Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two Amazing Facts About The Racing Rules Of Sailing That You Could Have Learned From Reading Sailing Blogs Last Week

For all you Racing Rules Wonks, here are two amazing facts about the Racing Rules of Sailing that you may not know...
  1. The Rules don't specify exactly where the starting line is. It's up to the whim of the Race Committee. And often they don't tell you what they've decided.

  2. The Rules allow a boat you are following closely to force you into committing a foul by quickly slowing down so that you hit its transom.
Let's take those one at a time...

1. The Rules don't specify exactly where the starting line is. It's up to the whim of the Race Committee. And often they don't tell you what they've decided.

Photo: College Singlehanded Nationals 2009 shamelessly stolen from GTSphotos.com

What's that you say? The starting line is always defined in the Sailing Instructions.

You are right. But often the SI's say something like "the starting line will be between a staff with an orange flag on the committee boat and an orange pin buoy". But what if the pin buoy is a 5-foot wide tetrahedron? Does the start line run through the back, the center, or the front of that buoy? Because if you think it's the front and the race committee are sighting the back, then every time you "win the pin" you are going to be called OCS.

Think it can't happen at a serious, major championship?

Think again. It did happen. At the US collegiate single-handed national championships no less. Check out Andrew Campbell's account at The Starting Line - Can you show me where it is? Is it even there? And read the comments which pretty well beat the subject to death. But I'm sure the creative commenters of this blog will find something new to say...

2. The Rules allow a boat you are following closely to force you into committing a foul by quickly slowing down so that you hit its transom.

Photo: Laser Masters Worlds 2009 - shamelessly stolen from capizzano.com

Most of us have some vague idea that the Racing Rules help prevent collisions by not allowing a boat to take a sudden action which causes a collision, or that if a boat does take such an action then it will be the one penalized.

There is Rule 15 which says that if a boat takes some action to acquire right of way she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear.

And there is Rule 16 which says if a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to clear.

But if you think about it, neither of these Rules apply to a situation where two boats on the same tack are sailing along with the trailing boat's bow a few inches behind the leading boat's transom. When the leading boat eases sheets and slows down she is not changing course so Rule 16 doesn't apply. And the action of slowing down does not make the lead boat acquire right of way (she already had it.) So Rule 15 doesn't apply. So when you plow into the back of the sneaky guy that eased his sheets, it's you, the boat that's clear astern, that has broken Rule 12.

Ahah, you say. What about Rule 14: A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible? Surely the boat clear ahead that slowed down thereby causing contact has infringed Rule 14?

Well, yes. But Rule 14 also says that a right-of-way boat shall not be penalized under this rule unless there is damage or injury. And, in most cases, a little bow to transom bump between two boats sailing at almost the same speed is not going to cause any damage. So our sneaky sheet-easer gets off scot-free and you in the following boat have to do penalty turns!

It doesn't seem fair to me but that's how the Rules work according to International Judge Jos Spijkerman. The issue first came up in a question I posed in the comments to a very similar situation Rapid Response Match Race Call 2009-10. Jos answered my question and discussed this example and some similar ones in Non-Actions?

What do you think? Would you pull this trick in a race if another boat was following close to your transom? Would you feel good about it? How about if someone did it to you?

I suspect your reaction to this post will depend on whether you are a SNOP or an RRF. Which are you?


EscapeVelocity said...

On tailgating, I don't have my RRS handy to look up the number of the rule which states "There is no keg in the protest room," but that would apply to both boats in this case.

Tillerman said...

I think the rule about kegs should be in the definition of "party".

stunnednamazed said...

On the overtaking boat thing, it is like tailgating; if you are dumb enough to do it you might have to pay the price. Your proximity to other boats increases the the amount of focus you have to use on avoiding contact which reduces your focus on all other aspects of the race.

Jordan said...

I agree with stunnedandamazed. You choose to "tailgate" another sailor, stay alert as the onus will be on you.

Bottom mark rounding is the most common incident that springs to mind. Such as when the lead boat turns the corner tight, shuts the gate to the mark and then puts on the brakes.

That is pretty much accepted practice in many fleet situations.

It would be a very rare situation where you would want to go slower rapidly for e.g on a beam reach so that a trailing boat could possibly ram you from behind and take its turns. Better to just sail quick as you can together and break away from the others around you.

The mark issue seems to come up again and again and always due to the issue that Andrew Campbell raised.

Most sailors seem to use either the center point or the leading edge towards the course side if its a large mark. It never occurs to most people that a PRO could use the trailing edge of a pin mark.

I have seen the point they use to define the line actually change from center of mark to back like Andrew described in a longer event where the volunteers staffing the committee boats changed half way through the regatta and had new ideas about where the line lay.

That event went from well ordered starts with minimal recalls to never ending recalls and OCS's.

Pretty poor race management to consider a overlap of any kind on the pin as an OCS.

Tillerman said...

Good points Jordan. I have seen the "slow down and get hit on the transom" trick pulled at leeward marks. It happened to me once when I, through some fluke, ended up in the top 3 or 4 boats in a race at a Sunfish North American Championship some years ago. I thought I was so smart executing a perfect leeward mark rounding right on the transom of one of the class hotshots. Until he slowed down slightly as he exited the mark! Oops. I thought at the time that he didn't do it deliberately... but now I'm not so sure.

How do people feel about using that trick on the short leg between a windward mark and an offset mark, prior to a run? Someone right on your tail is bound to cause you problems on the run. So is it OK to take him out with a quick slow-down just before the offset mark?

Zen said...

I'm glad I'm Cruiser

"Nonotshe" says the verification person from the India underground


Zen said...

One should always post and sail with "fenesse" according to the Indian verification Oracle

Zen said...

Who is "Hy ding Li" and why should I speak to her, is she cute? Does she sail? or make up the laser sailing rules?

I love this game

Jordan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat said...

Seems more common for old-time "gotcha" artists to acquire a leeward overlap preferably in such a way as not to be limited then luff an unsuspecting skipper with a love tap on the quarter... and haul out the flag.

Jos said...

In my book the line is as wide as the points defining beginning and end.
If the mark is five feet wide, the line is five feet wide at that (pin)-end. You are only "over the line" and OCS (on course side) when any part of your boat is passed that line, i.e. the leading edge of the mark should be used.
Any PC receiving requests for redress on this issue should decide in favour of the sailor, imho.
It is their game not of the RO....

Tillerman said...

Pat, I think I'm right in saying that a few years back the Rules allowed a leeward boat with luffing rights to luff as hard and fast as they liked without any need to give the windward boat room to keep clear. That's presumably why some of your "old-time" friends still try this one. But under the current Rules I would have thought that this would be open to protest under Rule 16.

Jos, I like your thinking. It occurred to me too that if the SI's define one end of the line as the whole pin buoy then the line at that end is as thick as the buoy, so you are not OCS unless part of your boat is on the course side of that "thick line". Most of the commenters on Andrew Campbell's blog suggested that the course side of the buoy should be used too. Someone even discovered guidelines to this effect buried on page 245 of some obscure US Race Management manual.

O Docker said...

The RRS incorporate the traditional right-of-way rules - port-starboard, windward-leeward - and then apply special definitions for what those terms mean in a race, no?

So, what happened to the 'overtaking' rule, where the overtaking boat is burdened to stay clear?

Tillerman said...

Good question O Docker. Novice racers, for some reason, often believe that there is some rule that says the "overtaking" boat has to keep clear. However, the word (and therefore the concept of) "overtaking" does not appear anywhere in the Racing Rules of Sailing (except in the Appendix which deals with Windsurfing Competition.)

What happened to the "overtaking rule"? Well, the word isn't there. Instead we have one rule that deals with what happens when one boat is "clear ahead" of another and another rule which deals with what happens when boats are "overlapped". It's best for racers to read the actual rules and not rely on rules of thumb like "overtaking boat keep clear" which does give the right answer some of the time... but not always.

Pat said...

Nowadays then, a leeward boat with unlimited luffing rights could still give the "love tap" provided the leeward boat could argue that it gave the windward boat time and room to avoid them.

Of course, it would come down to an argument in the room and a cantankerous protest committee that was missing out on the social hour might just decide to penalize both boats.

Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

I think it is reasonable to manouver your boat to cause your competitor to change course, provided you are within the rules. Thus slowing up eounding the leeward mark to force them below you is ok.
However, to change your course or your speed to deliberately force your competitor to hit you is, I believe, a breach of the rules (avoiding contact) and of good seamanship and sportsmanship.
Some will say that 'Rule breakers' need to know that thier 'barging' is unacceptable and a collision is sometimes the only way to show them up. I say that I race for fun not aggravation and I am quite happy to quit racing with idiots and just race with reasonable people and not stress myself out with something that is supposed to be enjoyable.

ChrisJ said...

As the following boat, racing in the RS400 Nationals on big waves, this happened fairly often.
The boat in front would drop his kite as late as possible (keeping speed up for as long as possible to prevent an overlap). But in the confusion of a late drop, with the bow dropping into the back of a wave, the kite would go into the water: the boat goes from full plane to anchored in under a second. The boat behind (who is also dropping his kite, in the waves, while calling for water, and sorting out kicker etc ready for the beat) has to take drastic avoiding action at the last moment before rounding the buoy.

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