Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Sailors are divided into two types: Racing Rules Freaks (RRF) and Sane Normal Ordinary Persons (SNOP). RRFs speak RRF-speak (or sometimes Dutch). SNOPs speak a sane normal ordinary language, like English

Judging by the reaction to the last two posts on this blog (which were about the Racing Rules and written in RRF-speak) I have a lot of readers in both categories. Jolea, the famous Gypsy Pirate Wench, probably summed up the reaction of the typical SNOP to RRF-speak with her comment on Both Leeward and Both Starboard...

Danger will robinson information overload!!!!
A couple of other SNOPs tried to enter the Racing Rules discussion with appeals to commonsense and by using the everyday meanings of certain words, not realizing that this is not the way to play the game like an RRF would. They were immediately smacked down by the uber-RRF for their naivete.

An RRF will never appeal to commonsense; instead he (it's almost always a he) will debate the fine meaning of the definition of "leeward" in sentences with no less than 500 words each, with numerous references to obscure sections of the Racing Rules of Sailing.

Or else an RRF will play the "numbers game". This is where he quotes a string of Rule numbers to demonstrate his superior knowledge of the Rules. Something like... "Rule 22.2 says blah blah blah but since this doesn't apply here then Rule 15 kicks in, if not then Rule 11 doesn't apply then we have to go to Rule 12 so both broke Rule 14 only but I don't see much hope for that argument." Got that?

I'm not sure whether I'm an SNOP or an RRF. A few weeks ago I was acting like an SNOP when I ridiculed RRFs in Tillerman... "Important Enough" and Sea Lawyer. But then I started acting like an RRF myself after I got protested in Sailx and wrote about it in Cheers.

This week I've definitely been exposing my inner RRF by writing two posts specifically about the Racing Rules Both Leeward and Both Starboard and Both Leeward Both Starboard - Bigger Crunch. Worse than that I acted like the worst most obsessive kind of RRF by answering almost every comment to these posts with an argumentative comment of my own in true RRF style.

You might think that there aren't many RRFs around. But actually a lot of folk visited these Racing Rules posts, thanks to links posted on Scuttlebutt and Destination One Design. I think you would have to be an RRF to click on a link with a teaser that says little more than, "Here is a question about the Racing Rules that has been bugging me... for over a year now."

I apologize to all the regular readers of this blog (a.k.a. Tim, Tim and Anonymous), but I think I may display my RRF tendencies a bit more over the next few weeks. You see, I've discovered a new toy, TSS or Tactical Sailing Situations which is a PC based drawing program for illustrating and explaining rules, protests, tactics and boat movements. It makes it incredibly easy to draw those pretty diagrams that show little blue and red and yellow boats crunching into each other, like the ones in this week's Racing Rules posts. I do feel an urge to make some more pretty TSS drawings so I will have to think of some good Racing Rule Freak situations, preferably with much crunching of boats, to blog about.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Are you an RRF or an SNOP. Or ambidextrous like me?


O Docker said...

Was tempted to jump in a few times, but thought better of it.

What kept crossing my twisted thoughts was whether all these rules and definitions shouldn't just be tossed and replaced with a clean slate.

Like most of these discussions I've read, the arguments go round in circles and after hours of debate, experienced racers still can't agree. A high court is needed to decide things. How are you expected to know what to do with seconds to react?

Shouldn't well-written rules be clear enough to require no 'interpretation' ?

Outside of a race, I think the example would have been an easily read situation for ordinary, beer-drinking sailors. If not, a few more beers would certainly resolve things.

Tillerman said...

1. From time to time the Holy Fathers of the Rules contemplate a "clean slate". Then they realize that there would be an exception for this and a special case for that and they abandon the attempt. It's a bit like the idea of simplifying the US tax code by starting from the ten commandments.

2. Racers do decide how the rules apply in fractions of a second in 99% of cases. It's only the rare situation like the one that I posed on Monday that causes confusion and needs interpretation.

3. "Well-written rules"? I suspect the problem with the example I posed is that the original writers of the Rule that applies to overlapped boats on the same tack were thinking about boats heading roughly in the same direction, side by side, and even if they were thinking about running and beating boats they weren't thinking about boats like the Laser that can sail "by the lee".

4. It is a well-known fact that beer improves reading comprehension. In my personal experience, it also improves my ability to speak several foreign languages, and my attractiveness to the opposite sex.

O Docker said...

How many times have I told you not to sail by the lee, mister smarty pants?

You'll poke your eye out.

Anonymous said...

It's okay Tillerman, we can take it.

You got me to pull out my copy of "Paul Elvestrom explains The Racing Rules of Sailing", and read up on some of the ISAF cases, and finally surf the internet for similar situations.

I'm almost convinced that as the situation unfolded, the close hauled boat was to leeward of the other boat. Therefore, the close hauled boat had rights, and the windward boat needed to keep clear. If they made contact, as in the first case (sails only), obviously they didn't keep clear.

And if they argue that they were leeward at the time of he contact, then they're still wrong, as they didn't give the closehauled boat sufficient opportunity to keep clear.

But I could be wrong...I usually am.


Derek said...

The problem is that the powers that be decide to "simplify" the game and change the rules every 4 years. It takes me 4 years to understand the subtleties to be confident enough to engage in a debate with a RRF. I assume if someone tells me I did wrong, than I did wrong. I do the penalty and try to get an explanation off the water to learn the error of my ways.

So, I am unfortunately so far from a RRF that I cannot recall ever being in a protest room. Basically I try to sail cleanly and stay out of trouble because even if I am right, a protest rarely helps either party. Besides that, a protest that cannot be resolved on the water takes away from my enjoyment of the sport.

This attitude obviously has its problems. Being risk adverse, I would much rather take a penalty and resolve the situation on the water. The problem comes when I am confident I am in the right, and the other party strongly disagrees. Sadly, the fact that I have never been in a protest rooms suggests that I am one of those sailors who chooses to not enforce the rules and let people get away with things.... or maybe gets away with things himself???

So, my sailing goal for the winter of 2009 is to obtain a clear understanding of the new racing rules... but not become a RRF.

Watch out for me in the protest room at SailX!

Team Gherkin said...

i point boat with pointy end and it go forward. pull rope it go faster. me sail proper good.

Jos said...

Being a deep blue RRF and Dutch to boot, I feel I must point out that the rules are there because we - and yes, I know there are exceptions - humans need controversy and disagreement to enjoy ourselves. If it wouldn't be hard to understand some RRS in some situations, sailing would be dull and not worth doing.

Look how much 'enjoyment' tillermann derives from finding a situation which is ambiguous...

Oh, about changing every four years, The very first rule ever used was: Not hitting a mark.
It was written in 1816 and still some sailors have a hard time remembering that one....

Tim said...

I am enjoying your diversion into a worthwhile corner of sailing trivia.

newsandverse said...


...Kirby and Greenwald were flying in an Extra 300 aircraft piloted by Greenwald and were coming in to land when the right wing of the plane clipped the mast of a sailboat that was in the channel located right in front of the runway...

Up, Up, Up, UP!

PeconicPuffin said...

Till, this proposition is an extreme simplification of the variety of sailors on the water, and would never be a useful way to describe said waterfolk.

But you're a freak, no doubt.

My attorneys will be contacting your attorneys who shall lean a lien against your mast...

EVK4 said...

I'm scared of other boats, I try my hardest to stay away from them. Not sure what that makes me.

I do have an issue with the illustrious Team Gherkin's characterization of how to sail proper good:

"i point boat with pointy end and it go forward. pull rope it go faster. me sail proper good."

To wit, what do you do with a canoe shaped hull (Tayana 37, a bunch of Hans Christians, most every cruising boat ever designed by Bob Perry)? It sucks that when you're sailing backwards the tiller also works backwards...very confusing.

BillL said...

I think that the main problem with freaks is that they don't understand the law which is begin legislated in the Rules. That is, there is underlying law which a world full of rule books could never completely legislate.

I the case were the experts can't decide if the cup is half full or half empty, we've got to consider that the cup is the wrong size.

In both of the cases, both boats are burdened and must give way.

Pat said...

A few thoughts for non RRF folks:

(1) The ColRegs (government rules, rules for the prevention of collisions at sea) govern encounters between racing and non-racing boats and among all non-racing boats.

So, if you're a sailboat racer, you're probably already part RRF, but if you're not a racer, you really don't need to know all the Racing Rules of Sailing.

(2) Simplified versions of the RRS are available and could be adopted by clubs for casual "beer can" racing.

(3) A handful of the Part 2 rules cover most situations and are relatively understandable.

(4) Racers need to realize when encountering non-racers (especially thingies like aircraft carriers and supertankers) that the RRS don't mean diddly or have any binding authority whatsoever upon non-racers.

Yelling at non-racers for not observing the RRS is a non-productive exercise, at best. While courteous non-racers will, and should be encouraged to give room to racers, the proper response hail to an angry racer who yells "Can't you seem I'm racing you dumb $$%&*%!" is, "How lovely for you."

(5) I admit even as a borderline RRF and race officer, that I'm not at all comfortable with the way the rules define leeward and windward.

And I don't like the thought that some RRF whipping along in a dinghy can create new rights and obligations under the rules and muck up and confuse everyone just by whipping his boom around to the "wrong" side".

There's something deeply unnatural and unsettling about a boat that's really a windward boat becoming a leeward boat by this quirk.

I think the problem may have to do with a keelboat-centric perspective among the writers of the rules, who may think of sailing by the lee as a rare, oddball event -- unlike the way things can be for Lasers and other dinghies on the run.

Carol Anne said...

Somewhere back in the distant reaches of time, before I ever heard of the RRS, I vaguely seem to recall that among boats on the same tack, the one that was pointed most directly into the wind had the right of way.

By that definition, a dinghy on the run would definitely be the give-way boat.

Pat said...

That thought from Carol Anne is based on the traditional government rules, which codified centuries of maritime experience and tradition based on the principal of more maneuverable vessels (running free) giving way to less maneuverable vessels (close hauled).

This was codified within US inland waters, for example, in the old Inland Article 17 (a); "A vessel that is running free must keep out of the way of a vessel that is closehauled."

This is one of the basic principles of navigation that is taught to beginning sailors in classes.

If a quirk of the rules, such as the ones illustrated in Tillerman's posts, were to lead to a RRS situation in which rights and obligations became directly contrary to those based upon the ColRegs, local and international law, tradition, and common sense, then something is quite wrong here.

The RRS definition of windward/leeward should not trump the reality of which boat is to windward or which is running free.

tillerman said...

Pat, Carol Anne - that was the whole point of posting that odd situation in Both Leeward Both Starboard.

It seems to me that this is effectively an "error" in the rules that ought to be corrected in some future version. It surely cannot be intentional (or desirable) that the definition of leeward in the current Racing Rules gives the running boat right of way in this situation, or even worse creates a situation in which both boats can claim right of way.

Pat said...

So, how can Jos write the language for the Submission so we don't create any further unintended consequences or "game changes"?

Tillerman said...

Ha ha pat. Now that would make a challenging "group writing project"!

Tim Timand said...

Where's the stuff that I voted on in that poll that you were going to use to guide your writing efforts. I don't remember any of the choices being this wonky stuff

tillerman said...

"Wonky stuff" was the write-in vote of the silent majority.

Vigilante said...

I'm not a RRF by any means. I hate protest procedures, committees, & rooms. I want to win or lose on the water. But when I'm on the water, I want all of the water I'm entitled to and not a drop less.

As I find myself often repeating, ours is a sport (at the club level) where competitors are enforcers of the rules; if we sail without observing rules, we do not have a race; we have a group day sail.

tillerman said...

I'm with you (and Derek) Vig. When I'm racing in real life I avoid the protest room at all costs. In fact I think I've only been a party to a formal protest once (and that in my first year or racing when I was still learning how this game is played). Sure I've had the occasional heated discussion after racing, though I do try and avoid getting into a slanging match during a race. It slows me down too much!

Having said that, I do obtain some perverse pleasure from these wonky endless arguments about some minutiae of the rules in the comments to my blog or in the Sailx protest forum, even though I don't do this when sailing in real life. (Well, hardly ever.)

So what does that make me? A closet RRF?

Vigilante said...

Agreement. Protest situations have been known to put close friendships on hold for an intolerably long interval. Rule enforcement comes down to sportsmanship and safety. The larger the boats, the larger the stakes. As a skipper with a crew of six, I have responsibilities which exceed my ego. And what really threatens my ego is to be wrong about the rules. That's the only reason I allow myself to get drawn into dialogues with you RRFs!

Brass said...

Still on words, which I assume you are interested in, I see you are using the word 'wonky', apparently meaning something like 'nerdy'. I have come across the word wonk, as in 'policy wonk' in American writing, meaning something like that. In British english, 'wonky' means physically or intellectually shaky or wobbly (while in Australian english 'shonky' means dishonest). In British and Australian english, we don't usually use 'wonk' as a noun, perhaps because it's a bit close to 'wank'.

Brass said...

I guess I'm a RRF. I am working on my experience requirements to become a national judge.

Judges use RRF-speak because 1) they use language to help improve their understanding and application of the rules and 2) they need to practice writing, so as to give you the best possible written decisions when you do unavoidably visit the room.

Still on words, which I assume you are interested in, I see you are using the word 'wonky', apparently meaning something like 'nerdy'. I have come across the word wonk, as in 'policy wonk' in American writing, meaning something like that. In British english, 'wonky' means physically or intellectually shaky or wobbly (while in Australian english 'shonky' means dishonest). In British and Australian english, we don't usually use 'wonk' as a noun, perhaps because it's a bit close to 'wank'.

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