Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Look To Windward READERS Q & A | 4

Today another readers question from AndraZ. He wrote me in a mail:

Hi Jos!

I was umpiring a MR grade 3 this weekend when a debate between the umpires started about the meaning of "when are the boats approaching to start", as mentioned in 18.1(a).
Call UMP 13 covers the situation to an extent, but a statement from one of the more experienced officers (an ex IU) did not match my interpretation.

His words were, that the boats are approaching to start only when coming from the pre-start side to ste starting line. That the rule 28.2 says, you are approaching the starting line from the
pre-start side to start. In other cases the rule 18 applies with no exception. If an overlapped, inner boat, is between an outside, leeward boat, and the starting mark (race committee boat), she is entitled to room, even if only 5 seconds are to the starting signal and the boats coming there were sailing in a straight line for last 30 seconds.
Call UMP 13, question 1, depicts three situations, the last one the closest to the "boats approaching the mark from the course-side" but still, the leeward boat is already under the extension of the starting line. Those were the ex-IU arguments.

I did not agree with him, since I believe the approaching angle to the starting mark (race committee boat) does not play any role to the 18.1(a). Rule 28.2, in short words, explains which mark is to be left on which side, when you start. Full-stop. My arguments are that the intention counts, the distance of the boats from the starting mark, the time to the starting signal, not merely the fact that a boat is overlapped, inner on the mark, at that time. It's the risk of the inner boat to be there at that time.

You cannot bend a rule "just because it happened". Otherwise in a fleet regatta, it would be best to stay starboard of the race committee boat, bearing away to round it at the starting signal and have right of room. In my opinion, you cannot apply rule 18 if the boats (at least one) is above the starting line, otherwise act as if there were no rule 18.

To be more clear I've prepared a diagram showing different situations. Let's assume there is 15 seconds to the starting signal, light long wave, 10kn winds.

situation 1:
Boats coming in from the course-side, not overlapped, 18 does not apply. Blue must keep clear of yellow, she is not entitled to room.

situation 2:
Boats are overlapped at the zone, but in my opinion they are approaching to start, so 18 is off. Blue boat must keep clear under 11. If she continues between race committee boat and the yellow, yellow must not close the gate (RRS 16 and 14) but can protest. The risk is on the blue boat to enter such a situation. Most probable result is a double penalty or a red flag.

situation 3:
Boats approaching from the pre-start side, overlapped, 18 is off, yellow can close the gate before the yellow reaches the starting mark. Blue must keep clear under 11.

situation 4:
Pretty much the same as in situation 2. Blue must make sure soon enough, not to put herself in a position where she cannot keep clear of the yellow boat.

What is your interpretation?
Thanks in advance.

I wrote back to him:

Dear AndraZ,

I agree with you. The angle of approach should not have influence in determining if boats are approaching to start and Rule 18 is off or on.
In all your situation Blue has no right to inside room, if this is happening 10-15 seconds before the starting signal and the umpires have decided that the boats are approaching to start. Like you stated, the side which the mark is to be left is the determining factor, not the approaching angle.



  1. Some further guidance is given in Americas Cup Call AC-2007-02 available at:

    Not definitive of course but from a good source.

  2. Uncle Al (W3854)8 May 2008 at 00:27

    Hi, guys:

    As a racer, I always assume that we are in "approaching to start" mode as soon as I am on my final approach to the line. To me, the time factor is irrelevant: I've seen Lasers sitting on the line as much as two minutes before the start, but for my money, it is the clear intention of Rule 18.1 that its protections are turned off in such a situation, even though it could be argued that boats sitting on the line are not strictly speaking approaching the line, the intent of the rule is quite obvious to me and to those with whom I race. When I teach rules to beginners, I always try to explain why the rules need to be as they are: In this case, even the most rank beginner understands that chaos would result if you allowed people to claim buoy room as the boats cross the start line, but by the same token, there is no need or justification for a leeward boat to cut me off at the RC boat unless (s)he is actually already sailing his/her final approach to the line.

    Best regards,
    Uncle Al (W3854)

  3. to Anonymous:
    Thanks, this is directly applicable.

    to Uncle Al:
    For boats already on the line time may be less relevant, but for approaching boats it is a key factor to decide if 18 is on or off.
    I agree with your assessment of the background - why this rule is, as it is.
    But I don't think 'need' or 'justification' enter into it. A boat has either the right - within the rules - to deny buoy room or not


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