Thursday, 8 May 2008

Helping Hands

When starting to umpire beyond National level, you need experience and skill to get invited for International events. But you need invitations to events to get that skill and experience. A viscous circle. You need a helping hand to break it.

Unfortunately in 2005 there weren't that many local events for me, so I tried to use any and all contacts to get a place abroad. During Kiel-week I talked to some of the German judges and they told me about Match-Racing in Hamburg, in the heart of the city, on lake Alster. Hamburg is about 4 hours by car from my hometown. Perfect.

I contacted Manuel Hünsch, the guy in charge and offered to pay my own travel expenses, so they could gain an International Judge and an National Umpire for the "price" of a local National Umpire. And he said yes!
I could attend my very first International Match Race Event, the International German Championship for Woman on October 1-3, 2005

On the Aussen-Alster the Hamburger Sailing Club has a well run clubhouse and facilities and, most important for Match Racing, several Streamline boats to sail.
The event was very well organized and I learned how to operate in English and to Umpire with people I met for the first time. All were very helpful and I was invited back for a next event in November: Ladies Only Match Racing.
Since then I've been back there many times and feel right at home in HH.

HH stands for Hansestadt Hamburg.
For me it will always be the ‘helping hands’, who broke the circle and gave me my first opportunity.
But also ‘helping hands’, because I learned a valuable lesson on one of those occasions:

For match racing boats enter the race area, 4 minutes before the starting signal, by crossing a line perpendicular to the starting line, each on her own side. The Blue boat on the pin-end side and the Yellow boat at the committee-boat side.

After they have crossed, they have to "dip the starting line". That means they have to cross the starting line, from the course side to the pre-start side, between four minutes and two minutes before the start. Normally boats time this entry exactly, so they can engage in the pre-start maneuvers.
They must dip in that time!
If they are late and the other boat can prevent them from dipping, they get a penalty.
So timing - as with a start - is crucial. That means that both boats will sail pretty close to the marks, entering.

In one of these events the Blue boat entered so close, that her keel caught the anchor line of the pin-end mark. Hopelessly entangled!

In my enthusiasm and eagerness to get things going, I started motoring over to help them untangle it, so the race could get started.

Immediately the Chief umpire (Manuel) called on the radio, asking what I was doing? Helping?
No, no! I shouldn't help anyone!
The match had already started and it was the responsibility of the boat to get free.
She had already earned a penalty for touching the mark!

I felt like a beginner....
Of course! How could I forget! How stupid of me….

I motored away, and together with my fellow umpire, blew a whistle and showed the blue flag, indicating a penalty for Blue.

It felt like totally ridiculous, waiting some dozen meters away, seeing the sailors struggle to get that bloody line off their keel, doing nothing to help them.

Backward and forward, head to wind, heeling over, pushing the mark around the boat, nothing worked! That line was glued to the boat!

Minutes ticked away.
And yes, after two minutes because Blue hadn't crossed the line, we gave a second penalty.

Finally when the starting signal had gone and the other boat had sailed halfway up the beat, Blue indicated that they gave up. They lowered their sails and the support boat came over to help them to get unstuck.

We discussed the incident with the sailors afterwards. They were pretty casual about it, knew this was all in the game and it had happened before. Next time a little more distance from the mark, that was all.

I was a little more impressed by the incident.
I will forever remember when NOT to give a ‘helping hand’ in a Match Race.

Thank you, Manuel!


  1. Match racing is rather a mystery to me since I seldom see it up close.

    In your story, you noted that the boat that ran into the mark got a penalty, then another penalty when the two-minute entry period expired.

    Here in New Mexico, when some local sailors were being taught basic match racing, the people who were teaching them simply DSQ'd any boat that didn't cross the start line from the course side during the two minutes following the preparatory signal. Was this not correct?

    Could they have perhaps been confusing giving a penalty for not meeting the entry period requirement (C4.2) with the provision of C8.5, which allows DSQ when umpires are satisfied that a boat will not start?

    Also, here is a very basic question: when do and don't red flag and black flag penalties apply?

  2. Jos, a question:

    Time, Action
    -04:05, blue boat 1 BL from the pin mark, about to enter
    -03:56, blue boat bearing away, to cross starting line, very close to the mark
    -03:54, blue boat catches marks' anchoring line with her keel.

    Same as your story goes... but from the inertia, it "rounds" the mark, crossing the starting line.

    On -02:00, does she deserve a second penalty, for not complying with C4.2?

    The rule says "a boat shall cross and clear the starting line" and since she is stuck on the mark, she didn't really clear the line, even if she has crossed it.

    But if she frees herself and continues (in two mintes time), there is only one penalty for 31.1.

    Would this be correct?

  3. for Pat
    For not dipping (crossing the starting line AND clearing it, for the first time from the course side to the pre-start side) a boat gets one penalty not a DSQ.
    If she doesn't comply and has received a penalty for it, she then doesn't need to do it anymore. If the two minutes have passed, no dipping is required anymore.

    As for your question about the use of the red and black flags - an explanation will take too long to answer in a comment. I'll make a post about it, in the not too distant future, ok?

    for AndraZ
    You are absolutely correct. I should have been more watchful of my language. She gets the second penalty for not clearing the line, she already crossed it.

    Clearing it before the two minute period ends, would result in one penalty, also correct. No matter that she 'touched' the mark for over a minute, or several time. It's considered all to be part of the same (one) incident.

  4. I do more or less understand the black flag as "3 strikes and you're out" to use the American baseball metaphor. But the red flag is completely beyond me and the rules in Appendix C don't do much at all to help me. It appears that the people who were trying to teach match racing at one of our lakes last year also had difficulty with exact understanding and application of the rules.


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