A few weeks ago, I was asked to review the animated Racing Rules of Sailing quiz program produced by UK-Halsey. There is a free version of their rules quizzes available on UK-Halsey's website but the version I am reviewing here is the downloadable version available from their online store for $55. (Full disclosure: I was given the download for free. More later on the difference between on-line and downloadable versions of the quiz.)
There is no doubt in my mind that it is much easier to learn the rules from animations than from than static diagrams. UK-Halsey have done a good job of presenting common situations that you will run into on the race course and each quiz typically presents several situations illustrating different aspects of the rule or rules in question.
In the current version of the software, all the answers to the quizzes have been re-written for the new 2009-2012 rules by Rob Overton, the chairman of the US Sailing Rules Committee, so you can be as sure as you can possibly be in the sometimes murky world of rules interpretation that the answers are correct.
The program was quick and easy to download and install, and works swiftly and flawlessly. (I use Windows/XP on a Dell Inspiron 1525.) The rules quizzes have an excellent presentation, with a window for the animation of little red and green boats bumping into each other and various obstacles (just like in real life) and a window alongside that presents 'The Situation' and then 'The Answer' in text format. The Answer has 'Facts Found' and 'Conclusion and Rules That Apply' just like a real life protest committee might sum up and announce its decision.
One thing that I usually hate about reading rules articles is that the experts ramble on about Rule 17 and Rule 31 and how Rule 18.2 (d) does or does not apply and I don't have a clue what they are talking about unless I have a rule book handy. So I especially appreciated a feature in 'The Answer' sections of the downloadable UK-Halsey Rules Quiz where every time a Rule is referenced, or for that matter when one of those tricky terms in the Definitions such as the always confusing 'proper course' is used, there is a hyperlink to the relevant Rule or Definition. Makes it so much easier to follow the argument.
So Tillerman, how tough are these quizzes? Will they be too easy or too hard for me?
To answer this question I gave myself a test. I did several of the quizzes and then checked my answers against the ones given by the program.
Before telling you how I did, let me explain that I'm not exactly a novice when it comes to the Racing Rules. I've been racing sailboats for over a quarter of a century and I try and keep current on the rules. I am the kind of guy that used to get invited to sit on a protest committee or even give a talk to the club about the rules at my last sailing club. Having said that I'm not an expert; I am not qualified as a judge or an umpire like my blogging friend Jos.
I tried five of the quizzes, most of them involving more than one situation between different pairs of boats.
I got the answers completely right to three of the five without help from the rule book or the program, in the sense that I correctly identified all of the boats which were in the wrong, but in a couple of cases my reasoning in the conclusions was slightly incorrect.
On one of the quizzes I correctly judged the first situation but messed up the second one because I overlooked some rules that applied in that situation.
And on another quiz I got two of the three issues correct, but didn't really know why on one of those two until I checked the rule book. I was totally wrong on the third issue... all to do with bolloxing up that pesky proper course issue again, of all things!
So to make a long story short, the UK-Halsey quizzes will be very helpful to people just learning the Racing Rules, and will also teach a thing or two to arrogant bastards like me who think they know it all.
But Tillerman, these rules quizzes are available for free on the UK-Halsey website. Why should I pay 55 bucks for the download? What's the difference between the two versions?
Good question. Here are all the differences I could find.
- You can play the animations at full-screen size in the download version. Might be handy if you are going to use it as a teaching tool.
- You can adjust the speed of the animations in the download version. Not a big deal in my opinion as you can pause the playback in both versions if you want to study a particular situation in more detail or just need more time to think.
- The download has 26 quizzes, but there are only 20 on the free website.
- The download has a copy of Part 2 of the Rule Book that can be navigated with hyperlinks from a list of the rules by name and number. Somewhat easier to use than other online versions of the rules which are usually in PDF format.
- There is what is called a "blog" on the download. But as far as I can see this is just a copy of some posts by Rob Overton about the changes in the 2009-2012 Rules which are also available for free online at Racing Rules Blog.
- There are apparently three bonus PDF files on the downloadable version. But these are actually links to PDF files on the UK-Halsey website. So if you knew where to look you could get them for free, though as far as I can see there is no navigation to them on the free site. The three files are some appeals cases; some questions and answers that help you understand many of the terms used in the rules; and a short excerpt from Bryan Willis's rules book. All good stuff if you are really into the rules.
- A number of videos (ten in the version I downloaded) of Butch Ulmer using the Rules Quiz Program to teach the rules at various seminars. These would be an excellent tool to use if you were teaching the rules to a group of sailors and they explain much more comprehensively than the quizzes various rules issues and situations. It was one of these videos that prompted my Rules Question post a few days ago.
If you are interested in purchasing the downloadable Racing Rules Quiz Program it is available at the UK Halsey online store for $55, or $40 for owners of the previous CD version. If you want to get a flavor for what the quizzes are like, try the free version first at the UK-Halsey website.