Jordan Spencer says a knowledge of the rules is essential for all competitors.
On the same day, at two separate National championships recently, I was asked by several sailors to talk about protests in this column.
Sailing is a unique sport, in that generally, we are self regulating. Of course there is on-water umpiring, but at most events participants rely on their competitors to act fairly and if they don’t, we can protest them.
However, this system can cause frustration. Some push the rules, relying on peoples’ lack of desire to go to the room. Others insist on enforcing the rules no matter what, causing frustration because of a lack of common sense.
So let me lay it out nice and simply.
First read your rules - people are still out there calling mast abeam. There are only 23 rules that affect the interaction of boats whilst racing. That’s about six pages and it will take you 15 minutes to read them. However, you must read the definitions and you must read the pre-amble for each section which tells you when each set of rules apply.
Second, plan ahead! This is all part of race management. Racing requires a focus on what is happening now, (the micro) and what will happen in the future, (the macro). By planning ahead, you can recognise potential threats and plan to avoid them, because avoiding them is always faster than forcing your rights.
Avoiding an incident can be as simple as communicating with a competitor ahead of time. If you receive a negative response, it gives you a chance to eyeball a witness should your competitor try their luck.
Third, don’t force a rule just because it is there. Just because you have rights doesn’t mean you will benefit from using them.
This is the biggest difference between competitors at the front of the fleet and those further back. The top teams are always communicating with each other and often have incident-free racing. The classic example is the port-starboard cross. At the front of the fleet, a starboard tacker will call a port tacker through if the likely collision is in the back half of the port tacker’s boat.
In most circumstances, it is much better for the starboard tacker to dip their bow slightly and cross behind the port tacker and continue to head in the direction they want to, than to yell “starboard, starboard” and have that boat tack on to your lee bow, slow you down, force you to tack and send you away from the direction of your tactical plan.
A lack of common sense in others is, I suspect, the element that causes the frustration most competitors feel when they get to regattas. Remember, by forcing a rule and causing a competitor to tack or gybe, you are often handing control of the next interaction to them. So ask yourself, what is the most beneficial outcome for yourself when crossing or rounding, and make sure that is the outcome you achieve.
If you are a beginner, or your boat control is weak, be particularly smart on the start line. Your actions can have a bigger affect than you can imagine. I saw at recent nationals a start where two slower competitors luffed prior to the gun, went past head to wind and started drifting backwards where they hit and tangled with a leading contender for the win. It took over a minute for the boats to untangle. All the while, these boats were claiming they were leeward boat and had right of way. This complete lack of rules knowledge and poor boat handling contributed to the leading contender not winning the regatta. (The contender also contributed by not protesting.)
Finally, if you do infringe, take your penalty. A bit of integrity on the course will see your competitors treat you with respect and you will have better sailing as a result. Conversely, if you are in a major incident and the other party doesn’t take a penalty and you don’t protest, then don’t complain.
Our sport is unique, yet it is not hard to understand the rules. Learn them, and use them so you can benefit from fun, fair racing. If in doubt, pull a group together at your club and talk them through.
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