… I don’t know. I’m not trying to sound cute or something, but it does just all run together and I forget.”

Based in Connecticut, USA, Reggio has sailed since he was a kid. His initial racing experiences were being part of the junior programmes on Long Island Sound. Now 54 years old, Reggio makes the point: “I’m an old fart really”.

When he finished college he went to work for North Sails. After a year and a half Peter Conrad and Tom Whidden bought Sobstad and Reggio went to work at the Saybrook loft for the next eight years. During this time he immersed himself as a spinnaker designer and got plenty of sea miles under his belt racing anything from 470s to maxis, ocean races to one-design regattas.

He competed in many One Ton North Americans’, the One Ton Worlds in 1975 (where he came fourth). “I did an Olympic trial in a Soling, at lot of North Americans in 470s, but nothing stellar,” describes Reggio, “we were leading the 470 Nationals until it got light airs, then we got killed.”

During the 1980s he took a ten year sabbatical in the ‘real world’, setting up an insurance and pension management business: “I was working for people and I wanted to try and work for myself for a while, so a partner and I formed a business and started doing that in the late 70s, early 80s. And you know, it just sucked. I actually wore a three-piece suit - that was scary,” explains Reggio.

Did he make any money at this? “It was the mid-80s man, if you didn’t make any money you were brain dead.” Reggio then returned to sailmaking. “It was a really easy decision, I enjoyed four years back at Sobstad then I went and did a whole load of stuff, just a flop around various jobs really. Just sort of hanging out, working in a boatyard for a while part time, basically just screwing off.” You could certainly picture him in an Hawaiian shirt somewhere…

Reggio started in race management 25 years ago. “I started to do a lot of race management, off and on from the late 1970s, the first big event I did was a maxi event in 1985 in Newport. We did that with a bunch of boat captains, just winging buoys around like they were ping-pong balls, and it was like – ‘Holy shit, this is cool’ and that’s where it started for me really.”

From there his enjoyment of the management role slowly grew and he started being asked to do an increasing number of more high profile events. With the real turning point coming in 1991. “Then I got asked to do the NOOD regattas. I started with them in 1991, occasionally filling in for someone, or something like that and it just grew to into me doing all the NOODs, and I suppose me getting some sort of reputation. And it went on from there.

“In 1996 I realised I could actually do this full time and put food on the table and not worry about it.” A busy lifestyle as a professional PRO doesn’t quite bring home the same sort of bacon as a top pro sailor, but for Reggio this isn’t the point; “I don’t make a lot of money, but I make enough to live on. I have everything I need, I don’t really want anything.”

Reggio is in an elite band of PROs, those that have ISAF’s International Race Officer certification, something he did in 2001. In the States there are three standard levels - Club, Regional and National Race Officer. These are all backed by a programme US Sailing introduced five years ago.

Each level is a little bit like chicken and egg. For National Race Officer status you need to have some National Championships under your belt to apply for the course. This makes it difficult for American Race Officers to make the jump to ISAF International Status, as Reggio explains: “The thing with the ISAF one is that you have to had to have done International events as a PRO in order to qualify. And in the States that’s the hardest thing to do. There are so many events here, you have to go ‘abroad, abroad’ to do that type of thing.”

However, he maintains that all these certifications are valuable as it makes a statement. “I think what it does, more than the knowledge it imparts, it’s the cache that the person is serious about it,” says Reggio,

Reggio now does occasional lectures on race management and his two principles he imparts on his audience are attitude and anticipation: “You have got to have a good attitude and realise that you are doing it for the sailors, not for yourself. They are the customers and you are working for the sailors. In the old days, it was pretty much a power trip and people just took it the wrong way.

“You have to think through what you are going to do on the water, if something goes wrong, you have already thought it through,” Continues Reggio, “if the guy in charge loses it, everybody loses it. So that if you are anticipating problems, at least you are more prepared. That way you keep all the individuals around you and it doesn’t all turn to custard.”

The vast majority of events are run by sailing or yacht clubs and rely on volunteers to do the hard graft of laying and moving marks and staffing the committee boats. Reggio doesn’t ever see this as a problem, “the management of the race team is just the same as managing the sailors - you’re dealing with people. It’s a very personal sport.

“I tell them the main reason they are there is to have fun, and to go and have fun. Do your job well and you will be satisfied with that and you will have fun with it. A lot of people get nervous, but anything that happens on the water is fixable. That’s why we have the little red and white flag.”

The startlines of big highly competitive one-design fleets also up the ante when it comes the PRO handling the pressure, but for Reggio, this appears to be just the sort of challenge he loves: “It makes it much more fun, it really does. I actually have more fun when things get nasty, because I am tested.”

How can he spot who is over? “I can just tell, just having done it so many times, from how they are stacking up from a minute to go, I can tell if I am going to be in trouble or not.” Reggio adds: “If you watch how they are setting up and list the order in which they are from say the leeward end towards you. You can usually pick them off. I speak into a tape deck and I also have somebody writing down exactly what I am saying.”

Reggio feels at complete ease with fleets such as the 37 Farr 40s at the Worlds in Sardinia this year and says bow number stickers are a real help, “but I also work on identifying sail numbers too.” In really big fleets, where he uses a three-boat start line, he has up to four spotters helping him out.

Reggio also is happy to admit that he is not always correct. “If a guy comes after me for redress on an OCS call, it’s not personal, it’s his right,” he continues. “I have gone into a World Championship hearing and it’s been a 'he said/she said thing' and just because I am the Principle Race Officer doesn’t make me any more correct than him.”

That said, very few people ever question his decision. This leads us onto the challenges that a PRO faces when maintaining a level playing field for all the competitors.

“I don’t feel under any pressure, to be honest with you, when I do events - I really don’t care who wins. I make a point of not looking at the results. I don’t want to even have a chance that subliminally I will make a decision based on what I have seen in the results. We’re all friends out there and it’s a pretty small community, it’s not that I don’t want to piss somebody off, it’s just that I really don’t care.

“It’s not hard to be impartial if you don’t give a shit. I have been around long enough now so that the sailors know I’m impartial, because they have seen it.

“I mean even if you tried to be biased, how would you do it? All it takes is one shift and the guy is f***ed anyway?”

On that note, Part One of this interview with Peter Reggio is concluded. In Part Two tomorrow we catch up on his America’s Cup views and what he thinks of the current debate over discards following ISAF’s recent decision to exclude them from the Olympics

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