Friday, November 25, 2005

No Go

I get a good start, sail on starboard tack for a minute or so then tack into a nice lane going back to the right side of the course. So far, so good.

Halfway up the beat I see a starboard tacker coming towards me about ten boatlengths away. I can probably cross him but am not sure so I give him a hail.

"Tack or Cross?"

For non-racers let me explain. He has right of way so according to the racing rules I am supposed to keep clear of him. To do so I would tack on his lee bow. He would then be in my bad air and would also tack. What just happened? I was going to the right side of the course (presumably because that's where I wanted to be) but now I'm going to the left. He was going to the left side of the course (perhaps he knows something I don't but in any case that's where he wanted to go) but now he's going right. So now we're both going towards what each of us believes is the wrong side of the course.

So that's the reason for the "tack or cross" hail. You won't find it mentioned in the racing rules. It's just a convention that could help both of us. If he really wants to keep going left and thinks that I will easily cross in front of him or that he only needs to bear away a little to let me do so safely, then he will tell me to cross. That way we both keep going the way we want to go.

"Tack or Cross?" I hail again.

"Go!" is the reply.

Fair enough. So I carry on sailing.

As we get closer I see that I'm not going to cross in front of him unless he bears away a bit and he's leaving it very late. Now we're only a few feet apart and he's still coming on fast. Yikes! We're going to collide. I throw a quick tack to avoid a collision and when he's inches away from me so does he.

"No means no!" he screams.

What? No means no? Anyone would think I had tried to rape him. I start to explain that I thought he was saying "go" and that "no" and "go" sound just the same when heard through all the noise of sails and waves. But we are heading in opposite directions now and I doubt he hears much of my complaints.

OK. What do I do now?

Strictly speaking according to the racing rules I should do penalty turns. I was the give-way boat and he definitely had to tack to avoid me. But I start to rationalize why I shouldn't have to take a penalty here.

1. It was really his fault. What did he expect? Shouting "no" that sounds just like "go".

2. We didn't actually collide.

3. If I had heard him properly, I would have lee-bowed him and he would have had to tack, so the outcome is the same.

4. He didn't actually protest me. Maybe he's letting me off because he knows how stupid he has been?

Of course, none of these are actually relevant. According to the rules I was definitely in the wrong. But I finish the race without taking a penalty.

After racing I put the boat away, get changed, and head into the clubhouse. Twelve boxes of steaming pizza arrive and a couple of dozen hungry sailors demolish them in a matter of minutes. In the corner of the room opposite from where I am sitting a few members of the race committee are typing the results into the computer. I am listening in to a conversation between two sailors just to my right. The teenager is about to head off to the Radial Worlds in Brazil and is picking the brains of the gray-haired Master sailor who sailed at the same location in the Masters Worlds last month. The kid really wants advice about the sailing, but the old guy seems to be giving him advice about how to deal with the Brazilian girls. I wonder how he knows so much about this subject?

Someone from the corner of the computer starts to speak up and addresses the room.

"OK. We have a few protests to deal with. Does this sound familiar to anyone here? Fourth race, halfway up first beat, guy with a British accent on port hailed 'tack or cross', starboard boat hails 'starboard'......."

Was that me? I'm not the only sailor in the fleet with that accent. Apparently the protestor didn't remember the sail number of the boat he is protesting. I could just keep quiet and nobody would ever know. But I speak up anyway.

"Describe that incident again. It might have been me."

Basically the same details except he says it went on for quite a while. Hmmm not exactly the way I remember it.

"What actually happened to me was that after the tack or cross hail, I thought he said 'go' but he reckoned he said 'no'."

"It was a yellow boat."

"I wasn't sailing a yellow boat."

"No, the starboard boat was yellow. Was that the incident you were in?"

"I don't recall. Is he protesting me?"

The answer is vague. I'm still not clear what's going on. Did the boat in the incident protest me? Or some third party? Is it even the same incident? Is it even the same race? Whoever has reported the incident they haven't identified the sail number of the boat at fault. And in my incident the starboard boat didn't hail 'protest'. So if he does protest me now it can be thrown out as invalid. So if this does go to an actual protest hearing I can probably win it because of all those reasons.

But I am still feeling some guilt about not doing turns so I tell the scorer to retire me from the race.

One of the fleet leaders pipes up. "And the moral of this tale is........? The question is 'tack or cross?' There are only two answers. 'tack' or 'cross'. Not 'go' or 'no'."


I feel it's a moral victory as I don't really care about my scores in this series anyway. More on clarity of communication in this SailNet Article.

1 comment:

Carol Anne said...

I'm having to deal with this sort of situation -- not necessarily on the race course, but at home. My husband has a slight hearing loss, not severe, and unfortunately, not something a hearing aid can help either. He has lost sensitivity in the higher range of the human voice -- that is, my voice. According to his doctor, hearing loss in this range is especially common among men of his age, and has led to many a marriage going on the rocks when the husband mis-hears what the wife said.

Thus, it's not just in sailboat racing that there should be a set of defined calls. As you discovered, it's just too easy to mistake "no" for "go." (Besides, if you asked an either-or question, what was "no" supposed to mean as an answer? No, you shouldn't tack, no you shouldn't cross, or no, you shouldn't do either -- in which case, what the heck were you supposed to do?)

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