Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Only Wonks Need Reply

Warning: Wonky Racing Rules stuff coming up in which Tillerman will perform the contortion of patting himself on the back because a Racing Rules god has decided he was right all along...

Regular readers of this blog (all 671 of you - goodbye to the 2 who left - what did I do to upset you?) will recall that back in November I posed a real life Racing Rules situation that seemed to me to be a paradox, or perhaps a flaw in the Rules, in which two boats made contact when they were overlapped on starboard tack and each was to "leeward" of the other (as "leeward" is defined in the Rules.) The post was Both Leeward and Both Starboard, and this was the situation...

The paradox arises because Lasers on a run often sail extreme "by the lee" angles and the Rules define the leeward side of such a boat as the side on which her mainsail lies.

The original post attracted a lot of comments with many sailors trying to resolve or explain away the paradox in a number of ingenious ways...

Some pointed out that the blue boat was clearly the "give-way" windward boat under Rule 11 until just before the contact, and thus she should have kept clear under Rule 15 'Acquiring Right of Way'. In the real life situation that happened to me (I was the red boat) this was probably true, so in Demolition #1 I constructed an even more extreme example of the paradox in which both starboard boats could each claim to be the leeward boat for a long time before and up to the point of contact.

That post generated even more comments. Some of my readers seemed to get a tad angry at my wonkish exploration of Rules conflicts that, in their view, bore little relation to real life. Others fell back on quoting notable Rules experts who had written that a good "rule of thumb" is that when two boats on the same tack meet when one is beating and one is running, then the running boat is usually the windward "give way" boat. I don't disagree that this is a good "rule of thumb" that works most of the time; my point was that in this situation, given the way the Definition of "leeward" is currently written in the Rules, the "rule of thumb" doesn't help. Both boats are leeward... and both are windward, depending on how you look at it. Who, if anybody, has right of way under Rule 11?

I was planning more posts to explore this paradox but somehow got sidetracked by Christmas Tree Allergy and other stuff.

Then a few days ago I heard from Mr. Gerald Byrnes of the wittily, if somewhat lazily, titled blog (Enter Title Here). Mr. Byrnes was lucky enough to attend a Racing Rules seminar at the Arizona Yacht Club featuring the renowned Rules expert Mr. Dick Rose. Mr. Byrnes took the opportunity to ask Mr. Rose about "Tillerman's conundrum" and Mr. Rose was kind enough to answer him. Mr. Byrnes has described the answer in Conundrum Explained.

Now, bear in mind that I am reporting this third-hand, but, according to Mr. Byrnes, Mr. Rose opined as follows...

The boats are overlapped, since neither is clear ahead or clear astern of the other. The next step would be to figure out which boat is leeward, or in the lee of the other. The definition of leeward when sailing by the lee is the side the boom is on. Because the boats are meeting, neither the upwind nor the downwind boat is in the other's lee. This situation makes all but rule 14 non-applicable. If a protest were to come up for contact between boats in this sketch, the odds would be for the committee to toss both boats for failure to obey rule 14.

Point of detail: I am sure that Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Rose are well aware that although Rule 14 does require boat boats to avoid contact if reasonably possible, neither boat can be penalized by the protest committee unless there is "damage or injury".

OK, so the good news is that Mr. Rose agrees with me (I think). This is one of those rare situations when boats meet but the Racing Rules do not clearly specify that one of those boats has right of way and the other has to keep clear. No more argument on this point please. (Actually I am still a bit confused by Mr. Rose's reported assertion that neither boat is in the other's lee. I could just as easily argue that each boat is the other's lee. But never mind. The key point is that the situation is symmetrical. Either both boats have right of way, or neither does.)

And the bad news is that this is very confusing and potentially dangerous. Is it really desirable that two boats can be approaching each other almost head-on like this and the Racing Rules give no guidance as to who has to change course to avoid contact? Mr. Rose implies they should both change course. But think about this for a moment. The running boat probably can't sail an even more extreme angle by the lee so would probably choose to head up to avoid contact. The beating boat presumably likes the tack she is on so she may well choose to bear away in an attempt to duck the running boat. In other words they would turn towards each other and still be likely to crash. Not good.

So what's the solution? Do the Rules or the Definitions need to change? Can anyone suggest a simple modification to the Rules that would remove this potential paradox without causing even more confusion in other situations?

Only wonks need reply.


Anonymous said...

The rules guru agreed with ME?!

Excerpt from my original comment posted way back in November:

...and neither boat changed course, and slight alteration of sails by either party would have avoided contact...I'd toss both of you for not avoiding contact!

Anonymous...the other white meat.

Andrew said...

The rules say that a right of way boat cannot be penalized under rule 14 unless there is damage or injury.
You have convinced me that neither boat is the right of way boat.
Therefore in this situation they can both be penalized for not avoiding contact.
No need to modify the rules then.

What exactly is a wonk?

Tillerman said...

Other white meat - there was no injury or damage. Ergo you cannot toss both of us.

Andrew - My point is that, in 99.672% of situations, the Racing Rules make it absolutely clear which boat needs to change course to keep clear. My contention is that it is potentially very dangerous to have a situation where two boats can approach each other head on where both may feel they have right of way and can hold course, or that (under Rule 14) they both need to change course to avoid contact and may both decide to steer the same way (left of the wind in this example) and still collide. Isn't one purpose of the Rules to help avoid collisions?

Tillerman said...

"What exactly is a wonk?"

I don't exactly know. Someone who reads blogs like this, I guess.

The O'Sheas said...

Maybe you lost a couple of readers to, umm, you know, old age.

Jos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jos said...

Rule 11.2
When boats are on the same tack and overlapped and neither is to leeward, a boat sailing more then ninety degrees from true wind, shall keep clear of a boat that is not.

Pat said...

Jos, is this "11.2" a proposed rule that you've tested locally? If so, did it work?

Jos said...

@ Pat
Never tested it, never had a case requiring it. Just endeavoured to wonk the question by Tillerman.

Anonymous said...

Lost a couple to old age maybe but gain one youthful one. ;)

Pat said...

Of course, for the theoretical rule 11.2, it might be difficult to get Laser sailors ("normally capsized") to carry an angle-measuring device such as a protractor, quadrant, or sextant.

If we really stretch the rules far enough, could we say that sailors who create such an annoying rules conundrum and make the protest committee late for dinner/evening beverages, be protested and tossed for violating RRS 2, Fair Sailing?

Or, perhaps the situation could be resolved by adding a rule to the Sailing Instructions for an event:
"Any sailor creating an insolvable rules conundrum shall be penalized, without a hearing, by being banned from the Hospitality Tent and/or Club Bar."
April 1st is nearly here...

Unknown said...

Boy, the wonks sure are biting! I like the idea of the bar ban penalty.

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