Recently I blogged about a rapid response match racing call in which the row boat slowed down. This action created an overlap with a trailing boat, but that boat was still breaking rule 15 when the leading ( now windward) boat changed course. (Rapid Response Match Race Call 2009-010)
The call stated that slowing down in this situation is a ‘non action’ within the meaning of rule 15. Even when that action shifts ‘right of way’, it is not regarded an action for which rule 15 comes in effect.
Almost the same happens in a situation with a clear ahead boat and a clear astern, when the leading boat suddenly slows down. Now, this action does not change the right of way situation, so rule 15 is not applicable. But slowing down in front of another boat is NOT regarded as a course change, so rule 16.1 has NOT been broken. The trailing boat is breaking rule 12 by not keeping clear and should take a two turn penalty. Slowing down can by considered a ‘non-action’ as far as rule 16.1 is involved.
But for all of you who think this is not ‘fair’ here is still rule 14!
In rule 14 all other rules are ‘disregarded’ and only a basic question has to be answered for both boats. Was it reasonably possible to avoid the contact?
The trailing boat had probably no change to avoid it. When a leading boat suddenly slows down, there is a good change you cannot slow down or change course quickly enough to avoid a collision. This action is fairly unusual in fleet racing but it is used in team and match racing. If you sail behind someone who’s done this in the past, better keep some extra space in between.
But we can find as fact that in this situation the leading (clear ahead) boat does break rule 14. He could reasonably avoid the contact by not slowing down so suddenly. Because he is row-boat, he will seldom be disqualified. That depends namely on if there is damage or not. And in most cases there’s no damage.
In rule 11 there’s another ‘non-action’ possible. In circumstances that boats heel (more or less) and a windward boat wants to pass to windward, the leeward boat can also suddenly ease its sheets. That boat will then come more upright and perhaps masts will touch.
If that happens, like before, the windward boat broke a right of way rule – in this incident rule 11 – but it is another ‘non-action’ as far as rule 16.1 is concerned. No protection there. Only rule 14 gives some possibilities. With masts and rigging touching, contact is usually also damage. Leeward might end up with a DSQ as well.
If the contact only happened because leeward came upright because of the wind shadow, then the question from rule 14 must be answered with:
Leeward had no reasonable way to avoid contact. No rule infringement – no penalty.
As a general practise out of all this, I can only advise sailors to keep well clear. So well, that the other boat cannot surprise you, with a sudden decrees in speed.
Tillerman, the answer to your question is: YES.