Saturday, 20 August 2011

LTW Readers Q&A (52): Rule 14

A couple of question from my atticshelf. My apologies for not getting to this sooner. 
Col Delane from Australia asks:

Hi Jos

Here’s a situation that recently occurred in one of our club races for which I can’t find a definite answer anywhere and on which I hope you can comment.

Boat A, a heavy slow-turning full-length keel wooden boat (Hereshoff 28) sailing close-hauled on starboard tack in light wind towards a mark to be rounded to port realises that she is not going to make the mark so tries to ‘shoot’ it. Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite get there, just flops over on to port tack and when adjacent to the mark (now just 1 metre off her port side amidships) gets stuck in the irons, and has no way on.
Meanwhile another H28 (boat B), which was some 4-5 boat lengths behind when boat A tried to shoot the mark, is also sailing close-hauled to the mark – but is fetching it. As right-of-way boat, B hails “Starboard!” and expects A to keep clear by getting out of the way. However, as she is in irons and has no way on, A is like a rabbit in the spotlight! Boat B luffs a little, but does not get anywhere near head-to-wind, nor attempts a crash-tack to avoid contact, and as a consequence collides with A (B’s port bow glances off A’s gunwale at the shrouds). There is minor damage to both boats. B hails “I intend to protest”. Neither boat retires or takes a penalty.
B lodges a written protest.
In her testimony to the PC, A claimed that B made no attempt to avoid contact and should be DSQ under RRS 14. A witness on another boat, which was further up the field but now heading downwind, had a view of the incident from behind also testifies that B did not take any avoiding action.
The PC found that B did take some avoiding action (luffing). The PC also found/accepted that there was damage to both boats.
A was DSQ’d but no penalty was imposed on B.

My questions:
Given that B could/should have seen, for several boat lengths before the collision, that A was not moving, is there any exoneration available to A because she was stuck in irons and unable to do anything to keep-clear?
Is there any discretion available to the PC under RRS 14 to exonerate B when the PC had found that damage resulted from the contact? (My reading is that if it was reasonably possible for B to avoid contact but she didn’t, AND there was damage of ANY level to either boat, then B too, even as RoW boat, MUST be DSQ – there is no discretion.)

There is no exoneration available for A in my opinion. She took the risk by shooting the mark and getting stuck in irons. If the collision course had been initiated by a course change of the ROW-boat, then she should be given the room to keep clear - and while stuck in irons that might be a lot of time. But since in this case it was A who put herself in this position, that room (including that extra time) is not available to her.

If the PC concludes that B reasonably could have prevented the contact after it became clear that B would not keep clear, she breaks rule 14. And if there's damage, she is also to be penalized. I agree with your reading. The rules don't allow for any other interpretation. Taking 'some avoiding action' is not enough when it was reasonably possible to avoid the contact al together.


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