Thursday, October 18, 2007


"So is there much cheating going on here?" Tillerwoman stunned me with this question one evening over dinner while we were in Roses for the Laser Masters Worlds.

Cheating? Perish the thought. Of course not. Cheating just doesn't happen at this level of sailing. At least that was my initial reaction.

Cheating? What's cheating? To act dishonestly. To deceive. To deprive by fraud. That's what the dictionary says.

Cheating? In the sailing context the word conjures up such nefarious acts as sabotaging a competitor's boat (by stealing the drain plug just before he sets sail perhaps) or paying a coach to gather wind information from up the course and transmitting it to a secret radio receiver hidden behind your ear. No. I'm as certain as I can be that such stuff doesn't go on at any level of Laser sailing. At least I've never seen it.

But then I started thinking. Well, yes maybe there is a gray area. I guess it all depends on your definition of cheating.

Another dictionary definition of cheating is to violate a rule of a game deliberately. The Laser class rules define cheating as, "doing something that you know is illegal."

Hmmm. Rules. What rules must we follow when we are racing? There are the Racing Rules of Sailing of course. And the Laser Class Rules, which mainly define what you can and cannot do to change your boat and equipment. Also the Notice of Race, and Sailing Instructions have rules that you must follow.

So if I deliberately break any of those rules, I am cheating. Or am I?

What about some of the following hypothetical examples? Are any of these cheating?

  • I am at the favored end of a crowded start line. A boat comes into a gap to leeward of me that is just big enough to squeeze through. She luffs slightly,I try to respond but there is another boat close to windward of me. There is slight contact between me and the boat to leeward. Nobody protests. We both start the race and sail on as if nothing has happened.

  • The sailing instructions say that the regatta will be sailed under Laser class rules but I use a "practice sail" that is made by a sailmaker who is not approved by the Laser class.

  • The end of my boom just brushes the windward mark as I am bearing away. Nobody else sees it. I don't do a 360.

  • The Laser class rules say that the inhaul shockcord must be attached to the outhaul cleat on the boom but I tie it to the mainsheet bain. What the hell difference does it make?

  • The sailing instructions say that all sailors must wear PFDs that are US Coast Guard Approved but I use a British PFD (not USCG approved) because it's small and slim and it's easier to squeeze under the boom when I am are tacking.

I'm sure you can think of other examples. Would you ever do any of the above? What would you think if you were to see me breaking some of these rules? Am I cheating?
Does it make a difference if I think I am not gaining an advantage by breaking a rule? Would you turn a blind eye? Would you call me on it?


Pat said...

Starting line -- one could try protecting the hole before the other boat tries to squeeze in, and saying "no room" when she tries to luff up, but now all you could say is "you owe me one".

Touching mark -- If I saw it I'd want to call it. I'd rather not sail with people who wouldn't police themselves after a pretty basic mess-up.

Practice sail -- To me, the manufacturer less important than the sail itself. Does it give you an unfair advantage? Is it cut of higher-tech material than allowed, lighter, stiffer, heavier, ?

PFD -- Lots of regattas say that sort of thing is for the RC to protest, and not competitors. Does it give you an advantage? Sort of -- though nothing like cheater sails or games with ballast.

merrifie said...

Amateur sports and sailing in particular emphasize the Corinthian spirit of competition and fair play. I think that allows a little room for grace in some situations... "No harm, no foul." The 'letter of the law' is not really the point. Unfortunately, this approach can be abused.

Sailors who spin a circle even when no one saw them hit the mark encourage good sportsmanship. Watching someone hit the mark and look around to see if anyone else noticed before deciding to spin... Not so much.

Carol Anne said...

I suppose on the PFD issue, a race committee composing sailing instructions might require that the PFD be approved by the USCG "or any equivalent national safe boating authority."

However, that opens another can of worms -- what other sailing instructions would have to change to take care of other such nit-picking details? It's silly to try to anticipate and take care of that sort of issue, just because there are so many of them.

Stephen LLG said...

Any fish today ? Opps, sorry wrong topic

Tim Coleman said...

I guess you have to understand the purpose of the rule.
The PFD rule is to make sure that you are safe on the water and that your equipment doesn't give you any advantage (like including pockets to carry water bottles to increase wieght).

Sailing instructions often fall into a similar catagory or being there to ensure safety and fairness.

Class rules are in the same vein(although I think with Lasers its more a case of srewing as much money out of the boat owners as possible)

I think that the situation on the start line could be dismissed but you can be protested by a third party for not protesting an infringement. I guess it depends on how arsy your competitors are.

Some stuff is down to basic honesty and if we hit a mark we should do a 360 or re-round it.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree with the other posts here - little bump where neither protests is ok but hitting the mark needs a bit of honesty (after all its unlikely to do something unexpected - unlike another competitors...)

One common way that people set up to cheat is the prediliction in one-design fleets for only buying white boats. The idea being to 'get away' with an illegal start which always strikes me as a bit odd.

Anonymous said...

Accepting a little bump as OK is opening the door to gray areas. Look at the writer. He actually stated he hit the buoy but didn't take the penalty.

Our sport is great when we accept the rules in their most simple form.

Ever play golf with someone who doesn't count every stroke? How much fun was that?

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