Considerations and the Rules

Dummy Reflections

Rick West, June 2002


Have you ever noticed that it is quiet in the upper part of A fleet? When have you heard one of the top five in a regatta yell at someone? Have you ever noticed that when a boat lower in the fleet is late tacking for a leading starboard boat, they just duck a bit and keep going? Have you ever noticed that the top captains almost never turn head to wind in such cases?


There are many other examples. Knowing the rules is a good thing and integral to strategy but enforcing the rules is not a priority to a good race plan. Contact and yelling is counter to concentration and management on the course. Incidents reduce visibility as one’s vision becomes more focused in one area. While you may escape one situation, another will follow and another. Freedom to tack, clear air and proper course evaporate when the chessboard is no longer in view. Being dead right is a mind killer and fatal in a fleet race. The gravity well of the relegated and dreaded bottom four begins to spiral tighter and tighter.


You will note that the top five rarely call an infraction of the rules among themselves or announce a position of rights. Most infractions here are announced by the offending boats, as rare as it may be. Visibility is good but sometimes you will hear, “Do you see me, Vern?” “I see you, Leroy.” That is enough to head off anxieties.


These captains know how to sail fast. If you are ever overlapped with one and feel the pride that you are just as fast, consider the reasons they finish ahead of you in a regatta. Let’s explore considerations within a few rules. Maybe a different attitude would make you sail faster.


18.2(c). Not Overlapped at the Zone

If a boat is clear ahead at the time she reaches the four-length zone, the boat clear astern shall thereafter keep clear. If the boat clear astern becomes overlapped outside the other boat she shall also give the inside boat room. If the boat clear astern becomes overlapped inside the other boat she is not entitled to room. If the boat that was clear ahead passes head to wind, rule 18.2(c) no longer applies.


Rule 18, the whole rule, may appear complicated to the beginning sailor. If the rule is taken in its parts you will find that it lays the groundwork for the story of how competitors will organize a mark rounding in close quarters. The simplicity of it is that if boats are not clear ahead or astern, they are then overlapped and the inside boat will be allowed to complete the rounding. There are other nuisances, like the differences between room and right of way, but this is the basic pecking order to an organized mark rounding.


Whereas, the rule is for all boats at the rounding extending outward through the radius of the four-length zone, each boat outside of another (an inside boat) will keep clear, etc. It is because of this “Domino Effect” in fleet racing that you will hear the most conversations during the process. The very inside boat should not have to call for room to round, however, moving outward through the radius, the visibility becomes less due to the concentration of boats. Hence, you will often hear, “94 needs to move to give an inside boat room.” One or two of these statements should be enough for the entire group to know that inside boats are going to start moving outward toward the outside boats. It is the thing you have read here before, “Cooperate and Graduate” and get back to racing when the task is done.


So, what happens if this is not an orderly process? Boats start bumping into each other and in most cases a raft-up ensues and possible rig entanglements. Meanwhile, those that were minding the process sail on. Attitudes become frayed and often protests are hurled about. The attitude should be that of getting loose and the protests are essentially irrelevant.


Two things cause this mess; failure of the fleet to maintain reasonable separation under the rule during the rounding and/or a boat clear astern steers to the inside, runs out of room (and rights) and begins a cascading effect of bumper boats. Experienced captains will see this latter boat bearing down on the organized boats that have slowed as part of the rounding and call something like, “94, don’t go in there, you don’t have rights.” Well, it is not a question of rights at the time of the call but they know what will happen if 94 hits another boat and she will not be right and will further create the mess feared.


If boats do become rafted up or entangled within the zone during the rounding they are still clear ahead of another boat arriving into the zone. It must be remembered that this rule applies as any boat arriving while others are in the zone is clear astern and should keep clear of all boats. It is very tempting to head for the inside of a raft-up and gain several positions. Experience is that this is perilous and open space to make the rounding can disappear rapidly and often after there is no means to maneuver outside.


Considerations to this rule:


Understanding rule 18 in general is to understand the order of the rounding process. That is the important part. If a half dozen boats are arriving at the first windward mark together, they will most likely all be on the same tack. It is time for everyone to concede their position, fall into an orderly formation and accomplish the rounding with smooth sailing and calm nerves. It is not a time to enforce the rounding rule but to follow the spirit of it. This is fleet racing. You may need to give a little.


While this may be good advice and intentions, human nature has other tendencies in the competitive spirit. These need to be overcome but the fact is that most will be reluctant to give a little. They will tend to pinch toward the mark, are reluctant to move outward and give room, get boxed in with no escape route or will dive inside looking for an opening. It only will take one to become a problem for all.


It is the rule that creates the order and states the discipline. When something happens the rule or discussion about it will not correct the situation. The cause of the problem is not important now and locating the offender is not the energy needed. All supposedly knew the rule going in and now that something has happened, the rule does not matter for the moment.


Those are the considerations in attitude. Here are some considerations that will increase your percentages in sailing faster. While the spirit of the rule should be in mind, the primary mission here is to make the rounding and avoid an incident even if you have to give a bit of your right of way. Know this: You will not be in clear air; you will not have freedom to tack and proper course will be that which you can get. Start thinking well ahead of your boat and live with it.


1.      Start glancing forward into the zone to know what your position will be on your present course. Consider room to escape to the outside and when that door will close.

2.      Is your position secure in an overlap with room to keep clear? If so, make light conversation with those near you so they understand that you know they are there and hence, they will know you are where you are.

3.      If you are clear astern, you have lost the windward leg. Your mission now is to sail smart to secure a high finishing position. You are NOT going to win this heat at this mark.

a.       The percentages are that if you move inside and attempt to go through a hole, you are going to touch someone and loose big time. Worse is that you will cause a chain reaction of collisions and draw it the ire of your shipmates. Once you have extradited yourself and completed your penalty, it is likely you will finish at the bottom of the heat and be relegated.

b.      The percentages are that if you choose early to move outside you will do so with speed, open water and freedom to maneuver. That will be better than what is going on inside and if there is a problem you are very likely to gain positions. At least you should be no worse off than when you entered the zone.

c.       If the view ahead is orderly, voices calm and you have an escape route (freedom to tack or reach) proceed but be alert. Remember, escape is not just to the outside. You will not evaporate in a nuclear explosion and never see your shipmates again if you duck under the mark, do a 270 turn in open water and get back into the stream of the mark rounding again. You may loose fewer positions, possibly none, than other alternatives that could have made you part of flotsam.

4.      Be less sensitive and allow flexibility in your process. Do not be looking for penalties and some contact here can be incidental as all are trying to keep clear. Think about the trying to get aboard an underground train. You will get jostled a bit but a confrontation will not be a good tone for the rest of the day.


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Rule 16 is a partner to rule 10. When the rules were overhauled for 1997 it was peppered with a spirit of no contact. One was to restrict “Hunting” and end this macho insanity of intimidation. As a crewman on the foredeck of a Wiley 33 in the early 70s, I was petrified of port/starboard crossings as my captain was a hunting fool and would announce loudly on the megaphone for the other skipper to prepare to be rammed. The rule was further clarified for 2001 as to the disciplines.


16.2  In addition, when after the starting signal boats are about to cross or are crossing each other on opposite tacks, and the port-tack boat is keeping clear of the starboard-tack boat, the starboard-tack boat shall not change course if as a result the port-tack boat would immediately need to change course to continue keeping clear.


The two illustrations seen on this rule are of a port tacking boat approaching a starboard tacking boat and of a port tacking boat that will pass clear ahead of a starboard tacking boat. In the former, should the starboard boat sail lower than her course toward a port tacking boat that is keeping clear and cause her to further alter her course, the starboard-tack boat is in violation of the rule. The latter, which is closer to the meaning of hunting, would be in violation if the starboard tacking boat turned up into the wind to interfere with a port tacking boat that would have otherwise passed clear ahead.


You may have heard when someone calls “Starboard,” that the other boat will respond with, “Hold your course.” Now, the rule says that. Actually, it says that you can alter course but not so as to cause the boat trying keep clear to make a further effort.


This rule is little known but is not generally a problem in our fleet racing. However, part of it illustrates some thought toward those competitive genes that lead us along the wrong path. One that is on starboard hates to have a port tacking boat pass clear ahead. On the next lay lines the boat will then come at you on a starboard tack and further insult.


The port tacking boat is on a higher rung of the ladder than you. Suck it up and move on. The rookie mistake is turn up regardless of the reasons, even if there is fear of contact. The competitive spirit is to turn up. Think about it. Turning toward the bow of another boat is inviting disaster. If you turn up, even trying to avoid her, you are outside of rule 16 and the issue will become a fog while others pass you both. The safest route and the FASTEST is to pass astern.


A major competitor recently said in discussions of this rule that if the port boat was not really clear, the only choice is to pass closely for a “Love tap on her stern and your starboard gunwale.” This captain also has good eyes.


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The next time you are stuck in traffic or driving 600 miles to a regatta, think about the past. How many times did you finish lower in the race than expected? And, regardless of fault, how many were related to contact? Could they have been avoided, even by giving up some of your rights?


Think about it. Sail fast. Avoid possible problems. Avoid penalties. It is very quiet in A fleet.