Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Rulechanges in the 34th America's Cup?

Do the match racing rules need to be changed for the 34th America's Cup?
The editor of Scuttlebutt asked me this question some time ago and I've been thinking about it, on and off.

I've come up with the following analysis
by looking first at this question:
What are the big(ger) differences between 'conventional' mono hulls and these huge wingsail cats?
  • big acceleration
  • slow tacking - like any multi-hull
  • boats are very wide, with lots of water in between the hulls
  • overall speed
The acceleration issue comes into play, for instance, after a tack. One boat tacking to starboard while a Port boat is keeping clear by passing in front. But due to the acceleration of the Starboard boat, a few moments later Port cannot pass in front any more. Starboard has not changed course after she has completed her tack, so she does not have to give room under rule 16.1. Only rule 15 is applicable. Starboard becomes right of way boat after her tack and initially has to give the other boat room to keep clear. I do not think this warrants a rule change, but falls within the definition of room
The type of boat used and it's characteristics are part of the circumstances and therefore room under 15 must be more in these huge catamarans, then with mono hulls. Sailors need to be aware of it. Umpires need to consider this when asked to judge an issue where acceleration is a factor

Slow tacking then. Will that dictate a rule change?
Let me again illustrate with an example. A boat clear ahead rounds a leeward mark leaving it to starboard and sails four, five lengths upwind before tacking. While she's luffing the trailing boat arrives at the mark, rounds it and heads up. She's changing course around the mark and is now heading straight for the tacking boat. That boat - passed head to wind - is now keep clear boat either under 13 (tacking) or under rule 10 (Port Starboard), but cannot do anything until she's gained speed. 
Meanwhile the other (starboard) boat is sailing three, four lengths in a straight line toward her. A clear port / starboard issue, you say? No, it is not, in my opinion. 

Again, because of the type of boats, the definition room must include more. Rule 16.1 dictates that Starboard, who initiated the collision course, must provide the room to the other boat to keep clear. Once Port is passed head to wind and tacking, that includes room to finish that tack. Port has no other way to keep clear. Going back is not going to work, that would only take more time. No rule change needed, but again, an adjustment in how to use them.
This was already an issue in the last AC (34). Starboard entered and held course for two or three lengths aiming straight at Port, who tried to head up to keep clear. She was not doing enough, according to the penalty given, but it was a judgement call. Everybody will need lots and lots of practice before we have a balance between 'room to keep clear' and 'not doing enough' in these new boats. Sailors and Umpires alike

We have learned a lot in the Extreme 40 - circuit, but that has been mostly fleet racing.

What slow tacking might influence are the penalties in match racing. A penalty on a downwind leg in the match racing rules is to tack and, as soon as reasonably possible, bear away to a course that is more than ninety degrees from the true wind. In multi-hulls this is a huge disadvantage. Once you have a penalty, you need a very big lead to have time to take it and not lose that lead. Therefore penalties might have a much bigger influence then sailors (or organizers) want. They might want to change those in the AC match racing rules. Second issue with the tack penalty is the dropping of the kite or gennaker. The sail is so huge it will take lots and lots of time to get the head below the gooseneck, let alone hoist it again. Perhaps that should be deleted in the AC-rules? If the boats can tack with it still up, that is.

Because of the two hulls and the forward position of the aft beam in between, there is lots of water to sail into from behind. Enough to stick a windward hull into, or a bowsprit. That will mean an overlap and then the rules change from rule 12 to rule 11. The trailing boat is suddenly the right of way boat. Again, rule 15 initially will give her a restriction, but that does not last. From the moment the overlap was established the leading boat must do everything to keep clear.

If the trailing boat is changing course, she again has a restriction to give the other boat room to keep clear, but at these high speeds that might impossible to judge. The overlap already will be almost impossible to see. For sure, in the races there will have to be a dedicated wing boat to help umpires. They can't speed up to a position to see and then still judge course changes by the trailing boat.

But does rule 12 need an adjustment because of this? Perhaps.
I've seen solutions to this problem whereby the water in between the hulls is considered as part of the boat. By stringing a cord between the two most aft points on the hulls. A bowsprit or a bow passing that string is then considered breaking rule 12..... That certainly does the trick without a rule change.

Finally, overall speed. It will no doubt have a big impact on tactics, but not on the rules as far as I can predict. An adjustment in how to use them, perhaps, but that's all.
With that speed comes also flying the hull - these big cats might fly over a mark, but that is no problem, as long as they don't touch it. 

Oh, keep the colored lights from the 32nd AC indicating overlap and zone. That seemed to work well.

And, keep rule 18.3 as the changed in Appendix C for any fleet racing the AC might do. Something else we learned from the Extreme Sailing Series Europe and iShares Cup.

Please, don't hesitate to give me your opinion on needed rule changes in the 34th AC.



  1. After watching the Little America's Cup in Newport last month, I agree that acceleration is perhaps the biggest difference when dealing with light multihulls with hard wings. Most of all it was absolutely incredible to watch how fast the boats could go from going backwards to accelerating forwards to top speed.

    I'm not totally convinced that tacks will be that much slower by the time the AC rolls around; certainly I think that the boats will be up to speed much faster after a tack than a soft sail heavy monohull.

    Regarding penalties downwind: I can't imagine these things will have a spinaker; the apparent wind is too far forward. Instead I'd expect a large gennaker on a furler. As you suggested this would almost definitely demand a rule change as it would be excessive to require the crews to furl and then drop the sail.

  2. My initial reaction is "Why should we change the rules to accomodate 'freak' boats? Let the boats be designed to race according to the rules."


    I think I agree that from the racers' point of view there is no need to change rules to accomodate acceleration, speed, or tacking, but with high accelerations and speeds, Umpires are going to have to make decisions when boats are much further apart than usual. Possibly it might be necessary to devise 'more umpireable' rules. Bear in mind that there is developing electronic technology here: sensors, video, probably instant, so that might solve umpiring problems.

    Space between hulls creates a problem. I don't think changing rule 12 is the solution. I think changing the definition of Overlap is the way to go. Redefine overlap for the purpose of rule 11 at least as only existing when the windward hull of the leeward boat is to leeward of the leeward hull of the windward boat.

  3. Though the tacks will seem slower in relation to boat speed and accelerating to speed will take longer, simply because the speed is so much higher, I also suspect the tacks will not really be slower. Mat's obviously correct about the spinnaker. It'll be an asymmetrical sail of the sort seen in 33 no doubt. The boats will have no trouble tacking with it up but furling and unfurling will be required. Is it presently a rule requirement for it to be dropped or did it just arise from the physical requirement?

    I suspect there may be a rule change in the tacking boat's right of way burden or that well may be a primary tactic, even the primary tactic "upwind" (the relative wind will never get aft of about 50 degrees). That is to say the trailing boat driving the lead boat over the port lay line until the trailing boat is actually leading. If the lead boat tacks, the trailing boat will overtake so fast that the lead boat could never get to speed before being forced to keep clear (tacking or on port) with some energy killing maneuver. We saw an example of this in 33. The counter is, of course that the positions are now reversed or for the lead boat to choose the starboard lay line and remove at least the trailing boat's starboard advantage.

    The Extreme 40 is good schooling for multihull match racing but the pressure in fleet racing removes most of the match racing technicalities unless two boats are widely separated from the field in a very late race in the regatta. I just mean we shouldn't try to learn too much.

    Tactics will likely be every bit as interesting as with the lead haulers just way different in some areas. I'm really looking forward to how this all plays out; I just wish I was a participant. I have 2 Prindles and a Hobie in the back yard ... who knows?

  4. On the problem of downwind penalties, maybe a MR Call would suffice, stating that a furled gennaker is no longer a sail that is set, and that, therefore C7.3(a) does not apply to a furled gennaker. If, however, the gennaker begins to be unrolled before boat is on a close-hauled course, then the rule does apply and has been broken!


    In this way

  5. One imagines there might be some difficulty for judges and on-the-water umpires trying to apply common soft sail racing rules concepts like "luffing" when the boats racing are using wing sail rigs.

  6. You guys are REALLY overthinking the space between the huls bit. Hobie Cats have been racing for 40 years and haven't needed a rule change to handle this.
    Just as you mentioned, flying a hull over a mark is OK so long as you don't contact the mark, same is true for overlapping a hull between the hulls of the boat in front of you. So long as you don't make contact, there's no issue.
    Realistically, you don't want to go there anyway, because you have minimal maneuverability, and it's only a matter of time before there is contact, and the boat behind will be at fault (how exactly did you give room to avoid)...
    The best thing would be for the umpires to start racing in cat regattas. No better experience will ever be gained in a RIB.

  7. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that umpiring will have to change in a big way. It has already been intimated that a lot of instrumentation will be used and this will lead to umpiring being done from a studio. There is no way umpires will be able to umpire effectively boats that are travelling at speeds of 30 knot's plus in conditions that might include winds of over 30 knots as has been advised. Just ask any of the umpires involved with the AC how uncomfortable it was umpiring version 5 boats, going upwind at only 10 knots in 20 knots of wind. These cats will require many adaptions to the rules and rather than have these sorts of discussions it is far better to wait and see what develops. Umpiring the extreme 40's in a fleet race is not the same as umpiring a Match race where umpiring has to be much more precise.


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