Misplaced controls: hunt or go?

Occasionally teams encounter misplaced or missing controls at races; they get to where the control should be, but find that it isn’t there. What to do? Stay and hunt for it or continue on the course and speak to the race organiser later? I’m in favour of the latter. Go. Continue with the race. Navigation is a discipline of adventure racing; grid searching for a missing control is not.
Missing and misplaced controls do happen in races. It is not that common, but it does occur. Although this really is not a big issue, racers’ reaction to the missing control is.  
At events controls can be:
  • plotted incorrectly on the map – the organisers wants it to be on a certain fence and they place it on the fence but the location is marked incorrectly on the map; a bit like a typo
  • marked correctly on the map but placed at the wrong location when the controls are being put out in the field
  • stolen; more than one control has gone walking at races – I’ve always thought they’d make nice lampshades (others evidently think so too)…
As I regularly tell people, who mention hours spent searching for missing/incorrect controls:
  • If you get to where the control should be and it isn’t there, phone the race organiser to let them know; they can dispatch someone to the location to verify and to tell teams coming later. You will not be disqualified for phoning the organiser for this reason.
  • Move on, do not hunt for the control. The discipline of navigation is just that, navigation… not hunting. Your job is to navigate from A to B, not to grid search when you get there.
A 1:50 000 map hardly allows for fine navigation, like an orienteering map where significant features like fences, boulders and even the density of the vegetation and its pattern is indicated and detail is fine. Afterall, 1mm on a 1:50 000 map is 50m on the ground; 2cm is 100m. Grid searching even a 100m diameter (2mm displacement on a map) is ridiculous. If a race organiser is using a 1:50 000 map the control must be placed at a clearly defined location (river confluence, path junctions, bridges, fences etc), accompanied in the race instructions by a control description like fence, south-east end or northernmost boulder on the hilltop. If an organiser wants to be sneaky, hiding controls, then they need to provide orienteering map detail.
Controls are not meant to be found by accident. The keyword here is n.a.v.i.g.a.t.i.o.n. So if I approach the control from one direction and can’t find it and another team approaches from another direction and they stumble upon it by mistake, I’m not bothered. Bottomline is that the control is not where it is marked. Fullstop. You cannot be penalised for this, despite other teams finding it by accident.
It never feels good to walk away having not punched a control so you have to be confident that you are in the right place. Confirm from different attack points closing in on the control location and if you still can’t find it, then you know it is AWOL. Go. I’ve done this before and I’ll do it again.
Since the front teams, who generally have more experienced and proficient navigators will get there first, the chance that they’re in the correct place is highly likely. And if they alert the organiser and leave a scribbled note for teams behind, crisis will be averted and you won’t waste hours.
This is not the first missing control and it is not the last. And, if you waste your time hunting for a control then the error really is yours, not the race organiser’s.

1 Comment

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