Prescriptions for Bumper-Car Syndrome
Prescriptions for Bumper-Car Syndrome
Dick Rose has a few remedies for preventing routine collisions. "From the Experts" in our April 2008 issue.
Another approach is to hold pre- and post-race competitor meetings. In the pre-race meeting, ask each crew to pledge to make penalty turns if they think they may have broken a rule. Then, in the post-race meeting ask the crews to describe any incidents that happened in which they did not know how the rules applied, and then discuss those incidents with the entire fleet. If you can't work out an answer, get an opinion from a local US SAILING judge and announce it the next week at the pre-race meeting.
The racing rules simply do not work if the race committee uses procedures that result in too many boats trying to crowd into too small a space. Unfortunately, sailboats don't have brakes. When the density of boats gets too high, it is almost impossible for even the most skilled sailors and the most knowledgeable rules experts to avoid incidents in which boats collide or break rules. There are common examples of poor race management procedures that contribute to a breakdown in rules compliance:
1. Setting a starting line with one end heavily favored.
2. Setting a starting line that is so short that not every boat can find a spot on the line in clear air.
3. Letting boats that are over the line at the starting signal race without scoring them OCS.
4. Setting too short a first windward leg for a closely matched fleet, with the result that too many boats round it in too little time.
5. Setting the marks for a leeward gate or the finishing marks for a downwind finish too close together, so that when a pack of boats arrive overlapped they cannot all fit through.
6. After a period of flat calm, a new wind comes up from behind the fleet and blows them all into the next mark or the finish line en masse. When this happens at a rounding mark, the boats will be simply unable to round in compliance with the rules. When it happens at a finish line, it will be very difficult for the race committee to determine the finish order, and I guarantee that, even if the committee manages to come up with an order, the competitors will not think that the race was a fair test of skill.
And here are some prescriptions for excellent race management that can help avoid each of these errors:
1. If the fleet is congregating at one end of the starting line, postpone the race before the boats start to pile into one another at the favored end. Drag the mark at the end of the line that had the crowd downwind and restart.
2. If you see that the fleet is using the entire starting line, but the line is so short that not every boat is able to get a place on the line with clear air, postpone before adjacent boats begin to make contact. Lengthen the line and restart. It's always better to postpone early before boats begin to bounce off each other and before there are clumps of boats over early.
3. Invest in a powerful and reliable sound amplifying system so that your hails of boats over early can be heard down the line even in fresh winds. Such systems are surprisingly cheap. Make liberal use of flag I and the Round-an-End Rule (Rule 30.1) and state in your sailing instructions that you will hail boats that are over during the last minute. If you're starting a fleet of boats with cabins, make your hails by VHF radio.
4. If there is the sound of crunching fiberglass and anguished hails as the fleet rounds the first windward mark, you're first leg was too short. Either lengthen the leg in the future or, if that is not possible, break up the fleet into two groups and start them separately. There are lots of ways to vary the composition of each of the smaller groups and to score the fleet so that they are still all racing against each other on a fair basis over a series of races.
5. A good rule of thumb is that the marks at a leeward gate should be separated by no less than seven times the length of the boats racing. For a downwind finish, use at least the same separation between the finishing marks. To avoid boats using just one gate mark or one end of the finish line, set the line between the gate marks or the finishing marks at 90 degrees to the wind. If, because of current or local wind conditions, the boats still congregate at one of the two marks, then in future set that mark further upwind.
6. Don't let such mass roundings or finishes happen. Abandon the race before the fleet reaches the mark or the finish line. Take advantage of the new wind, and restart the race.
E-mail for Dick Rose may be sent to email@example.com.