Monday, 22 December 2008

Sail Melbourne 2008 & LTW Q&A | 16

I had a mail exchange with one of the judges at Sail Melbourne. (We know each other through other events). He send me a mail telling something about the event and has an interesting question to ask. I've copied his words below (and left out some of the personal stuff).

Hi Jos

The regatta was relatively small with about 200 competitors from 19 countries, sailing on two courses. The atmosphere was very relaxed and the behavior of the fleet quite good, with a relatively small number of rule 42 penalties and only five protests.
Moving the regatta to December to avoid a clash with Miami - but outside the traditional holiday period in Australia - has been a bit of challenge for the organizers and made it a little more difficult to get the vast number of volunteers required to run such an event. However, from what I have seen, they have succeeded and things are running quite smoothly. Importantly, the feed-back from the sailors is very positive as it fits quite nicely with other regattas.

We didn’t have anything very challenging in the rules area but did have a lively discussion on the last day when a competitor wanted to withdraw a protest. The incident was a rule 18 issue at the last leeward mark – which I happened to see. One Radial was on port and the other on starboard, a lot of shouting and a small bump as the boats rounded the mark. A protest was lodged within the time limit.

The protestor later came to the room and asked to withdraw the protest because there was no benefit to her as the other boat would drop this and the overall result would not change between them. There was no suggestion of parents being involved or coercion, threats or bullying. The sailors were mature age (? 20’s).

The jury then deliberated on whether or not to allow the protest to be withdrawn – the two sides of the argument being as follows:
  • The protest should be heard as there had obviously been a breach of the rules and someone needed to be penalized for it.
  • The protestor should be allowed to withdraw the protest as there was no coercion, threats, bullying or other bad behavior, no damage and the (alleged) breach did not effect the overall results. The protestor felt it did not serve any useful purpose.
I argued to allow the withdrawal. What do you think?


I had this discussion in several jurys and think it's a good idea to draft some sort of policy on this issue; When do we allow a protest to be withdrawn? I'll have a look in my files, to see if I can find my previous criteria. In the meantime please give us your opinion....



  1. I agree with RW.

    Judges Manual 9.4 says 'If foul play is suspected ... permission [to withdraw a protest] should not be granted'. Conversely, then, if no foul play is suspected, as was the case here, permission shold be granted.

    In the scenario, the PC considered the factors and found not the slightest suggestion of 'foul play' (whatever that may mean).

    I am alarmed at the proposition RW suggested:

    "The protest should be heard as there had obviously been a breach of the rules and someone needed to be penalized for it."

    This strikes at the heart of the self-policiing nature of our sport. A boat should only be penalised if one of the other 'stakeholders' in the race (other racing boats, the RC or the PC) wants the boat to be penalised and signifies this by protesting. It's a 'Protest Committee', not a 'Police Committee'.

    I note also that, the protestor could have just not come to the hearing (attending a hearing is a right,under rule 63.3(a), it is not an obligation), in which case the PC, in the absence of evidence, would quite likely have ruled the protest invalid or dismissed it.


  2. Brass, if a protestor explains his case in his protest,why then, if he does not come to a hearing, would the protest be invalid? As you state, he is not obliged to be there. I don't find anywhere in Part 5 that a protest shall be
    dismissed. What do you mean?

  3. “When do we allow a protest to be withdrawn?"
    In the meantime my opinion is: always allow. Why? Because if they agree...they will agree in saying so little things and lack of confidence in order to dismiss the protest…So, “lawyers” will be in advantage to common competitors (and a lost of time…for the event).

  4. If the results of the protest would significantly affect the finish position(s)of other boats, not a party to the hearing, I would not allow the protest to be withdrawn.

  5. This is an example of how bad the rules develop. In the eighties of last century the rule said that it was not possible to withdraw a protest, unless one of the parties pleaded guilty. Clear and unmistakable. But the rule makers thought it not perfect. There can be circumstances one must be allowed to withdraw a protest. And the protest committee (PC) got the power to decide. And the trouble started. Because every PC has its own grounds and way of thinking. So the PC’s need guidelines, which we can find in the Judges manual and the Case book. But still there is no clear-cut way to handle. As you see: somebody in Australia is doubtful and ask somebody in Holland his opinion. That man in his turn asks the readers of his blog. And a discussion starts. And the blogger suggests that there should be drafted a sort of policy on the issue.
    That is what has become of our sport. Incomprehensible rules.
    I wonder whether the rule makers of the ISAF have their own guidelines. A check list. With compulsory criterions. For instance criterion #1: A rule must be clear and understandable without any explanation.
    Rule makers must realize that a rule does not have to be perfect, but clarifying for everybody involved in the sport. And not for rule professors to study.
    It is not only in yacht racing – in many sports people do not like clear rules. Arbiters in field games like to have power and varying decisions are the order of the day. In football (soccer) which arbiter is in charge can be crucial.
    Have a look at the offside rule. One needs a qualified lines man to observe yes or not offside. And still always discussions and protests and sometimes attacking the arbiter and supporters fighting after the match. Marco van Basten, the former national Dutch coach and now the Ajax-trainer, once said: when we are not able to maintain this rule unambiguous, the rule is no good. So delete it. He was right but believable asked to keep his mouth shut, because we never heard his statement again.
    In hockey they made the right choices. Maybe the rules are not ideal, but very usable. No discussions with arbiters, no fighting, no problems. And see, the very youngsters (around twelve) can blow the whistle and really not bad. Easy rules, easy practise.
    I am afraid that the sport of yacht racing is going to be ruined by his own rules.

  6. Anonymous said:
    "Brass, if a protestor explains his case in his protest,why then, if he does not come to a hearing, would the protest be invalid? As you state, he is not obliged to be there. I don't find anywhere in Part 5 that a protest shall be
    dismissed. What do you mean?"

    Two things.

    First. FWhat I had in mind was that Rule 63.3(b) says "If a party to the hearing does not come to the hearing the PC may nevertheless decide the protest." This seems to imply its converse that the PC may make a decision NOT to decide the protest. The only ways this can happen is if the protest is determined to be invalid or it is valid and dismissed.

    Looking more carefully at rule 63.5, I see that the PC can only determine that a protest is invalid if 'all requirements' have not been met. As I have argued above that attending the hearing is not a 'requirement' then non-attendance cannnot be a grounds for a protest being invalid.

    Second. Rule 63.6 requires the PC to take all he evidence that it considers necessary and 'find the facts and base its decision on them'. If the protestor does not attend the hearing and give evidence, it seems to me that it will be very difficult for the PC to find all relevant facts to prove that a boat broke a rule, thus the protest should be dismissed.


  7. We need to bring back the rule that says if there is contact then both boats will be disqualified (on protest from a third party) unless either submits a valid protest.This wouls clean a lot of the rule braking and the on course agreements between competitors which is very bad for the sport.There was apicture of Anna Tunnicliffe at sail Melbourne where she is not keeping clear of the leeward boat, she has plenty of room to windward so could probably have kept clear.Did either boat do circles (probably not) would Anna have done so well in the event if she had taken a penalty (maybe not). This is not an attack on Anna, many sailors do the same all the time but it is an example of where the sport is going. Is this good? A.Pels make some excellent points above. Also the point from another anonymous is correct. Whilst this incident may not have affected the outcome between the two boats involved it may well have had an effect on other competitors.

  8. The Anna Tunnicliffe picture can be found on
    Picture number 174962.

  9. So, the guidance in the Judges Manual is a bit thin, but we seem to be developing some useful examples here. PC should not allow a protest to be withdrawn:

    1. If it seems that the protestor may have broken a rule, and the protestee may be relying on the protest to hear the rights and wrongs of both sides. This would nearly always include where contact has occurred.

    2. If the results of the protest would significantly affect the score(s) or scoring relativities of other boats, not a party to the hearing, particularly where other boats may have witnessed the incident, seen the protest flag fly and refrained form protesting in expectation that a protest would go ahead.

    In the second case, I know that flag and hail and protest time limits can't be relaxed for a third party boat where a protest between the original two parties is invalid, but If the alternative is that every boat surrounding an incident gets in the habit of protesting, life will become unbearable.


  10. The discussion disturbs me quite a bit. Where has the honor gone in our sport? The correct thing that should have happened in this case is that if there was discussion after the race between the two parties, which is fine, than rather than withdrawal of the protest, the one that committed the foul should do the honorable thing and withdraw if they did not take a penalty on the water. I do not like protests any more than the next person, but if we do not do this then we will need on water umpires for all racing, which would make club racing expensive and less than fun for me.

    We have eliminated the bumper boats in our fleet by the leadership of the top sailors. Let me give some examples. On a close crossing port / starboard, I was forced to alter helm as starboard boat. However, before the cross occurred, the other competitor (who was our fleet champion) hailed, “This is close let me know if you need to alter”. After the cross I informed him that I did indeed need to alter and he immediately took the penalty. When your top sailors sail with honor the rest of the fleet does the same. Later in the year after a race one of our members (who is not a top sailor in the fleet) retired because after thinking about it he believed he violated a rule and didn’t take a penalty. There was no protest, but he wanted to do the right thing. To me this is the spirit that we need to conduct ourselves with, or our sport will lose an important aspect. No victory is worth anything without winning with honor, and the example must be set by the top sailors.

  11. It's the competitor's race track, not the jury's. Unless there has been threats etc, let the competitors have their way. Allow the protest to be withdrawn.

    There is enough red tape to make a protest valid. Why allow the competitor total freedom to decide if they go ahead with a protest up to the moment the protest is lodged and then limit the competitor the next minute. I say let then get all the red tape sorted out ASAP then if they change their mind - allow the withdrawal.

    A question to the Sail Melbourne Jury - if there were many protests, keeping the jury(s) busy, would the jury have even discussed it? Sounds like a great theoretical argument to fill up some time.

  12. If a competitor had been told by the PC is protest could not be withdrawn, and to frustrate this does not give evidence, then I would consider RRS 69.

    Mike B

  13. I disagree with Mike B - rule 69 is reserved for gross breaches of sportsmanship , good manners etc., and I respectively submit that doing what Mike has suggested does not qualify as a gross breach. Yes, it might be a breach but its not gross!
    I like the notion that sailors can meet ashore after racing and discuss like gentleman or friends what happened on the water, and if after a suitable apology an aggrieved competitor no longer feels aggrieved, why not let him/her withdraw the protest?
    I must say that Anonymous of 31/12 hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph.
    Lining up at the start behind a fleet of say Lasers one sees a multitude of gunwales bumping without hails of protest. Why? Because more often than not, its rather meaningless, a given, no one is aggrieved, so why should we insist on protesting? That's why the old rule 33 was dropped.
    Another point to consider. On water judges observing mark roundings often see obvious infringements such as touching marks, rule 18 offences, boats not taking penalties correctly etc and equally often never lodge protests - a practice that is generally accepted - so why insist that sailors do so?
    So my reply to the $46 question is; in the absense of extreme circumstances, allow the protest to be withdrawn.


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