Tony Bull starts his new series on common rule infringement with the most notorious of all - the series barger at the committee boat end.
There is a certain sound that makes yachties wince - the crunch of two boats meeting. Unfortunately it is not uncommon, despite the rules being relatively simple and orientated toward keeping boats apart.
There will always be collisions caused by poor decision-making or loss of control. It is unavoidable when you have a lot of boats in a congested area. But a strong working knowledge of the rules is absolutely mandatory for all sailors and would go a long way toward making the racecourse a much safer place.
A lot of sailors regard the rules of sailing as a bit of a minefield. But when you break them down into simple areas and likely scenarios then it becomes relatively straight-forward.
Let’s start by looking at probably the most flagrant violation of the rules - barging in at the boat end of the starting line. In every yacht club in the world there is a serial barger who incurs the wrath of the other competitors - the person who comes sweeping in around the stern of the committee boat and pushes in, forcing the rest of the fleet down the line.
It is a really dangerous development as you have several boats squeezing into the one small area and in lots of cases the committee boat is in the vicinity. If it doesn’t have a distance mark set it can be right in the line of fire.
Windward keeps clear
There are only two real points to remember in this situation. The main one is Rule 11 (on the same tack, overlapped). If you are a windward boat you must keep clear of a boat to leeward.
The leeward boat has the right to sail her proper course to the next mark, but has an obligation to sail no higher than close-hauled and cannot luff above this course. However, the other point which is very pertinent is that before the starting gun is fired, there is no proper course to the next mark as the race has not yet commenced.
As there are no constraints on the leeward boat to sail his proper course, he can luff as high as head-to-wind. A yacht that is to leeward and establishes an overlap may luff you above close-hauled prior to the start of the race. So keep clear.
All in all it is quite simple: If you are barging in at the windward end of the line, any boat may push you up head-to-wind before the start or to a close-hauled course after the gun has gone. So it would be foolhardy to sail in there without a sizable gap to accommodate you.
Whilst the leeward yacht has right of way, she does have some limitations. Under rule 16 she must give the windward boat room to avoid her whilst changing course. The windward boat must have the ability to fulfil her obligations. The right-of-way leeward boat can’t just turn abruptly, not giving the opportunity to keep clear.
Be aware that the windward yacht may have other boats above her which she must also hail to keep clear so she can react to the presence of the leeward boat calling her.
Beware the barger
What do we do in a barging situation? Let’s look at the barger or boat dipping in from windward at the boat end of the start. In order to ascertain the right or wrong, we must picture an imaginary line in the water.
This imaginary line is the close hauled starboard tack layline to the windward end of the line whether it be the committee boat or a distance mark laid. (A lot of race committees will lay a distance mark to make it safer in the possibility of a barging yacht being pushed above the starting line into a gap and not into them.)
You are coming in on starboard tack from above this imaginary line and intend to squeeze in on the boat end. If there are several boats already lining up on or above this line and overlapped with you, then you are in trouble. They will start on a close hauled course and do not have to give you room under Rule 16.
Remember, before the gun they can luff you as far as head-to-wind to prevent you getting that spot. I always feel a lot less anxious in a windward end start when I am inside that imaginary layline and safe.
So you are in the danger zone above the starboard tack layline and the clock is counting down. You perceive other boats in the vicinity giving little prospect of a clear start. It is important to become aware as early as possible you have a potential problem.
Given enough time, you can dip down behind the other boat(s) and nip up to leeward of them further down the line; thus reversing the situation and gaining right of way. If you are really pinned with lots of boats inside you, tack out of harm’s way. Come around and start again when the congestion has eased. Or slow down and hold back and let the right of way boats start and follow them through the line.
If you are the bargee and a boat is approaching from weather looking to push in, identify them by name or sail number and hail “No Room”. Hail as early as you can, and be concise. Remain cool and don’t scream repeatedly, there is always a lot of white noise, so distance yourself from that.
I find it is a good idea to count as, if the matter ends up in the protest room, you can say you hailed and counted to 10 or 15 whilst still hailing regularly and the barging boat still made no attempt to keep clear. A time frame can be invaluable in that situation.
Remember, you also have an obligation to avoid a collision with another boat (rule 14), so try to keep clear when contact is imminent. Your recourse is to protest, so once infringed, hail “Protest” and run up a red flag as soon as possible. Don’t delay this; a lot of protests are thrown out because of time lost looking for a flag. It should be close and accessible.
Some sailors get confused with starting and the “mark room” situation where a boat has to give an inside boat room to pass a mark or obstruction (rule 18). But the preamble is quite precise that it does not apply at a starting mark.
So the rules are quite basic in their interpretation and not some complicated jargon. Have a read of your rule book and look at where the rules apply. In most situations only one or two are applicable and once versed you will be well aware of your obligations and rights.
Now that we have dealt with that pesky barger, next issue we will have a look at the rules and circumstances that develop further down the line and at the pin end. Safe sailing!
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