A new ISAF case and US SAILING appeal aim to provide more clarity to mark-rounding situations. "Rules" from our March 2011 issue.
Kevin Gregory, from the Buffalo Canoe Club, wrote in with a question about a boat entitled to room to sail her proper course while at a leeward mark. As shown in the second diagram, Kevin, sailing a Beneteau First 44.7, was overlapped outside Doug, sailing a J/120, when Doug reached the zone at the leeward mark at Position 1. Kevin slowed his boat slightly and fell clear astern of Doug while Doug was making a sloppy spinnaker douse and a wide rounding. There was more than enough space for Kevin to slip in between Doug and the mark between Positions 2 and 3. Just after both boats had left the mark astern, but before they left the zone, Doug hailed, “Up, up!” to Kevin and luffed sharply above close-hauled. Kevin was able to keep clear as Doug luffed, but had to go head to wind to avoid contact. As Doug luffed above close-hauled, Kevin hailed, “Sail your proper course!”, but Doug continued luffing. Kevin wrote to ask me whether Doug broke Rule 18.2(b) or any other rule by sailing above his proper course.
Here’s how I would apply the rules in this incident. At Position 1, Rule 18.2(b) began to apply. It required Kevin to “thereafter give [Doug] mark-room.” Also, at Position 1, Rule 11 required Doug, as windward boat, to keep clear of Kevin. When Kevin slowed and became clear astern, Rule 11 ceased to apply and Rule 12 began to require Kevin to keep clear of Doug. Later, between Positions 2 and 3—when Kevin became overlapped to windward of Doug—Rule 11 began to apply again, but this time it required Kevin to keep clear of Doug. Note also that Rule 17 did not apply to Doug after Kevin became overlapped to windward of him, because Doug was clear ahead of Kevin when that overlap began.
It’s obvious from the diagram that Kevin gave Doug “room to sail to the mark.” After Doug’s bow was abeam of and close to the mark, Kevin was required to give Doug room to sail his proper course while at the mark. Doug’s proper course was the course he would have sailed to finish as soon as possible in the absence of Kevin. Since the next leg was a beat to windward, Doug’s proper course would have been to round the mark and assume a close-hauled course. It is clear from the diagram that Kevin gave Doug room to sail his proper course. Therefore, I conclude that Kevin did not break Rule 18.2(b). Kevin had other obligations during the incident. While he was clear astern of Doug and later after he became overlapped to windward of Doug, Kevin was required, first by Rule 12 and after the overlap began by Rule 11, to keep clear. As the diagram shows, Kevin complied with both of those rules. Kevin was perfectly within his rights to sail between Doug and the mark provided he broke no rule while doing so. ISAF Case 63 is very clear on this point. Kevin broke no rule in the incident.
But did Doug break a rule?
No. During the short time after Position 1 that Doug was the windward boat, he kept clear of Kevin. Thereafter, Doug had right of way. When he luffed above close-hauled (which was also above his proper course), Rule 17 did not apply but Rule 16.1 did. Doug complied with Rule 16.1 because he gave Kevin room to keep clear. Kevin argued that, because Doug sailed above his proper course while still in the zone (and therefore while Rule 18 still applied), Doug broke Rule 18.2(b). That’s not correct. Rule 18.2(b) entitled Doug to room to sail his proper course, but it did not require him to sail only that course. Rule 18 no longer “switches off” or “takes precedence” over other rules. When Doug luffed above his close-hauled proper course at Position 3, he had every right to do so and Kevin was required to keep clear. If Kevin had protested Doug I would have found that neither boat broke a rule.