Editors Note: the following lengthy article from John is a little dated in places (April 2007) but the general principles are as valid today as back then.
Several weeks ago I spent a rather long hot day on the Littlechilds Creek map checking controls and courses in my role as controller for one of the East Coast 3 Day events. It’s a task I enjoy – alone in the forest, map and compass in hand, often in places I’ve never been before.
So what did I see as my task for the day? There had already been a fair bit of preparation: the course planner for the event had provided me with his proposed courses and control descriptions. We had discussed these and there had been several revisions and minor modifications to the originals. The course planner had been out to each of the proposed control sites, and had marked each one with a coloured tape, positioning the tape as closely as possible to the spot where the control stand would be placed. Each tape had been numbered with its control code (sometimes, especially for major events the control description is also written on the tape).
So my main focus for the day was to see how it all looked "in the terrain".
The key task of the controller is to ensure that every control is accurately and correctly placed and described, and that the courses are fair and enjoyable.
Checking this in the field, I prefer to approach each control site from the direction that most competitors will approach it. Is the terrain as I expect it to look from the map? Once I’m in the control circle, do the features make sense – do they appear to relate to each other on the ground as they do on the map? You have to bear in mind that the map is the representation of how the mapper saw the terrain and that the mapper has had to draw that representation using set symbols of set sizes which in reality generally take up more area on the map than the features themselves take up on the ground. I have to ask myself whether the representation of the area around the control looks "right". For example, in one area I felt that the features were very under-mapped – there was more rock detail than was shown on the map. I suspect that the fires had exposed boulders that may have been partly hidden by vegetation before the fires. To avoid confusion, I thought it best to move the control site slightly onto a feature that was clear and less likely to confuse.
Having taken in the area I then navigate to the control site – hopefully with the satisfaction of finding the marker tape! There are times when the tape is not where I expect it to be – either I’m wrong, or it has been misplaced on a nearby feature. When this happens I check and double check just where the correct site really should be. Later I might revisit that site with the course planner so that we are both confident that we have the correct placement.
A control should not be hidden by being placed too close to the feature. When electronic timing was first introduced using the Emit (now Regny) system, there was an unofficial guideline that a control should be placed to allow for a competitor to pass between the control and the feature. This was because the Regny "stick" is more cumbersome and has to be bedded into the box in a particular direction. This guideline allowed for the competitor to easily ‘punch’. But it’s a good principle to bear in mind (providing you can get the control stand into the ground – not always easy among the rocks of Littlechilds!).
Having satisfied myself that the control site is correctly placed, I then check the control description. Do I agree with the description given by the course planner? Are the sizes about correct? Sometimes in complex terrain (such as in the granite), it is almost impossible to accurately describe a feature – there are just too many in the circle. The solution is often to suggest that the planner moves the control site to an adjoining feature that can be more easily correctly and fairly described.
While working around the control sites, its important to get a feel for the terrain between controls for the different courses. Littlechilds Creek has its "challenges" – marshes, thick green (some burnt) and the remnants of logging operations. Courses have to be planned to avoid making it too tough for the competitors with route choices that can minimise such challenges. I did say minimise – I’m not sure they can be entirely avoided! While what I have said has placed most emphasis on the correct siting of controls, the main element of any course is the route choice between controls – so the controller needs to get a feel for the terrain overall.
There are other questions that need to be borne in mind: for example, are the control features used for Courses 4 and 5 reasonably strong both on the ground and on the map (a recommended concession to failing and aged eyes); does Course 6 (moderate navigation) has reasonably strong features as possible handrails, and good catching features; are there very clear handrails for Course 7 and 8 – and if not then what legs of the course will need to be taped? In many ways, Course 6, 7 and 8 are the more difficult to plan. Most of us involved in planning and controlling are reasonably competent in hard navigation, so find it difficult to recall what it felt like to be a novice or developing orienteer. As well we might be twice the height of the little tackers we expect to be able to make their way around a course 7 or 8. The golden rule: if in doubt, make it easier!
Controlling an event is more that just checking controls. Its working together with the course planner, discussing, advising, helping to ensure that the courses are good and fair. And what I have tried to show above is that the process of checking the controls does involve more than just looking to see if the tapes are in the right places.