Wednesday, 16 September 2009


I think I'm deformed.

A couple of days ago I was participating in the finals of a friendly club competition. 60 boats in two groups, 20 clubs with three boats each and team results are calculated to determine the winner. Otherwise a normal fleet race on a normal "old school" Olympic course; Triangle-Sausage-Traingle-Sausage-etc. until an upwind finish.

It is set up as a competition with very low entry-level. Everybody can compete. Boats are from the local commercial rental company, who sponsors the event by asking a very reduced fee. This competition is an initiative from the regional board of our NA. (District Noord). With it, they promote regatta-sailing and hopefully some of the participants will go-on in a one-design class.
I was asked to come, because one of the regular team members had other obligations.

The winner is as much determined by luck of the draw - with 60 boats, some of them will be a little older and slower - as by the skill of the sailor. Usually I'm able to sail in the front half, if my boat isn't half bad.

But what I find very very hard to "stomach" are the frequent and blatant infringements of the rules. I know - because of being an umpire - I can see much more then most, but I'm not taking about the intricacies of rule 16 or 18.2. No, simple straightforward rule 10 issues. Port does not keep clear of Starboard. Or windward does not keep clear of leeward. Basic rules, which even a beginner has to know to sail around the course.

Anybody can make a mistake and think he can pass a Starboard boat in front on Port. Then you do your turns and try to catch up again. You wish...
The general mentality is: "As long as there is no damage, I'm clear and free and can sail on".
As in, I have to tack to get to the mark, no matter that a Starboard boat is approaching, so I tack.
Or, I'm sailing a straight line to the mark, so that leeward boat who is below me, has to bear away.
Y-flag on the committee-boat? Never heard of it.
And most of the infringements are accepted by the others. NO protest, NO hails!

Nobody seems to have heard of the basic principle...

I could protest everybody and spend a couple of hours in the "room" explaining. I don't want to do this. It's my leisure time, going sailing on a late summer evening. But my enjoyment is severely impeded by having to shut my eyes al the time.

Am I deformed?
I wonder if other judges and umpires have the same?


  1. As I said before: a lot of classes and regatta’s have their own rules, most of the time by far not alike the ISAF rules. As I understood it was a race in Polyvalks, normally uses as rent a boat and the competitors were not very experienced racers. Do not blame them not knowing your rules. As you said most of the infringements were accepted by the others. No protests, No hails! Therefore, it was wise not to protest and spoil their game. The question is: were they happy with their kind of racing. That is the important thing. Remember in many ‘regular’ races the competitors are not happy, because the rules dominate the game and as you know, the rules are so complicated that there is nobody in the world who can practise the rules without the rules book, the Q & A book and the Casebook by hand. So the result is different views on the water and discussions with no end ashore. As nobody likes to be wrong.
    My advice is when your rules view and knowledge is of an other level, do not participate in such a race but look for a race with rules, which suit you. However, when you are a rules professor it will be hard to find such a race.
    The problems in the mentioned race start when there are some competitors knowing the rules a little better and when there is something to win. They will use their knowledge to get the trophee/price and the atmosphere is no longer cosy.
    I had some years a job giving signals and handling protests in a regatta for people of advertising companies. It was a rather big regatta, in open rent a boat yachts in Loosdrecht, Holland. We had between 80 en 100 competitors and had to start in groups and change boats after every race. The sailors were there just for fun and sometimes with a crew of four in a two men boat. Say 80% did not know even one rule, and before the first start I explained some rules to avoid collisions. So far so good, but the trouble started as there were say five experienced racers (they become well known big boat racers later) and they wanted to win anyhow, just because they want to show they were good sailors and very important was they were big shots in the world of advertising and did not want to loose face. In addition, as one can expect there was also an underground competition between the companies. The result: protests and the atmosphere was gone but also the reputation/popularity of the big shots. It was the other way round: people trying to race within the rules and lodging protests were blamed.
    Back to the race Jos mentioned. Of course, it is good to try to bring up these people, but do not frighten them with the bloody rules book. Send them all a copy of (the translation of) the Handy Guide to the Racing Rules 2009 – 2012. And hope they will read it.

  2. Don´t worry......., that´s life!I did the same experience this year, but this was a Master´s Cup, a world championship!!!! the highlight: RRS 42 penalty and the sailer asked the judges what he has to do!!!!

    Wolfgang Hofmann

  3. If only the problem was limited to beginners. We all know of fleets were anarchy reigns, were the rules are ignored and there is a queue of boats at the boatyard gates on Monday morning awaiting repair.

    One solution is for judges to go out on the water and signal when they see an infringement. We tried this last year at a keelboat National championships and it greatly improved rule observance on the water. It is not often that the event winner gives special thanks to the "guy in the jury boat"!

    Unfortunately, in this case the world class association did not chose to use the same system for the Worlds (held a week or two later on the same water) as "our sailors are al adults". It is reported that rule observance was poor.

    I also believe judges need to spend more time teaching the rules, often at a basic level.


  4. Jos,
    I am a USSA judge and I run, and participate in a frostbite fleet. I see all of the infractions you describe and just as in your case, no protests. Then when we're off the water and in the bar, someone will say "did you see what Dave did to me?" or "did you see that mark rounding?". "You need to talk to him." I then ask if he protested the other boat and the answer is always no. The next comment to me is "so you're just going to let him get away with that?" The rules say we are participating in a sport governed by a set of rules that we are expected to obey and enforce, but everyone forgets the enforce part. More boats need to protest to keep everyone honest.
    Jim Ryan

  5. One possibility for some clubs and associations might be to have "beginner fleets" with simplified rules. Prizes and scoring are kept low-key to limit competitive instincts and reward simple participation. Once a boat and crew have won a few of these races, then they are "kicked upstairs" to the competitive fleets.

    Some clubs have tried to explain one rule at each competitors' pre-race meeting.

    Another oddball idea might be to stage a public "mock protest" at a competitors' meeting.

  6. Dear Jos,

    20 may 2009 you wrote, talking of competitors not knowing or/and obeying the rules: “… Knowing the rules will improve your ability to interact with your fellow sailors on the water. …” In my comment I asked you: “Can you explain this? What will one do with his knowledge of the rules in a fleet of competitors who do not know the rules? You only can use your advantage in the protest room and winning races in the protest room will not make you very popular. Your concurrents will take revenge on the long term. That’s one of the reasons of the relative small amount of protests after incidents in local and national events.”
    You never answered my question or respond to my comment.
    Now you were in the position of knowing the rules yourselves in a fleet with frequent and blatant infringements of the rules. Where nobody seems to have heard of the basic principles. Were you happy with knowing the rules? No. What was the only thing you could do? Protest. And did you protest? No. As all the people do in such races and in the race you participate. “Most of the infringements are accepted by the others. No protests. No hails!”, you noticed surprised. Well, you were one of them, so why surprised? And you know at least one reason.
    Now you have experienced yourselves what is going on in races. Not only in the informal race you sailed, but also even in championships. “That’s life! I did have the same experience this year, but this was a Master’s Cup, a world championship!!!”, said Wolfgang Hofmann. And “We all know of fleets were anarchy reigns, were the rules are ignored and there is a queue of boats at the boatyard gates on Monday morning awaiting repair.”, commented Gordon.
    Is it not time to face this development? And to start a discussion how to stop this and start improvements?
    Gordon already gave a first step forwards: “One solution is for judges to go out on the water and signal when they see an infringement. We tried this last year at a keelboat National championship …”, he said. But I am interested in what he exactly did. And what exactly the result was. Because judging on the water is a tricky business and when it is going to be a general activity, it will change our sport dramatically. Look at the existing arbiter sports and you see our future.
    “More boats need to protest to keep everyone honest.”, said Jim Ryan, and he is right. But how do you make boats to protest? Entering again the rule when there is a collision and no turns or protests, both boats are disqualified, can be a solution. And judge on the water just for breakings of this rule. Do not start to act as a referee.
    Pat suggested “A possibility for some clubs and associations might be to have ‘beginner fleets’ with simplified rules.” That is good idea and used already by clubs. But why only for ‘beginner fleets’? There is a booklet used in the USA and Great Britain ‘Handy Guide to the Racing Rules’. In a discussion with an ISAF rule-vip, I stated very provocative that 50% of all the racers in the world do not know more of the rules then the content of this little book. You are wrong, was his reply, I bet it is at least 75%.
    So again let us face the reality. And think about a solution and do something.
    But I am afraid a barrier is the existence of international judges and umpires. They had to invest so much time and money (see the figures of the Team Race Umpire Seminar in Oxford) to become a judge or/and an umpire, that they want to do something with it. Therefore, it is important for them to protect the area of work and keep the racing and the racing rules complicated. And I fear a surplus of these officials, what can result in an enlargement of the work: for example judging on the water.
    Please Jos – and other readers of the blog – do not run for it, but give your comments.

  7. It's a matter of education. I know of no beginners course which educate rules. So how to educate a very boring matter? Who can read the rules, cases callbook without having a high interest in the matter. My kids won't. Actually they learn sailing before they can read. Nowadays i bring a laptop, and show virtualskipper around. May not be perfect, but it makes a whole lot more fun then reading, and lecturing. As it has a for free version, parents love getting it as alternative to any shooter game. (not to mention it's a all year, everyday of the week option, without having to take the kids to the harbour)

    For me there is no better, faster way to learn about the rules. There are some lively online communities hotly debating rules around the clock.

  8. I talk to the other sailors while racing, quite a lot actually, and so far this seems not to have upset anyone. When sailing dinghys, rules situations arise frequently, and boats are close enough to easily hear each other.

    A few extra words can clarify the situation, for sailors who might be confused, without sounding insulting to those who do: Leeward coming up; please stay clear or, Starboard boat, here; I'm sailing steady or if I'm port, I will duck your stern or, I think I can cross you clear ahead. Sometimes I'm wrong; at least I find that out more quickly if I broadcast my misunderstanding to the fleet.

    Yesterday I was crew on an FJ, approaching the leeward mark on starboard, overlapped inside a boat on port. Port boat inexplicably called "Starboard!". Wind was only 6-8 kts, so I had time to say something like We are starboard, actually; we get room; we will gybe and round close for you.

    Many of us umpire (not me, though). As I understand, the two umpires maintain a continuous mutual agreement on which rules apply, through constant conversation. Maybe you could have this conversation while racing yourselves, loudly enough to be heard by nearby boats. If people think this strange, you have the excuse: "Sorry about the chatter -- just a habit from umpiring."

    People do hesitate to protest, but then complain about violations later. I am race captain this year for our local club, which has gone many years without a protest. Last week I got my chance to change that. Two boats ahead of me, both containing officers of our club, missed a mark. (Unusual wind direction forced a bad shape to our triangle course.) I protested both. Once we had our witnesses in order, the outcome was clear to those involved. However, given my well-publicized desire to make protests acceptable once again in our club, we asked the RC collect a committee and hold our hearing anyway.


  9. An aftertought:
    it helps greatly, when you get participants spent some amount of time on educating themselves before racing...
    The Finckh brothers have been publishing a RRS game for quite some time now, the easy test takes about 10-20 minutes and will get participants up to speed about the basic rules. The game is online and can be found here:

    (sorry to say the dutch language is still mising :( )

    Making a score off X points in the Easy, Medium or Difficult mode Manditory for participation is no Problem. That participants may not be 100% truthfull about their score, is IMO no Problem as long as they tried..
    At the least you can point all your skippers there, especially if you communicate through e-mail and or a website.

  10. should check before posting, dutch is not in the drop down language menu, but found under the dutch flag....

  11. @ Theo

    Yes indeed: it's a matter of education. You know what the winner of the silver medal in
    the US Optimist National Championship 2009 said to a reporter explaining his tactics? “I
    made him do a 720 penalty turn. (…) I moved up from the leeward position with the right
    of way and hit him.” Was it his own idea or did somebody teach him to do so?
    And you know of the new 'bailing kinetics' to try to avoid rule 42 disqualifications, the
    competitors learned from their coaches/parents? Thinking of judging on the water, the
    comment of the PRO was: “Do we miss some of the 'bailing kinetics', you bet we do. We
    miss other infractions as well. We just can't be everywhere …” Conclusion what the man
    said: go on, the chance we catch you is reduced.
    And what do you think of this quote? "My own son (a top Opti sailor) learned (…) in a
    starting scrum, his gunwale was grabbed by a competitor to propel himself forward. I
    later instructed my son on a secondary use of tiller extensions."
    I understood that that there are in small boat classes big fleets with two or even three
    rows at the start. Starting in one of these rows can make a difference between top ten
    and mid fleet or worse at the first weather mark. The result: sculling, pumping and
    grabbing and pushing. And what is a solution a race officer said? Three judge boats
    close tot the line. I should say: smaller fleets and larger lines, but that seems to be old
    fashioned. In my view the competitors are encouraged to do what they do by the race
    format and rules that cannot be enforced.
    Last week I read a report published by a Dutch Laser 4.7 sailor who was selected for the
    ISAF Youth WC. He, and his father, travelled to Brazil (mind you), trained a week before
    the event and made other preparations and what happened in the races? Two yellow
    flags because of breaking rule 42, what means a first penalty of 8 points and a second
    penalty of retiring from the race and in addition he was disqualified in a protest he lodged
    himself. He protested (rule 2!) because a sailor pushed his boat back out of the first row
    at a start. The jury decided however he sailed not allowed between the starting vessel and
    his opponent who was just preventing a collision (he said). How can? Commented our
    Dutch friend. He did not even protest me.
    So an investment of a lot of money, work, time and as a result three unnecessary lost
    races (while he was sailing very well in the top). And what was the conclusion of the
    Dutch boy: how much bad luck can one have. That was what it was in his opinion: bad
    luck. Bad luck because he was caught by the jury for rolling? But he also learned
    something: “How incredibly weird jury’s can decide.”
    Yes Theo, it is all a matter of education.

  12. Yes, well who says that an olympic gold-medalist, an americascup winner is a better seaman?
    Solution? Rules without margins, and no human interpretations.. think of expanding boat tracking by electronic means.. until then races will be won by those who "play the game" best, even when it includes going to the New York courts of law. And there, like on the high seas, you're "in God's hands". The Dutch boy shows great insight.. What i hear him say is yes, he lost because of bad luck, yet also, and the winner won because of luck, not skill.

    Let me put it clear that if you are a give way boat, you should give way even if it means you have to sail to the moon, opponents taking advantage inside their boundaries there is a simple case of tactics, just watching any matchrace, or teamrace will make that very clear. Any mean of propulsion explicitly forbidden, yet used in the hope not being caught is cheating. "Inventing" means of propulsion, that utilise loopholes in the rules.. is good lawyering.
    As it is, learning the rules is part of sailing races the higher the stakes the better you have to be. Cheating becomes more problematic the higher the stakes get, as the level and quantity of judging rises with the stakes.


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