Monday, February 23, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

[From Scuttlebutt. Sailing Anarchy provided the link to the actual ruling below.]

USOC DECISION REQUIRES CHANGES TO RACING RULES Portsmouth, R.I. (Feb. 22, 2009) - A hearing panel appointed by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) issued a decision Friday that states the provisions of the International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) Racing Rules of Sailing governing the conduct of protests and requests for redress do not comply with the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act and USOC Bylaws.

Based on an initial reading of this decision, US SAILING, the national governing body of the sport, believes the panel’s directives, if implemented, will fundamentally change how the sport of sailboat racing is conducted in the United States.

In its decision, the USOC panel adopted arguments presented by the attorneys of a competitor at the 2007 U.S. Olympic Trials – Sailing that would require protest committees to consist of at least 20 percent athletes and that the well-established provisions in the Racing Rules of Sailing concerning the conduct of protest and redress hearings violated U.S. law.

This is the second of two complaints against US SAILING filed with the USOC by the same athlete. The first complaint was dismissed when the arbitrator granted US SAILING’s motion to dismiss on the basis that the protest hearings complied with all due process requirements and that the protest committee’s decision was a “field of play” decision not subject to review. One year after the filing of the second complaint and nine months after the arbitrator dismissed the first complaint, the USOC hearing panel concluded that the sport of sailing doesn’t comply with the USOC bylaws.

The USOC’s decision requires US SAILING to amend portions of ISAF’s Racing Rules of Sailing pertaining to protests and redress in the U.S. -- Read on:

A link to the USOC decision can be found here:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Frisbee Day?

A reader from Australia writes:

Dear Bob,

At a recent club race... winds were very light prior to the start of a race, and the officer of the day announced via radio that boats could motor until the 1 minute signal (5 minute start sequence). Is this allowable under rule 42.3(h). A search of the ISAF website provided little guidance on this new rule.

In response, I assume that the "5 minute" sequence referred to maintains the standard preparatory signal at the 4 minute gun, which means that the rules begin to apply at that time. The new Rule 42.3(h) reads:
Sailing instructions may, in stated circumstances, permit propulsion using an engine or any other method, provided the boat dos not gain a significant advantage in the race.

I do not know the origin of this new subsection, and if any reader does, please comment below. Though I haven't read the SIs that apply to the race in question, it is my interpretation of 42.3(h) that if the SIs make allowance for the use of the engine for all boats, then none gains a significant advantage if it's a one-design fleet. If it's a mixed fleet, there may be significant speed differences in engine power that could leave someone coasting longer after shut-off. A Macgregor 26 on full plane might coast for well longer than one minute!

Since the other racing rules apply at the prep signal, having them in force while boats are motoring around seems problematic. I'm not a PRO, but I think a better way to go is 1) sit and wait for breeze, 2) abandon and go play frisbee, or 3) change the prep signal to the one minute gun, let them motor around until then, and then turn off the engines and turn on the rules. As for this case, unless someone can make a case that a boat had a significant advantage, this seems like a permissable, though possibly unintended, consequence of the new 42.3(h).


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Inside, Outside, Upside Down

At Wednesday's rules seminar at CGSC, Nick Voss and Augie posed a question I couldn't answer about the application of the new Rule 18 between two boats at a leeward mark. I've added some detail to describe a very possible scenario.

Yellow and blue are approaching a leeward mark to be rounded to port on opposite tacks, in 5 knots of breeze, slight chop.

Step 1 (below). Yellow reaches the Zone with Blue overlapped inside her.

Step 2 (below). Yellow douses her spinnaker and bears away to a run, slowing from the takedown and deep angle. Blue, wishing to maintain speed because she's still 2 to 3 lengths away, leaves her spinnaker up and continues on her angle, possibly with a slight luff to take Yellow's transom. With greater speed she crosses astern of Yellow and estalishes an overlap outside Yellow.

Step 3 (below). Yellow is now between Blue and the mark. Yellow is somewhat slower, and Blue has to avoid her and round outside and protests, claiming Yellow, by her presence, did not give her room to sail to the mark, or room to sail her proper course at the mark.

Step 4.

Who broke what rule, if any? How could she have avoided doing so?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rocking Good Time at South Points #5

The fun we had at this weekend’s South Points #5 high school regatta featured a few good examples of textbook rocking. I flagged the ones I saw, and probably missed others (sorry!).

It’s easy to see rocking – someone’s mast is moving back and forth. It’s harder to see illegal rocking, because usually everyone’s mast is moving to some degree for some reason, and picking out the bad guy is a little like a needle in a haystack.

Bad rocking is just plain slow, and obvious, and dumb, and if you get flagged you deserve it for trying to break a rule. “Good” rocking, a term I’ll quickly explain, is different. Yes, “rocking” is always illegal, but in practical terms there’s a skinny little place between rocking and the legal use of your body weight to help steer the boat. This place is known as “good downwind technique,” and is currently a nation ruled by Queen Anna Tunnicliffe. There’s a waiting period for citizenship of several years on the water in a dinghy, though this is sometimes waived for people with fantastic natural feel. People with this technique slide downwind in waves and chop like it’s a physical act of love with the racecourse, with the boat turning gently through three axes, and the sail(s) flowing in and out to match every degree of every smooth turn.

Here’s how I and other on-the-water judges identify what’s rocking, and what’s just fantastic sailing. First, there’s a mental checklist, and if you’d like to follow along at home it’s in RRS 42.2(b). First, is there “repeated rolling of the boat.” Strike one. Second, is it “induced by body movement”? Strike two. Third, is the action to “facilitate steering” or not? If no, that’s strike three and the yellow flag comes out. The first, rolling of the boat, is easy to see. When we see it, we immediately look at a sailor’s upper body. If it is moving in and out timed in a manner that it causes the rolling, that’s strike two. By this time, it’s easy to see if the body movement is synched with the boat turning. When the best sailors do it, it’s difficult to know the moment when the line is crossed from good technique to a rule violation, because it involves a judgment call on the severity of a roll, the depth of a turn, etc. Undoubtedly, different judges have different thresholds, and sailors at the highest level tend to build a level of understanding to know where the line is at any given regatta.

This weekend I flagged one sailor for exactly the reason above. I saw the mast moving, and zoomed a little closer to watch the body. I saw the torso rock out and pull the boat to weather a bit, with no associated turn. I saw it again, and I think even one more time before it was painfully obvious there was nothing else going on. It doesn’t make them an evil being, probably just a nervous sailor who was trying to get every last little bit out of the boat and went too far.

I flagged another upwind. Hey, heavy dinghy sailors, here’s a tip. Yes, it’s frustrating to watch the wind fade after you’ve been crushing out-of-shape lightweights all day in a breeze, but that is the classic setup for the “anxiety rock” and we know you’re going to do it. When you come out of the tack on starboard slow for the first time all day, sitting on your rail while the two little girls next to you are still hiking and faster, yes you’re pissed and have to DO SOMETHING, but the Texas Two-Step (left foot in to heel, right foot out to flatten) ain’t the answer.

The ISAF Rule 42 interpretations located here:
are what judges use to learn how to call Rule 42 violations. There’s also a CD video we’re trained on and any sailor competing at high levels needs to watch it, too, so everyone, judges and sailors, are playing by the same rules – e-mail me and I’ll burn you a copy.
Facebook friends, there are more photos of the weekend on my page -- come find me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Now I Can Cut You Off

The 2009-2012 rules delete rule 17.2. This is the rule that currently prohibits a boat to windward or clear ahead of you from bearing off to cut you off and prevent you from passing to leeward. Since there's only about four weeks left on it, I won't bother with further explanation. It's enough to say there's a new move in the game. First, let me describe the subtle differences, then the new move.

After rounding a weather mark to sail the run, often boats stack up on starboard tack, unwilling to gybe with a row of starboard tackers blocking their wind behind them. As the leg progresses, some boats try to sail lower, avoiding getting sucked up into the parade behind them. This leads to clear astern boats trying hard to get in to leeward, creating an overlap and preventing the weather boat from sailing down on them. The weather boat wants to prevent this and maintain her ability to gybe away from the pack behind when a puff or a shift convinces her to do so. The jockeying continues. Today, the boat ahead is limited to sailing her proper course when a boat astern within two lengths is attempting to pass to leeward, and if overlapped with a leeward boat, must also keep cleat. In January, the proper course restiction is gone. As long as she keeps clear of a leeward boat, she can sail the course she pleases, even cutting off the boat clear astern trying to hook her with a leeward overlap (so long as the right of way clear ahead boat gives the give-way boat astern room to keep clear under 15 and 16).

Where this really gets interesting is approaching a leeward mark. Today the boat ahead can't dive down blow her proper course to prevent the guy astern from getting the overlap at the two-length zone. In January, she can. Most likely, this will only have application in the top end of light planing-dinghy fleets like Lasers, when pulling up the board and a gentle weather heel slides the boat to leeward, a lateral move with a little rudder kick added to angle the stern a bit and prevent the overlap. Even in larger boats, when a slower boat ahead is being pursued by a fester one astern, just diving down before the new three length zone to prevent an overlap, then heading up again when breaching it, will lead to some interesting conversations between players.

Confused? Feel like just ignoring all this? You're nor alone. Speaking with one of the memebrs of the British rules committee that helped draft the rules changes, he told me the biggest reason 17.2 was abandoned was that no one really obeyed it anyway. There was, and is, enough mutual confusion over 17 in general, that the details of 17.2 got lost in the game. And if no one gets it or folows it, there's really not that much use for a rule. Though it means a few small game changes, good riddance.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Three Lengths is a Long Way

We ran a clinic the other night to discuss the changes in the racing rules. The obvious one had jumped out to many of the participants beforehand, but I led with a discussion of 11 and 17 first (windward/leeward, and proper course limitations). I’ve found talking to many people that there’s still a lot of confusion over just whose proper course governs, windwards or leewards. I won’t renew the discussion now, but suffice it to say the deletion of rule 17.2 in the new rules will make for some minor game changes that will affect the higher levels of the sport. I’ll get back to that. The “obvious” change, though, was the change from two lengths to three for buoy room issues.

Leaving aside the more detailed discussions of the “mark-room” and “zone” definitions, I’m struck by how the simple change to the zone length may change the game in unexpected ways. I believe that in light air, slow-moving but still maneuverable boats will have an array of new cards to play.

When the zone changes to three lengths, the greater distance means fifty percent more time for things to happen. A 30-footer moving at three knots in light breezes travels about one length in six seconds, two in 12, and three in 18. At a crowded mark, six seconds is an awfully long time. I understand the intent of the change is to allow sailors more time to plan their rounding, but this power might be used as a sword as well as a shield.

Consider the weather mark. The concept introduced by the 2005-2008 rules remains, discouraging a port-tacker from coming in from the top of the left side and tacking within two lengths at the mark. Today, a boat that completes a tack within two lengths may not, as a result, force a starboard tacker to sail above close-hauled to avoid her. But in light air and bouncy chop, imagine a port tacker completing her tack on the layline in the zone a full length or two in front of an oncoming starboard boat. It’s easy to stop a heavy keelboat with a down-speed tack, especially with a mistimed wave. Picture the starboard boat, coming in at full speed. Even after port’s tack is complete, starboard could easily bear off to the layline, close with greater speed, and then be forced to sail above close-hauled to avoid the slower clear-ahead boat, drawing the foul. This scenario will cause the port-tacker to sail farther to weather of the layline to avoid this sitting duck syndrome, exaggerating the defensive moves used today.

I can think of another example or two of this, where the greater time in the zone allows for more moves to play out, and I’ll add them in a bit, but just wanted to throw this first one up for comment and thought.