Saturday, 18 February 2012

Racing Rules of Sailing - Live Slow, Sail Fast!: The origins of basic road rules

Racing Rules of Sailing - Live Slow, Sail Fast!: The origins of basic road rules

The sailing- judging community has been joined by a new blogger, an enthusiast young judge from Hungary who started with a rulesblog called "Live Slow - Sail Fast!"

I've been reading his posts - by using the English translation button. The syntax gets a little garbled but I can follow most of it. But even if I couldn't, it is still a good initiative - to provide some background for Hungarian judges, officials and sailors.

He posted an interesting story about the reasons behind the Right of Way rules. The basic rules in the book, rules 10, 11 and 12. Here is the gist of it:
All these basic rules give right of way to the least manoeuvrable boat. Look at rule 11, windward - leeward. Boats are overlapping so the boat to leeward is in the wind shadow of the windward boat - has less wind, so is less manoeuvrable. Don't picture modern racing yachts, but square riggers. That's when they came up with these rules.

Same goes for rule 12; Clear Ahead - Clear astern. When running downwind, the boat behind catches all the wind and can more easily manoeuvre. So the boat Clear Ahead gets right of way.

With Port and Starboard we have to go back a little more. Perhaps you remember those Viking-longboats longships*? They had an oar sticking out in the water on the right side end of the boat. That oar functioned as a rudder.

The other side became Port because if you want to park the boat alongside a shore, you don't use the steering side.... So a longboat was always tied to the dock with the port-side.

When sailing on starboard tack the boat would heel to port. And visa versa. When sailing on port tack the starboard side of the boat would dig in. On the first tack the oar would be sticking out of the water a little more. Making the boat a bit less 'steerable' than on port tack. So the boat on starboard-tack became right of way. Port tack could more easily get out of the way.
I don't know if his story is accurate, but the explanation seems very plausible to me.
What about you? What do you think?

* From an LTW readers Email: Longboats: A longboat is a small rowing boat kept on the deck of a larger ship for the purpose of getting ashore. A longship is a warship/troop transport of the Viking period.

1 comment:

  1. I think our Hungarian friend is largely correct, at least in regard to rules 11 & 12 and shipping. As I understand it, these rule were initially just unwritten customs, based upon who was in the better position to keep clear. However, it applied to overtaking boats, rather than boats clear ahead.

    I understand there are different theories about how the port-starboard (or as was sometimes expressed, larboard-starboard) rule came about. However, the word starboard itself is derived from the Dutch stoerborde, being the side the steering board was on. The other side was port because boats docked (onto port) on the opposite side.

    The first written racing rules were written in 1824 by the Royal Yacht Club, as it was then called. There was only one right of way rule, which read - "Vessels on starboard tack to keep the wind". That's it - simple. The rest of the rules largely related to equipment and protocols.


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