ticky tack?

The discussion started when I called the first picture as illegal. It was in a forum thread in Sailing Anarchy called “Best Pic of the year” (Post Number 43). I was advised that it was “fucking obvious to a 9th grader that it wasn’t illegal”.  Welcome to my Room. 

Well I am no Bryan Willis or Dave Perry although I do have ambitions (some would call it pretentions) to eventually reach the dizzy heights of IU & IJ but am currently a mere beginner with only 700 or so umpired races under my belt but I do know a man, well several actually, who have rules knowledge and experience way beyond mine.

I started the research on the rule initially to satisfy myself that, should I ever have a case like this, whether on the water or in the room, that I would not make an incorrect decision. It then became clear that sailors could fall foul of this rule (RRS 49) through not knowing the finer points and it may be beneficial to share the finer details and judges/umpires views.

It has been clear to me for a long time that it is dangerous to assume that, just because someone has been a racer for a long time, their rules knowledge is up to scratch. This was highlighted during a rules forum I was running in my home town – (yeah, you’ve guessed it, Shanghai) when during the ‘Definitions’ session a racer who I have tons of respect for blurted out “Is that what the definition really means?” I just responded with “Read the words” but it did surprise me.

Rule 49 is a rule in the book for safety otherwise it would be permissible to be hanging off all kinds of appendages, even offshore. (some IOR boats even used to have trapezes under the old rules).

So I wrote to the powers that be, US Sailing Appeals committee and World Sailing Rules committee with disappointingly, not even an acknowledgement of receipt.

The sailor in the picture claimed they had dropped the pole in readiness for the gybe and he was acting as a ‘’human pole” (his words). Rule 49 has two words in it that gave me cause for concern in their looseness and ability to be interpreted in different ways, namely “necessary” and “briefly”. I can understand ‘necessary’ being used to apply to situations involving danger and/or the safety of vessel and/or crew and situations which may result in damage.

The second word “briefly” is also open to interpretation and the rule provides no guidance to just what time scale ‘briefly’ actually is. For my own part I thought “acting as a human pole” fell well outside that definition.

I was first pointed in the direction of the US Appeals book :

USA Appeal US72
Rule 49.2, Crew Position; Lifelines
Family Hour vs. Zephyros

A crew member briefly leaning out over a boat’s lifelines to hold a spinnaker guy after the pole has been removed in preparation for rounding a mark does not break rule 49.2.

Facts and Decision of the Protest Committee

When approximately 30 seconds from the leeward mark, Zephyros released the spinnaker guy from the spinnaker pole and a crew member held the guy by hand, leaning out over the lifelines so as to maximize the distance between the hull and the guy until the spinnaker had to be lowered. Lifelines were required by the class rules. The protest committee disqualified Zephyros under rule 49.2 and she appealed.

Decision of the Appeals Committee 

Rule 49.2 allows the torso of a crew member to be outside the lifelines briefly if the crew is performing “a necessary task.” Without a spinnaker pole, a spinnaker is less efficient and more unstable. As a boat prepares to round a leeward mark, removing the pole is one of the first necessary steps. From that time until the spinnaker is lowered, holding the guy by hand is a less effective but nonetheless useful means of controlling the spinnaker, which remains a “necessary task” even without the pole. This interval of time is normally a brief one, since generally there is no advantage in flying a spinnaker without a pole.

In this case, where there were approximately 30 seconds remaining before rounding the mark, the time between releasing the guy and lowering the spinnaker was necessarily shorter than that, and met the requirement of “briefly.”

Zephyros’ appeal is upheld. The protest committee’s decision is reversed, and Zephyros is reinstated in her finishing place.

However when you go to the World Sailing latest Case Book there is a ruling in Case 83 which appears to contradict the US Appeal. Less of the torso outside and only for short periods of time. (a fraction of the 30 seconds in the US Sailing appeal)

The Case Book is available on the technical site of www.sailing.org and with the current lock down, it is certainly something that is worth reading for serious sailors. It states that a crew member placing part of their torso outside the lifelines in conditions where there was 3 second gusts breaks RRS 49

Mmm – contradiction indeed.

So I wrote to a group of Umpires and Judges I have worked with in the past with the photo with my quandary. With such differences, and bearing in mind the fact I could be sitting on a jury, or judging on the water where, if a deliberate breaking of the rules, a judge initiated penalty would be appropriate.

My first point was ‘would the WS ruling over-rule the US Appeal? Or would an appeal be upheld in the USA but in the rest of the world it would be a DSQ if protested? ’

World sailing rules the rules and of course a US Sailing Appeal case has no bearing outside the United States – point one cleared up. The officials I wrote to have between them officiated at multiple America’s Cups, National, Regional & World championships and other major regattas, even the Olympics so a fairly knowledgeable group of guys and a mix of judges and umpires (some are both)

The general consensus was that if the spinnaker take down required the tack of the spinnaker be “briefly” held by placing the torso outside the lifelines to prevent the spinnaker either wrapping the forestay or going under the boat as part of a take-down, then that would be legal.  If however the pole was taken away and the take down didn’t proceed immediately or “a brief time interval later” then that would be worthy of a penalty.

A couple initially thought it may be mid gybe but on a closer look, if it were end for end, where is the pole hanging from the uphaul and it couldn’t be a dip pole as, not only is the pole not attached to the mast, it wouldn’t be able to swing through due to the partially hoisted jib.

In the photograph in question the jib is still on the foredeck and it would normally be hoisted before a spinnaker take down so it is likely that the photograph was not in ‘mid-drop’. There is a crew member at the mast who appears to be pulling on a halyard (presumably hoisting the jib), the crew member clearly with his torso outside the lifelines in what appears to be a settled position and a third crew member aft of the mast who doesn’t appear to be taking any part in the proceedings. So the pole has been taken off early and no immediate attempt to continue with the spinnaker drop.

Would that satisfy the definition of “briefly” or indeed “necessary”? Necessary perhaps but does the pole really need to come off before the jib is raised?

However the time from when the pole came off through the time to hoist the jib and then drop the spinnaker would be hard pushed to be classed as “briefly”. The general consensus of the officials polled was that if the pole came off, was stowed and the drop then continued with the tack of the sail held for that brief or short time there would be no penalty but if the pole came off and was held in the manner of the photograph while other tasks were being performed it would break RSS 49.2

An on the water judge could not penalise the action unless it was seen to be deliberate. A judge would most likely issue a warning post race and then (naturally) be keenly watching that competitor next time round.

Of course, if another competitor saw the action they could raise the flag and protest. The on the water judge could then be called as a witness in any subsequent hearing.

I would finish by stating it gives me no pleasure in calling out someone, however the next time it might be a real protest and could put quite a dent in the chance of winning a regatta. 

In the second picture there is no doubt, not for the boat closest to the camera but the one in the background is certainly worth a flag unless they are going for a really early drop. 

Open to discussion as always. See ya on the water.


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