Monday, September 05, 2005

Proper Course

In the September issue of Sailing World magazine, racing rules guru Dick Rose has an article about Proper Course. No, it's not about this blog. I'm not that famous.

The article is entitled "Clarifying Proper Course and Luffing" and he does a great job of clearing up an area of the racing rules that is of confusion to many racing sailors. As Rose says the concept of "proper course" is one of the terms covered in the Definitions section of the Rules. And the Definition says that a boat's proper course is the course she "would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of other boats referred to in the rule using the term."

In other words, proper course is the course you would sail if there weren't all those other idiots trying to overtake you, steal your wind or otherwise interfere with what would otherwise be a perfect day on the water. I guess that's the reason I chose it for the title of this blog.

I didn't give a lot of thought to choosing the blog's title. I wanted some term that was vaguely sailing related. But I also wanted something that could have multiple meanings. I was partly inspired by the phrase "Stay of Execution" used by Scheherazade as the name of her blog. I'm still impressed by how that title works for her at so many different levels.

Proper Course seemed a good choice for me because it was a term from sailboat racing. But it also seemed to me that in many aspects of life I'm trying to choose the path that is right for me without being too distracted or diverted by other folk that may be preventing me from steering that proper course through life. In retrospect the title sounds a little prissy and doesn't quite capture the spirit of what I'm trying to communicate here. But I'm stuck with it now.

Anyway, back to the Dick Rose article. He quite rightly points out that, contrary to the belief held by many racing sailors, there is no rule that says you have to sail your proper course. So there. All you people who like to scream, "Sail your proper course" don't know what you're talking about.

The term "proper course" appears in only three rules. One tells certain boats not to sail above their proper course. Most people still think of this rule in terms of whether you do or don't have "luffing rights". (More on that another day perhaps.)

Another rule tells some boats not to sail below their proper course. It is, in my experience, the most widely abused and ignored, or perhaps unknown, rule in the book.

And the third rule covers a very specific situation where a boat is obliged not to sail further from a gybe mark than her proper course would take her. I have never seen a situation in fleet racing where anyone would be tempted to break this rule (except perhaps through fear of gybing in over 30 knots) so it's largely irrelevant to the racing I do.

And that's it. With those exceptions, you can sail your proper course or any other course you damn well please. Ain't life grand?

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