Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Racer's responsibility to know the rules

Sailing is one of the few competitive sports that leaves enforcing the rules essentially up to the participants. To make this work, however, racers actually need to know the rules and feel comfortable and knowledgeable enforcing them!
Once you begin to understand them, the game charges completely. You begin to take advantage of more opportunities because you know the rules and a protest becomes a means to ensuring fair sailing, not something that is looked down upon.
The fundamental principle of the Racing Rules of Sailing lies in sportsmanship. It says that when competitors know they have broken a rule they will promptly take a penalty or retire.
However, an important thing to remember is that in most cases, a sailor must actually be protested by another sailor or the RC to be disqualified!
So if you see somebody breaking a rule and don't protest them, you are just as guilty as not following the rules as the person who you think has broken a rule.
On the same hand, if you know youve broken a rule, the proper thing is to take a penalty or retire.
As the old saying goes, 'You haven't won the race, if in winning the race you have lost the respect of your competitors.'- Paul Elvstrom

An interesting scenario happened 2 weeks ago at our CALCUP series where the rules came into question and as a result of several emails with our local rules guru and US Sailing judge, Bryan McDonald, several important lessons were learned.

The course was a typical windward leeward with a start/finish line in bottom 1/4 of the beat. At the skipper's meeting, it was noted, the finish was was closed during the downwind portion of the course.
Upon finishing Race 2, another sailor came up to me saying I was disqualified because I sailed through the finish line.
I tried to recall the downwind leg and remember seeing another sailor inside of me when going downwind. Between the races, I went over and talked to the other sailor and to the best of our collective knowledge came to the conclusion that he or I did not sail through the finish line.
At this point, with out any protest lodged by the accusing sailor, I thought the issue was over.
When the scores where published (nearly 10 days later), I noticed I was scored a DSQ for race 2.
Informally, I sent an email to the RC asking what was up.
Their response: 'We saw you sail through a restricted area in addition to another sailor reporting the incident.'
'OK,' I thought, well maybe I did sail through the line with out really knowing it since the RC and another sailor said they saw me but it is certainly not in the spirit of the rules to automatically DSQ a sailor without a hearing.

I dug out the rule book and looked into rule 63 and found that if a race committee thinks a boat has broken a rule, including for instance not sailing the course correctly, it must protest the boat. The Protest committee will then call a hearing, find the facts, decide if a boat broke a rule, and penalize her if she did.

The next logical step for me would have been to apply for redress since my score, through no fault of my own, had been made significantly worse by an improper action or omission by the RC.
No protest was filed by any party, including the RC and yet I was DSQ'ed from a race.

I again consulted our local rules guru for consultation and he agreed- the RC had no right to penalize a sailor without a hearing (outside starts and finishes.) In addition, if other sailors think they see a rule being broken, it's up to them to protest. No protest = no grounds for DSQ.

Upon pushing the issue further, the RC came back with another sailor saying they saw me sail through the line (but again no protest.)

The evidence was beginning to stack up that maybe I did sail through the finish line without knowing it and maybe the proper thing for me to do would be to withdraw from the race but with out a hearing and no protest by either the RC or other sailors, it was well within my rights to continue to ask for redress and have my results reinstated.

I decided not to push it any further (against my better judgment) and try to use the scenario as an example to learn from.

Here's what I learned:
The rules are up to us to enforce.
If you race without really understanding them it's not really fair to yourself, your competitors or the sport.
As a competitor, you have the responsibility to uphold the rules.
Sportsmanship (RRS 2, Fair Sailing) requires all of us to abide by the rules, to take a penalty or withdraw when required, and to make sure our competitors abide by the rules.

Unfortunately, the “official” Rule book reads like a typical legal document and is often a confusing, and very uninteresting (boring), document to read. Fortunately, several books are available to explain what the rules mean, and why they apply to specific situations.

The best I have come across is:
“Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing” by Dave Perry, published by US Sailing.

“Paul Elvstrom Explains the Racing Rules of Sailing”
is the “Bible” of sailing explanations and should be the centerpiece of any racers library.

“The Rules Book” by Eric Twiname, currently edited by Bryan Willis and “The Rules in Practice” by Bryan Willis are the most popular and are perhaps the easiest to read and understand.

Also are some great blogs that will keep you updated on the rules:
The Racing Rules of Sailing: Look to Windward: http://rrsstudy.blogspot.com
North Coast Windsurfing: racing explained by a mistral prodigy sailor.
Updated Cyber learning of racing Rules
UK rules Quiz

Of course, the rules are available online at:
ISAF website
More specifically, windsurfers also follow Appendix B of the RSS whicn can be found here.
And finally if you find yourself racing at a PWA event, forget everything mentioned above and just get around the course as fast as you can as there are no racing rules- only broken bones!
More about no rules PWA @ G-42 blog

1 comment:

G-42 said...

I've been thinking pretty hard about rules and slalom and what the PWA guys are doing vs. what's going on at the amateur level. Talking to Micah a few years back, his view was that rules in pro slalom are a mixed blessing. He felt it didn't really make sailors less aggressive to have rules - but they had to have umpires and protests were really messy. It's hard to figure out what exactly happened at over 30 knots in a pile of racers approaching the start or jockeying for position before getting to a mark.

Having raced a bit more slalom over the past few years, I'm starting to get it. There's plenty of incentive to stay clear - and after all, avoiding a collision is both sailors' responsibility even under the RRS. Given the speeds, and the tight mark rounding, it's surprising there aren't more collisions in PWA slalom.

In course racing, the RRS make a great amount of sense, being part of the game and all. Even in FW, though, and in the planing skiff classes, there are limits to how much the game can be played, due to the high speeds involved. Slalom exacerbates that problem (ever higher speeds), adds in a bunch of tight mark roundings and lack of real estate for well-considered moves, and has even less room for error (in a FW race, there's more opportunity to recover; in slalom, you're dead last if you go for a swim or have to do a 360).

The PWA, just like local fleets, is a small community. Looks like the honor system is doing OK for them. The "broken bones" comment seems unwarranted - I don't believe the only broken bones I've heard of (Micah's, last season) was a result of a no-rules collision, was it? That picture of Josh Angulo getting squeezed by Gonzalo and Ross Williams sure looks dramatic, but nobody got hurt, and it wasn't part of a big pattern or anything - it doesn't sound like there are people just taking out others all the time on the PWA.

Hey - hopefully, we'll get lots of slalom at the Nationals this year...