Liberty is being free from the things we don't like in order to be slaves of the things we do like.--Ernest Benn

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Yacht Race Is Not a Demolition Derby

Neither is competitive sailing even a contact sport.

I have sometimes quietly murmured that we are engaged in a contact sport, but those words are just me being ironic, and I don't want to encourage them to be taken out of context. Stuff happens on the water, but the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) do not intend boats to derive advantage through their making contact. Quite the contrary.

Last Wednesday's twilight provokes this comment.

The wind was 16 knots for the first 90% of the weather leg. In our large fleet, things had been tight at the starboard pin, and shouts were heard at the start. But the real problems developed on the approach to the weather mark where the wind abruptly dropped by about five knots and boats belatedly realized the extent of the adverse current. The Good Guys (our boat) had to make an agonizing number of what, in retrospect, should have been unnecessary tacks. We rounded well behind our normal group of boats.

Happily, the problems developed behind us. The hearsay is that one skipper discovered too late that he could not lay the mark and jibed around looking for a gap where he could rejoin the starboard tack parade sailing toward the mark. His miscalculation caused contact with damage, aggravated by the fact that the port tacker was carrying his anchor on the bow pulpit. Minutes later the whole fleet of 20-plus boats knew about it because the victim protested over the VHS.

Here is the point where I suspend inclusion of additional gory details which might expose me to charges of libel. Instead, I'll just indulge myself in some general observations.

At the club level our sport is depends on the Corinthian principles that see to it that our formal rules in the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) are self-enforced. That's like in tennis, also at the club level, where we call our own lines. Unlike in tennis, more is at stake on water than just the game: the physical safety of all hangs in the balance when it comes to being in compliance with the RRS.

Now the tough part: In any club or intra-club racing venue, there are your usual suspects and habitual offenders. They attain their status because, usually, they are more than decent, respectable, older, generally loved people. More so than I, anyways. They are the people who most of us would not want to offend by protesting. But because their unintentionally careless behaviors are never sanctioned, they persist in believing that 'they know enough Rules to get by'. Eventually, the severity of their errors results in contact, damage and injury. At that point, only, do they have to pay: they are protested; they are disqualified; they pay (or their insurance pays) for damages, or for injuries. And they learn a rule they didn't know they didn't know before.

What I really want to drive home is that these repeat offenders have enablers. Their co-dependents are all of the rest of us who previously refrained from protesting their frequent infringements of the RRS's. When damage is ultimately done, the rest of us should share in recompensing the victim. We never do, of course, because we can't be brought to justice: no paper trail of unfiled protests is maintained.

Regarding unfiled protests, a particularly egregious case occurred recently. On the way back from the docks, walking toward the clubhouse, I engaged another skipper in a conversation. He said he had been protested (on the water) and had informed the protesting skipper that he was on the way to see the Race Committee in order to withdraw his boat from the race. But it turned out that before he could inform the RC about withdrawing, he found out that he had corrected out into 1st place. That news excited him so much that he just forgot to withdraw. In effect, he withdrew his withdrawal and without so informing the protesting skipper.

I have to disclose I am not perfect. Far from it. I have caused physical damage out there on the water. And paid. Two serious encounters in the past come to mind. I work hard on personally curtailing those kind of impulses and miscalculations on my part which have resulted in collisions. And if I may be permitted a moment of schadenfreude, I take a secret pleasure in each current collision in which I'm not involved: with each such occurrence, my boat recedes further from the top of the list of the usual suspects.

But I probably am on the top of one list. And maybe I relish being number one when it comes to:

  • Always carrying my protest flag close by and in easy reach from the helm.
  • Always being aware of which rules address situations evolving around The Good Guys while racing.
  • Always being ready to protest whenever another boat has materially infringed upon the The Good Guys' right-of-way.
  • Always willing to announce my protests by hoisting a red flag and by hailing the other boat.
  • Always following through with a written protest within the time limit provided unless & until informed by the Race Committee that the offending boat had retired.

I don't mind at all being on the top of others' list for being a frequent litigator. It's just me doing my own small Corinthian bit in looking out for the safety of everyone in our great fleet.

Someone has to do it.


  1. All fine and good. But how are the GOOD GUYS doing?

  2. We're doing all right. Nothing spectacular. But okay.

  3. I understand that a demolition derby of racing trucks constitutes a contact sport. Bullfighting is also a contact sport. But the latter is not on a level playing field. No matter how well the bull fights, even when he wins, he is always killed.

  4. Good comment!Yeah! Someone ought to find out if that bull had a given name. If so, he should get a monument! All he did was to do 'is level best to take out a whole stadium of Micheal Vicks.

  5. Ditto the last two comments. Find out the name of this here martyred bull. And that's what I'll name my Harbor-20, should I ever acquire one!