Rules of Engagement
Rules of Engagement
With radically different craft, a new racecourse, and a reengineered set of racing rules, old America’s Cup ways have been discarded, replaced with a vastly more technical means of making on-the-water umpire calls.
The America’s Cup has a lot of traditions, many of which will be discarded this summer. This regatta has its own set of racing rules, and an elaborate electronic umpiring system. The overlying goal is to make sailing a more attractive spectator sport and therefore appeal to a larger audience. For this to happen, the rules must be simplified. We use the existing rules as a starting point, scrutinizing each of them. If one wasn’t necessary, it was eliminated. If it was complicated, it was rewritten. If a rule didn’t work well with cats going 40 knots, or with an electronic umpire system, it was modified.
Integral with the new rules is the electronic umpire system, which can track the position of the race yachts and marks to 2 centimeters (0.8 inch) accuracy, updated 10 times a second. The umpires can observe the positions of the yachts in real time from a bird’s eye view. They have all the pertinent data of each yacht: speed over ground, course over ground, true-wind angle, and true windspeed (TWS) at each turning mark. They have the percentage polar performance of each boat, as well as the leg number and penalty status. The course limits, marks, and their respective zones are available, too. The umpires can freeze frame, rewind, and fast-forward the action back to real time, which gives them the facts right at their fingertips so they can swiftly make the right call.
When competitors protest on the water they use the electronic umpiring system by pressing a button on their AC72. A window pops up on the umpire’s computer screen showing each yacht’s position, frozen 5 seconds before the button was pushed. The umpire makes a decision after reviewing the incident and signals his call electronically to the boat. If there is no penalty, this message is sent to both competitors. If there is a penalty, this message is relayed to the yachts, illuminating a blue signal light on the penalized yacht. When the penalty is issued, a penalty line appears behind the penalized boat on the umpire’s computer monitor. Once the penalized yacht gets behind the penalty line, the umpire clears the penalty, and the blue light goes off.
With new rules and new systems, there will be new moves, and some old faithful ones as well, but either way it should be an exciting summer. Let’s break down scenarios we’ll likely see.
The Dial Up
To prevent Dial Ups, the entry line is tilted so the port-entry boat gets across the starboard-entry boat. If the wind shifts, or if the port-entry boat is late entering and cannot cross, it’s in a world of hurt. At Position 1, both boats are allowed to enter 2 minutes before the start. Red is slightly too far upwind when it enters. At positions 2 and 3, Red, on port tack, realizes it cannot cross Green, which is on starboard tack. At Positions 4 and 5, Red heads up to pass astern of Green, but Green heads up as well. At this point, Red, because it is a port-tack give-way boat, must keep clear of Green. Green can alter its course, but is restricted by Rule 16.1 of the Racing Rules of Sailing and must therefore give Red room to keep clear.
At Position 6, both boats are head-to-wind. Because of the AC Racing Rules of Sailing’s Rule 6, the last point of certainty is that Green was on starboard tack and Red on port tack, so Red must continue to keep clear of Green. Red’s only option is to tack to starboard, which puts them in a bad position. If Red bears away on starboard tack, it will cross the starting line on port tack as an easy target. Red’s only other option is to tack to port, bear off, and jibe to approach the starting line. With a 2-minute prestart, however, it’s extremely difficult to complete all these maneuvers in time, which makes the Dial Up a more powerful weapon in the AC72 than it was in monohulls.