Friday, November 14, 2014

Answer to Leeward Mark Rules Quiz

It's been a week since I posted the leeward mark question, so I think we've received all the answers we'll probably get.. If you haven't read the preceding post and responses by John, Hans and me, you'll need to do so, to understand this follow-up post.

John says: X breaks no rule, A breaks rules 11 (windward/leeeward) and 18.2 (mark-room) with respect to X, and Y is exonerated for breaking those same rules, plus rule 31 (touching a mark) because she was taking room to which she is entitled.

This was, in fact, the call made on the water and was my original opinion, as well.

Hans agreed with this in his first comment, but in his last comment, some doubt creeps in. 'It is not quite clear from the drawing if Y [gives] mark room to X,' he says.

And that's where the other umpires discussing this call finally ended up. It's a well-established principle of the RRS that a boat's obligation to give mark-room is not restricted to the boat right alongside her, but applies to any boat affected by her behavior. For example, if there are 5 boats coming into a leeward mark side by side, all of them overlapped for a long time beforehand, and the outside boat crowds in so that the innermost boat can't pass the mark on its required side, we DSQ that outside boat even though she isn't in the zone. She was overlapped with the inside boat when the latter entered the zone and thus, owes her mark-room.

In the present case, X entered the zone clear ahead of Y, so Y owes her mark-room. Because X cannot sail her proper course when Y goes in between A and the mark, Y breaks rule 18.2. Y was not compelled to go between X and the mark, so she's not exonerated under rule 64.1(a).

Final answer: DSQ both A and Y.

But this raises an interesting additional question: At some point X is no longer rounding the mark and thus is no longer entitled to mark-room under rule 18.2 (see my post, 'When does rule 18 turn off?'). Or, suppose X's course is above her course to the next mark (which, according to the facts, is off to the right somewhere)? Then A and Y don't break rule 18 with respect to X. A still breaks rule 11 (Windward/Leeward) with respect to X, but Y doesn't. So NOW do we exonerate Y?

The answer is “no”, and the reason is rule 19. As a leeward boat, X is an obstruction to both A and Y. When A and Y become overlapped to windward of X, the outside boat Y owes the inside boat A room to pass the obstruction X. She could have easily given that room by passing the wrong side of the mark, so by “going in there” she voluntarily breaks rule 19. No exoneration under rule 21 for that, and none under rule 64.1(a), either. So the answer is the same: DSQ A for failing to keep clear of X and DSQ Y for not giving A room to pass X.

If we back away from the specific rules for a moment, we see that this is the answer we'd like to get. Neither A nor Y had any rights in there with respect to X, who was both a leeward boat and entitled to mark-room, and neither of them were compelled to go between X and the mark. So we'd expect them to both be DSQ'ed, and that's what we're going to do.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Leeward Mark Rules Quiz

Here's a scenario that came up at an umpire debrief at the 2014 Hinman, which is the US Team Race National Championship.  Simple as it seems, it had the sailors and umpires discussing what rules applied for hours after the debrief.  And again the next morning.

Even after the event was over, several of the umpires, including some International Umpires and International Judges, continued to chew over the call via e-mail.  Finally, several of them wrote it up and submitted it to ISAF as a proposed Team Race Rapid Response Call.

X and Y were on the same team and A was on the opposing team. The incident happened at mark 3 of a digital N course, meaning that the next mark was off to the right, a little to windward of the direction X is headed at position 4.  X entered the zone clear ahead of A and Y, who were overlapped at the zone with Y inside A.  Boat A took a course to pass between X and the mark, and Y went in with her. There was contact between all three boats and Y hit the mark. There was a valid protest. What should the call have been?

This time, rather than giving my opinion I'm asking yours.  You can decide there was no foul, or that one or more boats should have taken a penalty.  The hard part is, you have to say why -- who, if anybody, broke what rules and who, if anybody, should have been exonerated under rules 21 or 64.1(a). 

In case you don't know much about team racing, I think it doesn't matter.  The only special team-race rule that might apply here is that in team racing, boats can break rules with respect to their own team-mates, but only if there is no contact and the incident didn't involve the other team.  In this case there was contact and the incident clearly involved both teams, so that rule didn't apply.  So the answer should be the same in fleet racing as in team racing.

I'll give you one hint:  It's more complicated than it might seem at first, and X is an obstruction to the other two boats (see the definition Obstruction). 

In my next post, I'll tell you what the august body of Hinman umpires finally decided!

Friday, July 25, 2014

US Rules Proposals for the 2017-202 RRS

The US Sailing Racing Rules Committee has prepared seven Submissions to ISAF for changing the Racing Rules of Sailing.  Most of the proposals are for small wording changes (as usual), but two are fairly substantial:  another revision of rule 20.1 (Hailing for Room to Tack) and a proposed appendix on Arbitration, pretty much copied from the section on arbitration in Appendix T of the US rulebook. 

The proposed changes were approved by the US Sailing Board of Directors on July 21st.   They will be considered by the ISAF Racing Rules Committee (RRC) at the Annual Conference in November.  The RRC might pass, edit or reject any submissions.  They could also send a given submission back to us for further work and resubmission in 2015.  Submissions that are approved by ISAF RRC and Council will become effective on January 1, 2017, when the new rulebook comes into force.

The US submissions, which include reasons for why the changes should be made, can be found on the US Sailing website at  Scroll to the bottom of the page to find a list of links to the PDF files containing the Submissions.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why We Need to Keep Rule 16.2 in the Rulebook

Lately, there's been some talk about removing rule 16.2 in team racing, and some people say, “If it's a good idea to remove this rule from team racing, and it's already more or less deleted for match racing, why have it for fleet racing?”

I think there are several good reasons for keeping rule 16.2 in the rulebook.

Before we get into those reasons, let's see what we're talking about. Rule 16 reads, in its entirety:
16.1 When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.
16.2 In addition, when after the starting signal a port-tack boat is keeping clear by sailing to pass astern of a starboard-tack boat, the starboard-tack boat shall not change course if as a result the port-tack boat would immediately need to change course to continue keeping clear.

Rule 16.1 is very straightforward. It protects keep-clear boats from attacks from which they cannot escape. By comparison, rule 16.2 is a bit complicated. It addresses one situation only: a port-tack boat is trying to pass behind a starboard-tack boat, and, loosely put, the rule prohibits dial-downs (or when sailing down wind, dial-ups) when the boats are close. Dial-downs are aggressive maneuvers, and close dial-downs are, essentially, vicious attacks. In match racing, where viciousness is a virtue, that's OK. Arguably the same goes for team racing, which is becoming more and more like match racing. But I think most sailors would agree that vicious attacks have no place in fleet racing, which is all about getting around the race course fast and safely, and having fun doing it.

Thus the primary reason for keeping rule 16.2 is that it preserves a game we like. There's a nice balance to the fleet-racing rules – on the one hand, racing is a competition and we want to give boats who have right of way or who arrive at marks ahead of other boats the power to defend their positions; on the other hand, we don't want the sport to turn into a sequence of confrontations that risk boats and crews. That's what distinguishes fleet racing from team racing and, more dramatically, match racing.

The second reason for keeping rule 16.2 is safety. Dial-downs are almost uniquely dangerous, especially in high-performance boats. On a beat, as soon as a port-tack boat bears off to duck, she accelerates. If the starboard-tack boat bears off at the same time, the closing speed between the two boats can be several times what it was before the bear-off/dial-down – and now, instead of intersecting obliquely, they are coming almost directly at each other. It's not too strong to say that in planing boats there will be serious damage or somebody will get badly hurt if there's contact. The same phenomenon occurs off wind – the port -tack needs to reach up to pass astern and if the other boat reaches up also, the closing speeds increase – though this increase is nowhere near as dramatic as upwind.

But, I hear you asking, doesn't rule 16.1 remove that danger? After all, if there's a real danger of the boats hitting each other, then surely the starboard-tack boat broke rule 16.1? I don't think rule 16.1 does solve the problem. While that rule says the starboard-tack boat can't hit the port-tack boat or cause her to behave in an unseamanlike manner, it still allows aggressive behavior right up to the point of hitting her or forcing her to do something unseamanlike. Rule 16.2 puts a little cushion or buffer in there.

To look at an analogy, why have lines on roads, separating the cars going one way from those going the other? Why not simply prohibit cars from hitting the oncoming traffic or driving them off the road, but let them wander around in the oncoming lanes as long as they obey that law? I think most of us would not want to drive in such a society. Rule 16.2 is, basically, the double line separating lanes of opposing traffic.

The third reason for rule 16.2 is basic fairness. Dialing down does not speed the starboard-tack boat toward her goal of finishing the race, and it does not protect her from a boat taking her wind or pinning her out. By ducking, the port-tack boat is temporarily conceding her position in the race to the other boat, and for the other boat to attack her seems like hitting one's opponent when he's down. When you hold a door open and let a stranger pass through it, you don't expect him to kick you as he goes by.

The final reason is that in some complex situations the port-tack boat needs to plan ahead, and last-second dial-downs prevent her from doing so. To see this, suppose there were no rule 16.2 and consider a boat P in a crowded fleet, near the top of the first windward leg. She's threading her way through the fleet in an effort to get to the starboard-tack layline. There's a boat S1 coming toward her, but P sees that if she ducks S1 she'll still be able to cross ahead of S2, the starboard-tack boat behind and to windward of S1. After that she can continue to thread her way through the fleet and tack above the layline. So she bears off to duck.

Now what happens if, after P has made her plans and has borne off to duck S1, S1 dials down at her? P has already eased her sheets; if she tacks now she'll slow down directly in front of S1, and besides, she has formed her plan and wants to stick to it if possible. So she responds immediately by digging deeper.

Finally P makes it past S1. She hasn't had to do anything unseamanlike, so S1 didn't break rule 16.1. But now, as P trims in to cross the other boats she discovers that her carefully laid plan to thread her way through the fleet is now in ruins. She's in danger of fouling S2, and even if she manages to duck that boat, there's still S3, S4, and so on – each of whom might dial down on her if she tries to duck them. This is unfair and potentially dangerous; and it's what rule 16.2 prevents.

Of course, we want a starboard-tack boat to be able to defend her position. For example, if S1is on the layline and doesn't want P to lee-bow her, she can bear off before P gets to her; now if P tacks, S can luff back up to her previous line in clear air. And, if for some reason S wants to prevent P from ducking her (maybe they're contending for first place in the series), she is allowed to bear off a little earlier, forcing P to tack instead of ducking. As long as she does so early enough so P doesn't have to respond immediately, that doesn't break any rules.

One argument I hear sometimes is that rule 16.2 protests are rarely if ever made. But that may be because, essentially, rule 16.2 is working as intended. Sailors interpret the rule as saying “late dial-downs are illegal,” and so dial-downs don't occur much. I think most sailors are happy with that. Without rule 16.2, dial-downs might become common – look at what happens in match racing.

Match and team racers are playing a different game, much more confrontational and without large numbers of boats to deal with. If the match and team racers want to delete rule 16.2, good on 'em. But leave us fleet racers with a saner and less confrontational sport, give us that safety buffer, and let us make our plans to weave our way through the fleet on port tack. Keep rule 16.2 in the rulebook.