Monday, December 10, 2012

"Shall" and "Will" in Sailing Instructions

As even a casual glance at the Racing Rules of Sailing will show, the word “shall” appears often.  That’s not a common word, at least in the American idiom, but a lot of readers don’t think much about it, assuming that “shall” is simply a synonym of “will”, preferred for some arcane reason by the rules writers. 

One consequence of this interpretation is that when race committee chairmen write sailing instructions, they sometimes simply put “shall” everywhere they normally would have written “will”.  This usually doesn’t cause any serious harm, but it’s wrong, and I want to set the record straight.

As used in the world of contracts and specifications, and in our rules, “shall” is compulsory and “will” is generally either promissory or factual, depending on the context.  Here's an example of a hypothetical specification written by the US Government regarding work to be done by ABC Contractors:

The project will begin 1 January 2015.  Before that date a final schedule of meetings will be provided to ABC in conformance with paragraph of the Contract.  ABC shall attend those meetings or pay a fine as specified in paragraph of the Contract.  Additionally, ABC shall notify the Government in writing at least 10 days in advance if they will not be able to attend a meeting.

The first “will” is a statement of fact.  The second is a promise by the Government.  In contrast, the “shalls” are demands made by the Government upon the contractor. The last clause shows one other use of “will”, in conditional clauses – the non-attendance is neither mandatory nor factual, just conjectural, but in the future.  Such constructions rarely if ever come up in sailing instructions, so we will ignore this usage.

Note that the second “will” binds the Government whereas the “shalls” bind the contractor, ABC.  Obviously, it’s critical to know which party is issuing the specification when choosing whether to use “shall” or “will”.   

How does this apply to sailing instructions?  Well, sailing instructions are rules issued by race committees (see rule 90.2(a)), so it’s appropriate to use “will” to describe anything that is factual or under the control of the race committee and “shall” for anything that’s under the control of the competitor (but is being limited by the SIs).  Here’s an example:


18.1  A Safety Checkout Board with tags identifying the competitors will be placed near the Official Notice Board no later than two hours before the first race each day.  Each competitor shall, before going on the water each day, remove her tag from the Safety Checkout Board and shall keep it on her person until she returns to shore.  She shall return her tag to the Safety Checkout Board as soon as reasonably possible after she returns ashore.  Failures to obey this instruction may result in disqualification from the first race of the day, without a hearing, but shall not be grounds for a protest by a competitor.  This changes rules 60.1, 63.1 and A5.

What does this instruction say?  First, it promises competitors that the Safety Checkout Board with all tags will be placed in a certain place before a certain time each day.   Failure by the race committee to make this happen could result in a claim for redress, if it were to affect a competitor’s score through no fault of the competitor.  The rest of the SI uses “shall”, which means the competitor must obey or risk a penalty.   

The final sentence carefully uses the word “may” in referring to a race committee action, rather than “will” which would be a promise.  Suppose the sentence about penalties had said, "Failures to obey this instruction will result in disqualification ...".  In that case if, say, a competitor didn’t return her tag promptly one day because the string holding the tag broke and she lost it, and the race committee took pity on her and didn’t penalize her, they would have been breaking their own rule.  That, in turn, might be grounds for redress for the rest of the fleet.  “May” gives the race committee discretion on how to administer the rule.

So, in writing SIs, remember:  “Will” makes a factual statement or commits the race committee to an action (if they don’t do it, a competitor could obtain redress for the omission), while “shall” commands the competitor to take an action (if she doesn’t comply she can be disqualified, unless some other penalty applies).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Play 17 and the Shake and Bake

This post stems from a conversation I had with a coach at a team-race event.  The coach was complaining about a bunch of calls his team never seemed to get in their favor.  Naturally, he wondered how we umpires could screw up so badly.  From my experience and his description of what the sailors were doing, I don’t think we screwed up, at least not most of the time.  I told him I think the play, which I'll call Play 17, is a high-risk, low-profit move. 

The play is designed for Blue to break a trap at Mark 3, and goes as follows: Yellow sets a trap by waiting on starboard tack near the mark.  Blue approaches the mark on starboard tack and A forces her to go right, looking downwind.  (Recall that rule 18.4, which would normally prohibit Yellow from sailing farther from the mark than her proper course before jibing, is deleted in team racing.)  Yellow wants to drive Blue far enough away, and for long enough, to allow a teammate through or at least to slow the race.  Blue, on the other hand, wants to force Yellow to return to the mark and round it.  So Blue luffs up sharply (maybe even head to wind) at position 3, to break the overlap and put Yellow clear astern.  When she bears off again the overlap is re-established, but now rule 17 applies.  This means Yellow must bear away onto her proper course, which takes her back to the mark. 

The animation above shows Play 17 working about as well as Blue could hope for.  Once the overlap is reestablished at position 4, Yellow is forced to bear off onto a run.  She then must jibe back to the mark to avoid sailing out of the zone and having Blue establish mark-room on her, and  Blue follows her.  Note that Blue carefully avoids overlapping to windward of Yellow because then Yellow would have the right to luff Blue again, and without mark-room Blue cannot go between Yellow and the mark.

On the face of it, this seems like a good play.  A variation is even shown in Team Race Call  J6So, why, in the dozens of times I’ve seen this play, has it worked maybe twice? 

Well, for a bunch of reasons:
1.       About 60% of the time (my fellow umps, in an informal poll the other day, said 80%), Blue never actually breaks the overlap.  Thus when she bears off again, rule 17 still applies and she’s accomplished nothing except to waste time, which of course is her opponent’s objective.  

2.       Another 10% of the time, the umps don’t happen to be exactly lined up to see Blue break the overlap, and as a result don’t credit her with doing so.  (Look at how marginally Blue breaks the overlap in the scenario above, even though she luffs above close hauled to do it, and imagine how precisely the umpire boat would have to be, to see that the overlap is broken.)

3.       Even when Blue has broken the overlap she frequently hails Yellow to take her proper course before the overlap is reestablished, then protests her for not doing so.  Of course, at that moment there is no overlap so rule 17 doesn’t apply and Yellow doesn’t have to do anything.  So the umps green-flag it. This is particularly a problem for Blue because she may think the green and white flag is because the umps never saw her break the overlap.

4.       Even if all goes well, Blue doesn't gain much.  Yellow’s proper course limitation doesn’t begin until the overlap is re-established, and even then she only has to turn in a kind of lazy curve back toward the mark – an abrupt turn is slow, and therefore not her proper course.  By the time she finally jibes back to the mark, her objective has generally been accomplished.  

What we umpires see all the time is that when Yellow doesn’t bear off onto a proper course because she doesn't think the overlap was broken, Blue forces the issue by bearing off or, worse, jibing.  At that point she’s failing to keep clear (under rule 11 if she only bears off, and under rule 10 if she jibes onto port tack).  So she ends up with a penalty.  If she protests Yellow under rule 17 the two penalties are likely to result in the same relative positions as at the outset, only with a huge delay for the spins.  Again, this is what Yellow was trying to accomplish in the first place.

Worse, there's a good counterplay, first told to me by Charles Higgins, a sailing coach at Old Dominion University.  He calls it (for no reason known to me) the "Shake and Bake".

The Shake and Bake is really easy: Yellow simply doesn't let Blue reestablish the overlap without fouling.  When Blue luffs up, Yellow stays below her, clear astern and aimed just inches from the port side of Blue’s transom.  Now Blue can't bear off and reestablish the overlap without immediately breaking rule 11 (or, worse, jibing and breaking rule 10). Note that it doesn’t matter whether Yellow leaves the zone, because she has right of way when Blue reestablishes the overlap.  Also, rule 15 doesn’t apply because Blue establishes the overlap by bearing off.
Yellow’s obligation under rule 17 doesn’t begin until the overlap is re-established, which is approximately when the foul occurs.  Of course, Yellow avoids actual contact with Blue, bears off and protests.  If she wins the protest, she gains a huge advantage.  If not, she has still wasted a fair amount of time and therefore accomplished her purpose.

So if Play 17 isn't much good, what should Blue have done when Yellow set the trap?  Depending on the circumstances, she has three options that are better than Play 17.

First, she could have avoided the original overlap by jibing at position 2, going astern of Yellow and jibing back.  This is effective if the next blue boat is on the left looking downwind, or if Yellow has a teammate coming in on the right.  Sitting behind Blue, Yellow is in a position to prevent any member of the other team rounding the mark astern of Yellow, and if Yellow sails too far from the mark, Blue can quickly jibe around the mark and be ahead of her.

Second, if Yellow is trying to help a yellow teammate get ahead of Blue, Blue could turn back against that opponent and hold her back, using the same play Yellow is using on her (i.e., she should apply the Golden Rule of team racing -- do unto your opponents as they are trying to do unto you).

Third, there’s a better play that works especially well if the boats are keelboats:  at position 3, Blue tacks and turns hard toward the mark.  Yellow is at that point outside Blue's line and cannot force her starboard-tack advantage without breaking rule 16.1.  If Yellow tries to jibe out, she almost always has to leave the zone, so now Blue has mark-room.  If Yellow tacks, she loses mark-room and is now astern of Blue.

The reason this tacking play works particularly well in keelboats is that when Blue luffs up she develops good rotational moment into the tack.  By the time Yellow bears off to jibe around, Blue has the advantage.  But the tacking play works even for dinghies -- Charles says he has conducted tests that show the tacking play to be an effective play for Blue even in 420’s and FJs, as long as Yellow heads up to approximately a beam reach, or above. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Changes to the RRS for 2013-2016

The Racing Rules of Sailing for 2013-2016 have been published.  They go into effect on the first of  January 2013.  As usual, the rulebook has "change bar" marginal lines opposite any rules that have been changed in any way (except formatting).  To find the ISAF Submission that led to any particular change, consult the "Study Version of the Racing Rules for 2013-2016" posted by ISAF on their site.  

But if you just want an overview of what's changed and a short explanation of the changes, I'm providing below what I think is a complete list of all changes that aren't simple grammatical or formatting (potential game changes in bold):

Changes to the RRS for 2013-2016 

Definitions have been moved to the front of the book.

Def. Finish – “from course side” v. “from direction of the last mark”.

Def. Keep Clear – “making contact” (not necessarily with the other boat in the rule).

Def. Mark – object must be “accidentally” attached in order to not be part of the mark.

Def. Mark-Room – Removes “to” vs. “at” distinction of 2009-2012 RRS.  Only gives room to sail to the mark if the boat’s proper course is to sail close to it; grants “room to round the mark as necessary to sail the course”, which can be much less than proper course. But see also new rule 18.3(c)(2). 

Def. Party – for redress, adds the person or organization alleged to have made an improper act or omission.  See change to rule 62.1.

Def. Room – “including space to comply with her obligations under the rules of Part 2 and rule 31”.

Part 2 Preamble – “right of way” slight wording change.

14(b) “exonerated” instead of “shall not be penalized”.

Preamble to Section C of Part 2 – “When rule 20 applies, rules 18 and 19 do not” deleted.

18.2(c)(2) Tied into new mark-room definition.

18.2(e) “or by tacking to windward of the other boat”

18.3 passes head to wind and is then on same tack …

20        Order of rule: Hailing, Responding, Passing On a Hail to an Additional Boat

Makes it clear that a boat must respond to an improper hail; allows passing the hail on to another boat even if the initial conditions for hailing do not apply to the middle boat.

21 EXONERATION  Moves exoneration from rule 18 to cover all of Section C  -- big deal for rule 19.

Old rules 21, 22 renumbered as 22, 23.

22.3 (previously 21.3) “moving astern through the water”.

25.3 RC may use shapes for flags, as long as they look right.

28 Made two separate rules – sailing the course and string rule.  No real change.

41(a) “help for a crew member … in danger”.

41(e) delete recovery of crew member overboard – covered by (a).

41 “However, a boat that gains a significant advantage in the race from help received under rule 41(a) may be protested and penalized; any penalty may be less than disqualification.”

42.3(e) (new rule) “If a batten is inverted, the boat’s crew may pump the sail until the batten is no longer inverted. This action is not permitted if it clearly propels the boat.”

42.3(h) “after colliding with a vessel …” (used to be “boat”).

44.1 makes the scoring penalty an “alternative” (so by default either one or the other applies, not both).

44.1(b) makes clear that the penalty is included in deciding whether she gains an advantage.

49.2 Crew may sit with heads outside lifelines regardless of the material of the lifelines.  Lifelines must comply with the ISAF OSR.

50.4 Headsails can have big roaches – 75% midgirth – and still not be spinnakers.

55 “A competitor shall not intentionally put trash in the water.” (Applies at all times on the water.) Moves a common SI into the RRS.

60.1 “A boat may … protest another boat, but not for an alleged breach of a rule of Part 2 or rule 31 unless she was involved in or saw the incident;”

61.1(a)(3) Clarifies that a boat may protest under rule 28 any time until just after the other boat finishes.

62.1 extends redress for improper actions or omissions by OA, measurer, etc.

63.6 “testimony of parties present …”

63.6 “A member of the protest committee who saw the incident shall, while the parties are present, state that fact and may give evidence.”

64.1 “When the protest committee decides that a boat … has broken a rule and is not exonerated, it shall disqualify her …” Also, some reorganization – in particular, exoneration for being compelled to break a rule is now rule 64.1(a), not 64.1(c).

67 Delete the rule – deals with rule 42 enforcement when App P is in effect. Duplicates provisions in App P.

69 Broken into 4 rules: 1. prohibiting misconduct; 2. laying out the procedure; 3. MNA actions; 4. ISAF actions.  Only substantive changes: 69.1(c) specifies a standard of proof as “comfortable satisfaction” of the protest committee.  This is stronger than “preponderance of the evidence” but weaker than “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  It would seem to require unanimity, or at least no minority position after deliberation.  Note that while rule 69.1 applies only to “competitors”, rule 69.3 allows MNAs to take action against “against the competitor or boat, or other person involved, …”

70.1 New part (b) allowing appeals base on no hearing.

71.2 Allows MNAs to appoint new protest committees when upholding appeals.

76.1 Basically adopts the US procedure for excluding competitors, but not the US standard against race, religion, etc. 

78.2 No valid measurement certificate – simply cleans up wording.

81 Change in event dates – cleans up wording.

86.1 Can no longer change the zone size in SIs.

89.1 Obscure changes about who can serve as OAs. Defines “affiliated”.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gaining an Advantage: Baker 2012

This is the last of three posts on an incident from the 2012 Baker Trophy (US High School National Team-Race Championship).  For a review, see the posts on this blog entitled 'Baker 2012' (August 29) and 'Baker 2012 Redux' (September 23).  The diagram for the incident is below:

In the last post, we saw that both B and X broke rule rules.  Both boats took their penalties voluntarily, winding up in positions 6 and 5, respectively.  So the incident should have been closed, except for one factor:  While X and B tried to untangle themselves and get well clear to do their turns (as required by rule 44.2), the third Yellow boat sailed clear around the mess and into second place.  Seeing this, the umpires flew their black flag, indicating that there would be a protest hearing after the race.  

In that hearing, the protest committee ruled that B gained an advantage for her team by trying to go between X and the mark. Their reasoning was that had she not gone in there, X could easily have sailed up to windward of the reach and done her turn before the third yellow boat sailed around the fleet.  This would have given the Blue team a boat in second place, or at worst close third (though the Yellow team would have still been in 1,2,6 or 1,3,6) and Blue would have had a narrow chance to win the race.  That's a clear advantage compared to what actually happened, with Yellow in 1,2 and a huge gap between the 2 and their first opponent -- a virtual guarantee of victory.  The protest committee added 6 points to B's score for her team gaining an advantage.  This gave Blue the win, with 3+4+5 = 12 points compared to Yellow's 1+2+6+6 = 15 points. 

Is this fair?  I honestly don't know.  Yellow would most likely have won the race in any event, with all three boats in the top four positions as the fleet approached Mark 4.  Furthermore, if X had not tried to go inside A and fouled her, the Yellow team would certainly have had a 1,2,4 or at worst a 1,2,5, which is better than they actually came out of the situation.  

On the other hand, what B did was an egregious foul -- she could and should have gone behind X, then gybed and rounded behind her.  And if we say boats only gain an advantage for their teams when they convert a losing position to a winning one, then we encourage the kind of behavior we saw from B, and that's not good for our sport.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Baker 2012 redux

OK, here’s my analysis of the scenario in the posting ‘Baker 2012’ on this blogsite.  First, as everybody agrees, A entered the zone clear ahead of both her teammate B and her opponent X, and as she never left the zone or tacked, A is therefore entitled to mark-room from both boats.  Except possibly for a brief moment when she is jibing, A also has right of way over X.  She doesn’t break rules 15 or 16 after position 5 in this scenario, but if she had, she would have been exonerated under rule 18.5 because from that point on, she  was sailing to the mark and then sailing her proper course at the mark.  

As windward boat, X was required to keep clear of A and she clearly didn’t do so.  So X needs to take a penalty (one turn, if she does so voluntarily; two, if the umpires get involved).  

Now that we’re all agreed that X re-entered the zone clear ahead of B (see my post, ‘Graphic animations’), we should all agree that B is required to give X mark-room.  At position 6, X is on port tack and B is on starboard, so X is required to keep clear of B, which she clearly isn’t doing.  However, she’s exonerated under rule 18.5 because she’s sailing to the mark.  By the time X is at the mark, B is a windward boat required to keep clear, so it’s irrelevant whether X is on her proper course (though it would be interesting to hear your opinion – in position 7, is X on her proper course?).  

So we’ve got B failing to keep clear of X and X failing to keep clear of A. Both boats should do their turns, or, if they're protested and don't spin, the umpires should tell them to take two turns. Note that there’s no additional penalty for hitting the mark, as they’ve broken rules of Part 2 as well – see rule 44.1(a).  

As it happened, both X and B took voluntary single-turn penalties.  But this raises another question – did either team gain an advantage?  In order to decide that issue, we must determine what combination the teams had just before the fouls, and compare it with the positions they had afterwards (taking into account the penalty turns).

What positions should we declare the three boats to be in, just before everything went crazy?  Was A’s mark-trap about to work, so Yellow had a 1-2?  Or did X break the trap by jibing behind A, so Yellow had at best a 1-3?  We’ll look at those questions, and tell the rest of the story, in a later post.