In The Interest of Fair Play

Knowing the rules makes the game fair for everyone. From the Editor's Letter in our June 2009 issue

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As much as it pains me to float around in a powerboat watching everyone else have fun on the racecourse, it is, as I've written in the past, an excellent opportunity to watch and learn. One recent Sperry Top-Sider NOOD regatta was no exception.

One particular incident really stands out. Two boats slowly approached the starboard mark (looking upwind) of a generously wide leeward gate. They were the last two boats to round. The rest of the fleet was already halfway up the next weather leg. Overlapped, beam-to-beam at about a boatlength out, the skipper of the inside boat vociferously hailed for room. Multiple times.

"Man, he's not gonna' give it to him," I said aloud.

The predictable verbal exchange ensued. We've all heard it.

"You've got plenty of room! Turn the boat!" hollered the outside party.

"Room, damn it," was the weather boat's response.

As the inside boat started its turn, its bow passing mere inches from the inflatable cylinder, the helmsman of the outside boat pushed his tiller to leeward and shouted, "Leeward boat, leeward boat!" before intentionally driving his bow into the weather boat's leeward side.

A second later, the two were gunwale-to-gunwale, sails luffing, crews fending off, drifting in the light air, and exchanging unpleasantries.

Now this was certainly uncalled for in more ways than one, and the offender's actions didn't help either boat catch up to the rest of the fleet. And to make matters worse, not a penalty turn was taken. No flags were flown. The offender sailed off to the right side of the racecourse as if nothing had happened.

The leeward boat went on to win its class a few days later, so maybe he's smarter than I initially made him out to be. I had assumed he was ignorant of the rules, but maybe he's well versed and his intent was to intimidate and rattle the inside boat. For sportsmanship sake, let's hope not.

This incident, however, was not an isolated one. On numerous occasions I witnessed either a general lack of understanding of, or a blatant disregard for, the racing rules. The rules of our sport are painstakingly written to keep the game fun, fair, and safe for everyone. As much as we like to think we self-police, that's obviously not the case.

Leeward mark roundings in particular were fraught with rule violations. In more than one instance, I witnessed the outermost boat of a 10-boat pile-up aggressively force the boat to weather deeper into the pinwheel. The ripple effect continued inward to the point where the inside boat-the one with all the rights-was the one that would invariably get screwed, despite sailing a clean, tactical leg.

Then there's the new three-length zone. I realize it takes time and repetition to change old habits, but it appears most everyone is still under the impression that the zone starts two lengths out. At numerous weather mark roundings in one class, a parade of port-tack boats would stream into the mark, tack within two boatlengths (or less), and foul those who'd set up properly on the starboard layline. Too many got away with it, and unless the competitors themselves discourage this type of sailing through legitimate protests, it will continue.

Each and everyone of us should at least understand the basic rules, and resolve to play by them. It's only fair.
-Dave Reed