Undoing Race Committee Errors

Race committees can and do make mistakes, making it difficult to apply the rules correctly.

Two readers, Mike Gurley and Warwick Coppleson, recently asked how the rules apply in two unusual situations, both the result of well-intentioned, but unwise race committee actions. Each one highlights how risky it is for the race committee not to follow tried and true procedures.

Mike Gurley reported on a race for several different classes of boats. The classes each had their own start, and the course for each one was signaled from the committee boat at its warning signal. There were two courses, both of them were windward-leeward-windward. Faster classes sailed the longer course, which was a beat to windward to Mark W, then a run to the leeward mark, Mark L, and a final beat to Mark W. The course had an unusual feature—on the downwind leg, boats were required to pass through a gate formed by Marks G1 and G2, midway between W and L. The slower classes sailed a shorter course—to W, then through the gate onto a final beat back to W.

The fun began at the gate. As shown in the diagram, Stella—a boat sailing the long course—and Luke—a boat sailing the short course—were overlapped as they ran downwind toward G1. Stella and Luke each knew their own course, but neither knew the other’s course. Both of them were required to leave G1 to starboard. The long course required Stella to sail straight past G1 and continue to L, while the short course gave Luke the option to round either G1 to starboard or G2 to port.

Luke, who was preparing to round G1 onto the beat back to W, hoisted his jib and doused his spinnaker between Positions 1 and 2. Stella continued flying her chute. When Luke came alongside G1, he luffed to begin his rounding while Stella sailed straight. Immediately after Stella’s stern passed G1, the boats were about to collide, but Luke avoided contact by bearing off. He then protested Stella alleging that, as the windward boat, she broke Rule 11 by not keeping clear. Eventually Luke crossed behind Stella and rounded onto the beat to W, but he lost considerable distance in the process.

How do the rules apply here? Luke had right of way under Rule 11, but he owed Stella mark-room under Rule 18.2(b)’s first sentence. As the definition Mark-Room states, Luke was required to give Stella room to leave G1 to starboard, which he did. And after she entered the zone, Stella’s proper course was to sail straight toward her next mark—Mark L, and, as the diagram shows, that course took her close to Mark G1. Luke, therefore, was also required to give Stella room to sail to G1, which he also did. It wasn’t necessary for Stella to round G1 to sail her course, so when Luke began to luff, just after Position 2, Luke had already given Stella all the room to which she was entitled under the definition Mark-Room. Thus, Stella’s entitlement to mark-room had ended and the only rules that applied between the boats were Rules 11, 16.1 and 14.

Rule 16.1 required Luke to give Stella space to maneuver promptly to keep clear. Stella, thinking that Luke would be sailing straight to Mark L just as she was, didn’t expect Luke to luff and she failed to respond promptly. For that reason, she broke Rule 11. She is not exonerated under Rule 21(a) because when her breach occurred she was no longer entitled to mark-room. Luke avoided breaking Rule 14 by curtailing his luff before there was contact. Luke did not break Rule 16.1 because, if Stella had responded promptly to his luff, she would have had space to keep clear in a seamanlike way.

The rules require Stella to be disqualified for breaking Rule 11, but the real party at fault here is the race committee. By setting courses, which made Mark G1 a rounding mark for the slow boats and simultaneously a passing mark for the fast boats, the race committee created this awkward situation. Rule 18 is not designed to work when boats are required to round a mark in different ways. I have made this point before: ISAF Case 26 shows that it’s downright dangerous to require some boats to round a mark to port while others are rounding it to starboard, and US Appeal 97 shows that Rule 18 can be impossible to understand when a mark is simultaneously a windward mark for some boats and a leeward mark for others. The predicament for Stella and Luke illustrates that mark roundings become confusing when boats’ courses require them to exit the mark on different courses. The lesson here for the race committee is simple: Do not use one mark for two different courses if boats sailing each of those courses might be rounding or passing it at the same time.

Warwick Coppleson’s situation occurred during a race for one-designs. When the fleet approached the spot where Mark 3 should have been, they found not one but two buoys, both of which had been set by the race committee and both of which matched the description of Mark 3 in the sailing instructions. Let’s call those two buoys “A” and “B.”

Indomitable arrived first on the scene with a big lead. She chose to round A and sailed on to finish first, well ahead of the second boat. A race committee member in a boat flying a race committee flag saw Indomitable round A and thought she had rounded the wrong mark. He did not hail Indomitable, but instead motored over to A and proceeded to hail each of the rest of the boats in the fleet, instructing each one to round B—which they all did.

The posted scores showed Indomitable as DSQ while the boats that had rounded B were scored in the order in which they finished. Indomitable was, understandably, not pleased. She protested each of the boats that finished after her alleging that each one broke 41 by receiving outside assistance, and she requested redress for herself claiming she should have been scored 1 point for first place.

How should the protest committee have responded to Indomitable’s protests and request for redress? All the protests under Rule 41 should be dismissed. Boats are permitted to receive “unsolicited information from a disinterested source.” There was no reason for the boats that were hailed to think that a member of the race committee had any interest in the outcome of the race. However, Indomitable should be granted redress under Rule 62.1(a) because her score in the race, DSQ, was obviously worsened through no fault of her own by the failure of the race committee to hail her to round B instead of A, and that omission was clearly improper. Obviously, a race committee should act evenhandedly and fairly, so an action or omission of the race committee can be “improper” even if it breaks no racing rule. What’s more, Rule 90.2(c) requires any oral instructions from the race committee given on the water to be given to each boat in the race. Finally, because Indomitable finished, scoring her DSQ without a protest hearing was an improper action (see Rule A5).

What redress should Indomitable receive? Rule 64.2 requires the protest committee to “make as fair an arrangement as possible for all boats affected,” and Rule A10 suggests alternative forms that redress may take. In this case, since Indomitable had a big lead approaching Mark 3, it seems fair to award her first place in the race and adjust all other boats’ scores accordingly (such an adjustment is permitted by Rule A6.2).

E-mail for Dick Rose may be sent to rules@sailingworld.com.