If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

Many will remember the controversy over last year’s Middle Sea Race run by Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC).

Let me preface the below by saying I still think Comanche sailed an incredible race to take Like Honours and the Course Record but not quite good enough without Race Committee assistance for the treble. This is a view supported, without exception, by those I have spoken with who are far more knowledgeable and experienced with the Racing Rules of Sailing than myself.

A brief re-cap.

70 boats had finished the Race Committee declared an ‘alternative’ finish line reducing the length of the course by around 20 miles. (To reduce the length of something is a description of the word ‘shorten’ in many dictionaries)

This decision was taken more than 24 hours after the first boat had finished.

To see why there was controversy, a controversy which has yet to be properly addressed by the parties managing the race, one only needs to follow the paper trail. In this case, the paper trail is all in one book, the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS)

Right up front, the RRS reminds us that general terms have the meaning normally understood in nautical or general usage.

Moving on to RRS32 “Shortening or abandoning after the start”. Two key elements here are the rule lists NO exceptions regarding the reason for shortening. It also includes the word “Shall”. No choice in the matter then. It states “The shortened course SHALL be signaled BEFORE the first boat crosses the finish line. In the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2021 it was signaled AFTER around 70 boats had crossed the finish line.

Of course, RRS32 can be changed (see RRS 86 where 32 is NOT listed as one of the rules which cannot be changed.)

However, the Appendix regarding Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions again uses the word “Shall”.

J1.2 states “ The Notice of Race shall include any of the following that will apply” and in J1.2(2) Changes to the racing rules authorized by World Sailing (see RRS 86)

However, the Race documents DID NOT list RRS32 as being changed or deleted therefore it was IN FORCE. Quid quo pro.

The Race Committee shortened the course to an alternative finish line for the late finishers citing safety.

But who’s safety? RRS3 “Decision to Race” states “The responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone” so that was already covered.

The conditions at the original (and following the SI’s the actual finish line) were forecast to be gnarly and if boats entered while they were still racing fingers many have been pointed at The Club but if they were entering on their own reconnaissance having finished racing then RMYC was off the hook. The irony is that, all but one of the late finishers entered the harbour in any case with the only one that didn’t being berthed elsewhere on Malta.

SO, Race Committee error, no problem, apply for redress which was promptly denied by the International Jury.

One could reasonably assume that they (club and jury) feel they did nothing wrong and to date, nobody from either party has endeavored to explain how they could make such decisions that fly in the face of the sailing rule book.

Until a few months ago when a public statement was made by Royal Malta Yacht Club where they mention the “unfortunate controversy” from the last race. That controversy would evaporate if the Race Committee and/or the International Jury could or would explain how shortening the course for whatever reason as was done with no mention in the Sailing Instructions that was permissible to do so was within the rules of sailing.

The whole release about the 2022 Rolex Middle Sea Race can be read here:


Of course if they can’t then the wrong name is on the trophy – sorry Comanche.

Further, in the statement on the club’s website they announce that the RORC Sailing Manager will take over as the Race Director and there is to be a new Chairman of the International Jury. Why is this necessary if they got everything right in 2021?

The incident and the subsequent “controversy” was of course heightened by the fact that for 24 hours one boat had won only for that victory to be taken away by the actions of the Race Committee, actions that, by the letter of the Racing Rules of Sailing they were not entitled to do.

Of course, like many more high-profile events, there is no appeal to an International Jury decision setting that jury up as the event’s equivalent of the US Supreme Court and is perhaps understandable as the sponsors (amongst others) prefer a definite decision before the end of the event. Perhaps that needs to be looked at in the future.

We did receive an email from a concerned RMYC member who overheard one of the committee saying they wanted a ‘big boat’ winner but let’s not go there as there is a country mile between someone wanting something and actually doing anything untoward to make it happen and yes, unlike the US Secret Service we haven’t lost that email.

The bottom line is sometimes people make huge mistakes and nobody notices while at other times a small mistake is made in front of the eyes of the world and everyone notices and the error of omitting the single line in the SI’s to exclude RRS32 is unlikely to happen again.

Lets hope the 2022 Rolex Middle Sea Race is without unwanted attention due to a similar simple error.

Alistair Skinner aka Shanghai Sailor