More Rules Issues at Marks

Dick Rose walks us through a high-traffic finish and mark rounding. From our July/August 2007 issue.


Elizabeth Wishe

Some readers have written me recently asking questions about how the rules cover some situations that crop up frequently at marks. Answering them gives me the opportunity to stress some of the important ideas that you should keep in mind as you approach a mark.Tom Keane asked how, at the finishing line, the rules apply to sprit boats that sail hot angles when on a leeward leg. Imagine a close finish with six Melges 24s charging downwind toward a long finishing line. As shown in the first diagram, Pete and Pam are on opposite tacks and will finish at the pin at the port end of the line. Mike and Mary are on opposite tacks and will finish in the middle of the line, well away from both finishing marks. Steve and Sally are also on opposite tacks and will finish at the committee boat at the starboard end of the line.It's easiest to consider Mike and Mary first. Rule 18, Rounding and Passing Marks and Obstructions, does not apply to them because they are several lengths away from both of the finishing marks. The only applicable rules are Rules 10, 14, and 16. Rule 10 requires Mike, on port tack, to keep clear of Mary, on starboard. If Mary changes course, she must not do so in a way that deprives Mike of room to keep clear (Rule 16.1) and, if Mike elects to pass astern of Mary, she shall not change course if as a result Mike would immediately need to make a further change of course to continue keeping clear of her (Rule 16.2).Now, let's apply the rules to Sally and Steve who are about to pass the mark at the starboard end of the line. They will be overlapped when they enter the two-length zone (see the last sentence of the definition Overlap), and I assume the overlap continues until both boats have passed the mark. In addition to Rules 10, 14, and 16, Rule 18.2(a) applies. Sally has right of way over Steve because she is on starboard. Rule 18.2(a) places two obligations on Steve. (1) He must keep clear of Sally, and (2) he must give her room to pass between him and the mark. This means that Sally may, if she wishes, hold her course on starboard tack and Steve will be required to jibe to meet Rule 10's obligation that he keep clear of her. Sally is also permitted to bear off to a dead run. If she does, then Steve still must keep clear and give her room. What's more, Sally could elect to jibe. However, if she jibes then she will become windward boat and Steve will acquire right of way under Rule 11. In that case, after she jibes Sally will be required to keep clear of Steve, but he will still be required by Rule 18.2(a) to give her room to pass between him and the mark.Finally, consider Pete and Pam who are about to pass the mark at the port end of the line. They, too, will be overlapped when they enter the zone, and Rules 10, 14, 16, and 18.2(a) will apply. Because the inside boat, Pete, does not have right away over the outside boat, Pete must keep clear of Pam and Pam is only obligated to give him room to pass between her and the pin. Once inside the zone, Pete must sail a seamanlike course between Pam and the mark, even if that means he must bear off to a dead run and, as a result, suffer a loss in speed. If, given the wind, sea and current conditions, it would be "normal" for Pete to jibe as he passes the mark, then Pam must give him room to jibe (see the preamble to Rule 18).Another reader asked about another incident involving Al, Beth, and Chuck as they round an offset mark to port. The beginnings of the incident are shown in the second and third diagrams below. At position 1, all three are beam reaching on starboard to the offset mark after rounding the windward mark. The wind is light and all three foredeck crews are forward readying their spinnakers and spinnaker poles. The boats will set their chutes as they round the mark onto a run. When Al reaches the two-length zone, he has an inside overlap on Beth. When Beth reaches the zone, she is a few feet clear ahead of Chuck. Beth's foredeck crew stumbles right after Beth's boat reaches the zone and, as a result, the boat slows and at position 2 Chuck becomes overlapped inside her. When that overlap begins Chuck is the leeward boat and Beth the windward boat.After position 2, Al rounds the mark cleanly and moves ahead and well clear of Beth and Chuck. However, Beth and Chuck remain overlapped. Beth hails "No room" to Chuck and bears off. Chuck rounds the mark on the required side, still overlapped inside Beth, and there is minor contact between Chuck's weather shroud and Beth's spinnaker as she hoists it. Neither boat is damaged. Beth protests Chuck and Chuck protests her. Neither boat takes a Two-Turns Penalty. How would you decide these protests?First, note that Beth was required by Rule 11 to keep clear of Al and by Rules 18.2(a) and 18.2(b) to give Al room, even if the overlap between them was broken before they both had passed the mark. She fulfilled these requirements.Now let's figure out which rules applied between Beth and Chuck and whether either or both of them broke one. Before Beth reached the zone, she was clear ahead of Chuck and, therefore, Chuck was required by Rule 12 to keep clear of her. At the moment her bow entered the zone, Rule 18.2(c) began to apply between them. It required Chuck to keep clear of Beth "thereafter," i.e., until the mark was astern of them.After Beth reached the zone, an overlap began between her and Chuck, with Chuck the leeward boat inside Beth. Normally a boat that obtains a leeward overlap becomes the right-of-way boat under Rule 11. However, in this case, Rule 11 was in direct conflict with Rule 18.2(c), which required Chuck to keep clear of Beth. In addition, Rule 18.2(c) states that, when Chuck became overlapped inside Beth, he was not entitled to room to pass between Beth and the mark. Rule 18.2(c) is in Section C of the Part 2 rules, and Rule 11 is in Part A. The preamble to Section C states, "To the extent that a Section C rule conflicts with a rule in Section A or B, the Section C rule takes precedence." Hence, in this case, Rule 18.2(c) takes precedence over Rule 11 and Chuck must continue to keep clear of Beth after he becomes overlapped to leeward of her. As the right-of-way boat, when Beth bore off to round the mark she was not subject to Rule 16.1 (see Rule 18.2(d)).For all these reasons, when Beth bore off and became so close to Chuck that she needed to take avoiding action, Chuck broke Rule 18.2(c) because he failed to keep clear of Beth and because she demonstrated by her need to take avoiding action that he had taken room to which he was not entitled. In addition, Chuck broke Rule 14 by failing to avoid contact when it was reasonably possible for him to have done so-he could have avoided the contact by slowing his boat and rounding the mark behind or outside of Beth, or by passing the mark on the wrong side. Chuck should be disqualified.Should beth be disqualified as well? Clearly Beth broke Rule 14. Once it was clear to Beth that Chuck was intent on passing the mark on its required side while still overlapped inside her, it would have been easy for Beth to have avoided the contact by not bearing off quite as far as she did. So, Beth broke Rule 14. However, because there was no damage or injury as a result of the contact between the boats, Beth cannot be penalized (see Rule 14(b)).E-mail for Dick Rose may be sent to