Monday, January 24, 2011

Rule 4

Rule 4 of the Racing Rules of Sailing says, "The responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone."

I always thought that this was pretty straightforward but having read some recent discussions on the topic, I'm not so sure. How do you make the decision whether to race or not when wind and wave conditions are challenging, maybe at the borderline or beyond the point at which you are confident in your sailing abilities in those conditions? What criteria do you apply?

Do the actions of the race committee have any bearing on your decision to race? Do you assume that if they decided that the conditions are OK for racing, then it's OK for you to race? And how does the availability of safety boats affect your decision? If there are plenty of safety/ rescue boats around does that mean you are more likely to go out and race even if you think the conditions are well beyond your abilities and you might well get into trouble? And what about the decisions of your fellow competitors? If your closest competition in a series is going out to race, then are you more motivated to go out and race in winds that might be too heavy for you? Or perhaps if they don't race do you figure you can put some good scores on the board against them and so you decide to chance it?

It's complicated...

Of course we all know that in a perfect world we would all rationally assess the current conditions, and weigh any forecast change in those conditions, and take an objective perspective of our own and our crew's experience and fitness and skill levels, and then make an intelligent, logical choice. But in the real world, our emotions and competitive juices and peer pressure all come into play.

It's complicated...

If I think back as to how I have made this decision in the past, then I think I certainly have been guilty of making the assumption that if the race committee are prepared to run races, then it must be OK for me to go out and race. On some of those occasions I have certainly found myself racing my Laser in winds and/or waves that were beyond my ability to sail properly and, more importantly, stay upright for most of the time. But then, if you never go out and challenge yourself in conditions that are beyond your current ability then how will you ever learn to sail in those conditions? And I also confess that, on those days, I have been thinking that it's a lot safer to go out and sail in extreme conditions when there are lots of other Lasers and a safety boat or two around in case I really get into trouble, than it is to go and do it all on my own with nobody else around.

Having said that, I also have a certain pride in my own independence and self-sufficiency that I never want to deliberately be racing in situations where I am going to need the safety boat crew to help me perform a capsize recovery or, horror-of-horrors, tow me back to the shore because I am too tired or too incompetent to perform those tasks myself. I look on the safety boats as insurance in case something totally unexpected happens, like a breakage to the boat that makes it impossible to sail, or for that matter a breakage to me that makes me impossible to sail.

So the number of times I have actually had to rely on a safety boat to get me home safely in 30 years of Laser racing can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There was the time at Wianno YC when my boom broke, and the time at Cedar Point YC when my gooseneck broke. I can't remember any other racing incidents that caused me to need a tow home (not counting the times when I have been happy to accept a tow when the wind dies at the end of the day.) I have broken a mast top section and broken a bottom section and somehow got myself home without assistance. I have broken my rudder and staggered home under my own power. I have cut my head open during a gybe and nearly chopped my finger off with the daggerboard, but still sailed back to the beach by myself. I guess that may be taking the philosophy of self-reliance a bit too far. But that's how I am. I hate to rely on the crash boats unless I really have to.

The times that I have chosen not to participate in racing are principally of two kinds. There have been many, many, (probably too many) occasions I confess when I have looked at the weather forecast or the weather at home on the morning of racing and have thought, "Nah. Too windy. Too cold. Too rainy. Who needs it?" But if I actually travel to the club then I almost always go out and start racing if the RC is running races. However I do apply Rule 4 quite frequently at the end of a day's racing. There have been numerous occasions after a long day of racing in windy conditions, perhaps including several capsizes (which always seem to sap my strength and confidence) that I have decided that enough is enough and headed for the beach. More often than not it's because I'm so tired that I start to feel that after one or two more capsizes I might actually be too bushed to right the boat on my own. And I'm damned if I'm going to ask the rescue boat to help me with that responsibility. That streak of pride and self-reliance thing again, I guess.

So there have been many occasions when I have looked at the wind and the water before leaving the shore and thought, "It looks crazy out there. I'm not sure I can handle this." But I have always gone out with the attitude, "Hey, I'll just try one race and come in if it gets too much for me." And on some of those days I have sailed all the races that day and come in with a big smile on my face. And on others I have skipped the last one or two races and still come in with a big smile on my face. After all, if you don't come back with a big smile on your face then why are you doing it?

So how about you? How do you apply Rule 4?


Baydog said...

When I was young, it often amazed me about the conditions in which we would race. We would sail at the very edge of being out of control, and then at the weather mark, put up the chute! Like we needed more to be concerned about.
It was definitely some of the most satisfying racing I've ever experienced, being on an E-scow.

I suppose the way I always looked at it is this: If the RC is going out, you go out. If they bag the race, rig the windsurfer.

One of the most gratifying moments I had was sailing my Laser out to the racecourse, battling the swells and wind the whole way, only to be passed by the RC going the other way, back to the dock. I was ready to sail and it was their decision to bag it. I remember coming back to the dock with a huge grin on my face that day!

Sam Chapin said...

When I go sailing, I often go back to shore when I feel uncomfortable with the conditions. Let the young folks have the fun.

In the blogging I was ahead of Tillerman by a couple of hours with LASERS GET STRONG.


SoxSail said...

One of my great racing regrets is bowing out of a night race (that we were winning) when we heard passing thunder. The lightning never got near.

But I had weighed the pros of winning the race, with the cons of getting hit on a 16ft boat with no motor to outrun a storm, and decided that it wasn't a chance worth taking. That's the kind of thing we always have to do if we want RC's to continue to sponsor and hold races in extreme (fun) conditions.

Tim said...

I always thought it was an a***e covering exercising i.e. in the event of a tragic accident the lawyers defending the RC could always point to Rule 4.

However, I'm sure you're right that the origins of this rule are based on an expectation of a sailor being self reliance, especailly as the same rules are used for such a vast array of different events from around the world to around the puddle.

I think it's good that the RC are given support to go ahead with races that, for some, will be beyond their current capability.

Without this rule I'm sure they would be overly cautious (especailly in todays blame culture), which would be a shame.

Although I believe there is now a tendency for RC's to be more willing to cancel races than they did when I first started sailing, back in the 70's. In those days the race would go ahead almost regardless, and it was definitely up to the individual to decide whether to go or not. Today, RC's do seem to take into account the level of event and general capability of the competitors, and are willing to cancel if they feel they might get overwelmed with rescues, even if the decision is disliked by some. But maybe this is actually a good thing?

George A said...

The CBYRA's stance (Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Asso.) is to cancel small boat racing if the wind reaches a sustained 25 knots,
(sustained, not just in gusts). The George A. stance is "if it ain't fun why are you doing this?" That stance kicks in at about 20.

Sam Chapin said...

Tim, you are right. Rule 4 is for the RC protection. No one makes you sail in a race or continue sailing when it gets too tough.

There are all sorts of races. Optis around a little course served by Mommy boats. Laser races in fairly high winds around short courses. Bigger boats around goverment marks and moderate distaces and able to change sails during the race. Some boats sail moderate distances and some races are around the world.
Some RC operate from the dock. I know RCs that cancelled the race because they couldn't hold position of their boat in the waves.
In any adventure on the water remember you have the option of a ""180" and get back to port. Or at least try to get back.

Tillerman said...

I'm sure Tim and Sam are right. The purpose of putting this Rule in the book was to protect the race committee and organizers.

However it does put a responsibility on us, the competitors, so I thought it worthwhile to examine my own rationale behind thinking when and when not to race, and perhaps stimulate others to think about the same question.

It's also of course related to the whole Mommy Boat debate. One argument sometimes advanced in favor of Mommy Boats is that they are necessary for safety reasons. But if every competitor adopted the philosophy of "I'm not going to race, or continue to race, unless I am sure I can do an unaided capsize recovery and sail back to the dock unassisted" then how many safety boats would we really need?

Tim said...

Decisions on whether to race or not are always going to be complex affairs, and rarely are they going to be truly rational.

It's partly going to depend on your personal level of 'confidence' in the situaton, some of which may be completely miss placed (ignorance is bliss), i.e is anything likely to go badly wrong, and if it does, will I get rescued.

However, I do feel the RC has a responsibility to be a 'guardian angel' and stop me from myself. But that's before we get on the water.

If the RC go ahead, then I'm probably going to give it a try, especially if my main competition do.

The big danger is once you are out on the water, knowing when you've reached your limit and to head for home. To do this before it's too late takes a great deal of maturity. It is possible that competitors who have Mommy boats could start to have a false sense of security, and lose the ability to make the decision to quit for themselves, expecting the Mommy boats to do it for them.

Do I think this would be a bad thing - yes, especailly for the younger sailors. Sailing can, and should, be part of learning to be a self reliant individual.

Is that what you are getting at?

tillerman said...

I guess the point I was really making Tim was that the "we need all those Mommy Boats for safety cover" argument is false. At least it is in the kind of racing with which I am familiar.

If the conditions are such that say 50 boats out of an 80 boat fleet really need assistance from safety boats then
a) the RC have made an unwise decision to go racing in those conditions
b) so have the competitors.

I think safety boats are there to deal with the small number of sailors who for reasons of injury or boat damage are disabled and for that reason can't rescue themselves and/or sail home by themselves. Not because they went racing in Force 6 when they can only handle Force 3.

The only exception I can see to that principle is that if a sudden squall or thunderstorm hits the fleet when they are a couple of miles away from safety and that the squall or thunderstorm was not foreseen. But in these days of Doppler radar and all kinds of electronic communications and aids, how often does that really happen? If it does, it probably means that the RC wasn't keeping a close enough eye on the developing weather conditions anyway.

I will now sit back and watch as 10 people flame me with personal horror stories that refute my argument.

yarg said...

I think my decision is based on whether I’m going to be racing or just surviving. The latter is only fun for me is small doses. As I get older (and wiser?) I am more willing to admit that I’m just surviving and call it a day.

I also find that downshifting from a full rig to a radial rig allows me to tackle challenging conditions that I otherwise avoid and can now enjoy.

In coaching high school sailing the competitors rarely make their own rule 4 decisions. Coaches and peer pressure makes it for them. On our current team, 80% of the sailors will always say “let’s go” in any kind of wind. (We never sail in places where we get significant waves.) It’s fun for everyone to let them try. Going fast and crashing and burning is fun to do and fun to watch. But there is obviously a point where fun turns into danger. As a coach I use three criteria to draw the line: our capacity to rescue the number of sailors I think might capsize at one time, the likelihood of damaging the boats, and the likelihood that rescue efforts will prevent us from running the planned activity.

Some days I stand on the dock, look at the gusts coming down the lake, and estimate how many each gust would knock down. “That one would get somebody. That one would get 3. That one would get everyone.”

And just like in Laser sailing, downshifting to smaller sails greatly extends our limits. Timid sailors and lightweight sailors stay upright in 20 knots – and have a lot of fun. Last fall we had an unprecedented amount of lightweight sailors. The median weight was 115 lbs. If it weren’t for smaller sails we would have lost a lot of sailing time.

Noodle said...

Sub-thirties go out no matter what, don't they? I did. In the Opti, the RC decided. Now, I kinda think twice, but maybe it's because I am now paying the bills. RL that is.

Sam Chapin said...

Why do I keep coming back to this thing. I have a lot of more important stuff to do, but am impressed with all the talk of safety boats.
I have been racing in sail boats for 57 years (not the 100 that I usually claim)and in 17 difference race courses that I could just remember and I have not seen a "safety boat" till I got to Lake Eustis Sailing Club 5 years ago.
You got the boat back up yourself. Maybe some motor boat came by to help (I was always afraid to have a motorboater help.)The race Committee might come around after the races if you were still having trouble. You might go ashore someplace and hitch hike home. In Key West on some of the longer distance race a competitor might tow you home.

Oh, yes, don't remember any Mommy boats till we got to the Optis in Eustis.

Pat said...

From the race cmte. perspective, many RCs are happy to run races for the boats that are capable and prepared for conditions but the RC folks may get heartburn worrying about the less prepared boats whose crews don't know they're in beyond their abilities.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading "Fatal Form" a history of the 1998 ill fated Sydney to Hobart race. Rule 4 was a prominent part of the book. In fact at one point a race official reads the section outloud to all the participants over the radio when it becomes clear that a typhon sprang up in the middle of the race course.
It took me nearly two months to read the book, as I could only stomach a few paragraphs at a time. Can't image what the waves were like in order to hit the top of a 50 foot mast before hitting the boat. Or surfing mastless in the tube of a wave at 20 knots in an 8 ton boat. Almost makes me want to stay on shore for the rest of my life. But, if I stick to inland lakes, how much trouble can I get into?


Anonymous said...

The Race committee calls off races before I can't handle it.

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