no flag, no foul

One of the most frustrating things about doing any umpiring or more accurately “On the Water Judging” at a regatta is seeing a clear infringement, hearing lots of shouting, itching to reach for your flag and then the word “Protest” doesn’t get used and no little red thing ( a ‘B’ Flag) thrown “conspicuously” in the air.
All that means is that someone has broken the rules, clearly made someone else unhappy and apprehensive (from the shouting) and made their enjoyment of that day on the water even just a little bit. That cannot be good for our sport as if people are not getting full enjoyment from their leisure time they are less likely to want to come back, perhaps only a very little less happy but like creeping torture, if they don’t enjoy it enough times we risk losing one more from our sport.
Ours is a self-policing sport. Even at the highest level those officiating on the water are NOT referees, they are umpires, a call has to be made, a request for a decision has to be made – chances are a good umpire has already made his or hers.
If there is no one on the water judging – take them to the room. If you are wrong, you will lean why, if they were wrong THEY will learn why. I have yet to see a protest committee (PC) dealing with any case in other than a proper manner and most delight in assisting the growth in rules knowledge of a less experienced racer. In fact I have yet to see in goodness knows how many protests with varied PCs anything other than patience and understanding with a newer racer.
I have however seen raised eyebrows after a hearing where someone who knows the rules has clearly ‘tried it on’. You know who you are.
Sometimes the only way for people to learn the rules (OR to learn they cannot get away with breaking the rules they clearly know) is to be called out. I am however sure there are many racers out there who depend on the other boat either not knowing OR being too shy or timid to raise the flag. I am sure many readers immediately have one that springs to mind.
The worst thing that can happen is the incident is ‘greened’. No-one who is sailing fair should get all uppity if, when the umpire/judge is asked for an opinion, that opinion is given. If nothing else it keeps people honest.
One of the most abused rules situation is coming into the bottom mark. Many skippers forget how far back up the race course the overlap situation can reach if boats approach on opposite gybes. Just think about the definition of clear ahead (or otherwise) and it could be half way up the downwind leg.
On the other side of the coin a boat could drop their spinnaker early when clear ahead (remember the zone) and a late dropper suddenly be inside overlapped a boat length later WITH NO INSIDE RIGHTS but take them (Rule 18.2(b)). In many case I’m sure they don’t think they are wrong but as they say, ignorance is no defence.
If you have the luxury of an on the water judge – on the water strangely enough – make the call. If you don’t they might as well just be sitting chatting and discussing the weather – or better still (for them) just sitting in the bar waiting for racers to come ashore.
Another example that springs to mind was at a keelboat regatta where 3 or 4 boats had booked their place close to the committee boat with about 30 seconds to go. Down speed (I don’t quite know why – they weren’t sailing Lasers) and way too early when another boat came in at speed and sailed between two boats. It got so crowded it was impossible to see the contact that resulted in a clearly audible low thud of GRP hitting GRP. Senses were heightened on the judge boat waiting for the shout and flag but none came.
The windward boat had nowhere to go as they were already overlapped with the stern of the committee boat and the leeward boat had rights under Rule 11. The boat charging in had rights on the windward boat but had to allow them room to keep clear (Rule 15) but the windward boat had nowhere to go. Either way, and whichever boat they hit they were clearly wrong. Flag ready, whistle ready but a dangerous move went unpunished because no one flew the flag so the barger got away with it.
Fortunately there was no damage but the aggrieved boat would be wasting their time asking for a ruling on who should pay for the repairs if there had been any. No Flag, no foul!
Stupid thing was that if the barger had sailed on a couple of boat lengths into a gap with clear air they would have maintained their momentum and been long gone by the time the boats who had been sitting with flapping sails had got up to speed.
I suppose reading the rule book or going on a rules seminar might also help. – SS.