a matter of principle

I sometimes wonder how many, or how often, some sailors break a rule and think ‘Well if they don’t protest then it isn’t a problem’ or’ I don’t need to do turns if they don’t make a fuss or show a flag.

Less experienced sailors may know the rules to a lesser extend or feel they cannot protest someone with much more racing experience and are therefore perhaps are a little ‘shy’ about calling out a more experienced sailor, after all they know the rules. Don’t they?

And there lies part of the problem, some sailors know the rules and willingly break them to gain an advantage which if that is at the expense of a less experienced sailor can only have one title- bullying.

Add to that, knowingly breaking a rule hoping you can get away with it is cheating, pure and simple. You think I am wrong?  The Racing Rules of Sailing starts at the beginning of the book and goes right through to Rule 92 (plus some appendices)

Most sailors understand Part 2 although 18 is a den of iniquity to many and 14,15 & 16 are often mis-understood. Further forward in the rule book I have come across sailors of many years standing whose eyes almost popped out when they had some of the definitions properly explained to them.

And before that, right at the beginning are the Introduction and Basic Principles, I wonder if some sailors have ever read this part.

We are a self-policing sport and that means policing our own actions as well as those of others (the flag and word protest for example) or doing our turns because WE know WE have broken a rule.

The basic principles state “when a competitor breaks a rule they will promptly take a penalty”. Now I am quite prepared to cut some slack when people don’t fully understand a rule because they are new but surely when entering to play any game rules knowledge is part of the basics. Try playing chess for example when not knowing how the Knight may move.

So what if it can be proven someone knows they are breaking a rule and DON’T take a penalty?

Is it fair? Of course not, so in short order we move on to Rule 2, Fair Sailing leading to, if proven, a DSQ or DNE. A couple of them in a regatta or series and the number could very swiftly become 69.

My advice is if someone breaks a rule or you think he is breaking a rule, show that flag conspicuously, shout the word protest loudly. You might be wrong but if you don’t properly validate the protest it doesn’t matter what they did the protest hearing will get no further than a validation check.

You can always withdraw the protest. Let me clarify that. Most Sailing Instructions (and apologies to the more experienced sailors on this long explanation) require the protest flag remains flying for the rest of the race and some that you specifically inform the race committee at the end of the race. 

Then you have to complete a protest form and lodge it within the protest time limit. You don’t have to be De Vinci with your drawing and if he was windward and didn’t keep clear you don’t have to remember it was Rule 10 (Just testing it is actually 11) but the basic facts will help the committee with their understanding.

Up until the form goes in you can always change your mind and not complete the protest process. To complete the protest scenario you also need to inform the protestee that you are in fact going ahead with the protest.

Sometimes the other party will just retire but don’t take their word for it, I have had occasion where the rule breaker lied, only to find out after the protest time limit and the protest NOT be accepted – only happened once though, a long time ago.

Once the Protest Committee has the form however the protest can only be withdrawn if they allow that to happen (RRS 63.1) although a request to withdraw is more often than not acceded to.

So shout out, fly the flag, otherwise the bullies and cheats get away with it. We can’t have it both ways and be self policing if we don’t step up and actually call these people out. – SS.