Boston Harbor Sailing Club...More Time on the Water...

Protests - June 23, 2004



There was a protest on Wednesday evening, and as has been my custom, I want to share the situation and the decision for the benefit of everyone. I am citing rules from the U.S. Sailing rules in brief from their Website., which you should store in your favorites file.


The situation concerned Teams D and F during the run of race 3.


Team D rounded the mark behind Team F and both boats set spinnakers. Somewhere in this time after the rounding, about a quarter of the way down the leg, Team D established an overlap to leeward of Team F.


As the leg continued, Team D hailed Team F that they (Team D) were leeward boat and Team F should keep clear. Team F made no alteration of course and eventually her boom made contact with the spinnaker of Team D.


Team D protested under rule 11.

WINDWARD-LEEWARD.  When boats are overlapped on the same tack, the windward boat must keep clear.  (Rule 11)


Team F defending itself with the assertion that Team D had overtaken from astern within two boat lengths and by holding to a rhumb line course to the mark, she (Team F) was within her rights under Rule 17. Team F contended that Team D had sailed above her proper course, thereby causing the foul. [But Team F did not protest Team D.]


There are two points to be made here. One regarding the form of the protest and one regarding the rules. To do that it is useful to consider the following summary from the rules.



If the other boat must keep clear, you have "right of way". Even if you have right of way, there are limitations on what you can do:


AVOID CONTACT.  You must avoid contact with other boats, but a right-of-way boat will not be penalized under this rule unless the contact causes damage.  (Rule 14)

ACQUIRING RIGHT OF WAY.  When you do something to become the right-of-way boat, you must give the other boat a chance to get away from you.  (Rule 15)

CHANGING COURSE.  When you change course, you must give the other boat a chance to keep clear.  (Rule 16)

ON THE SAME TACK; PROPER COURSE.  If you are overlapped to leeward of a boat on the same tack, and if just before the overlap began you were clear astern of her, you cannot sail above your proper course (i.e., the course that will take you to the next mark the fastest) while you remain overlapped.  (Rule 17.1)

Let’s look at how last night’s situation developed in light of the Limitations section of the rules quoted above.

First, Team D did not present a fact of how the overlap was established. But she repeatedly hailed Team F, which Team F did not deny. Team D also, in the protest hearing, said she had taken a course directly down the rhumb line to the mark. (Team F also said she was directly on her rhumb line to the pin.) In her protest, Team D said that Team F “was crowding her 2 minutes before the infraction.”


It seems clear that Team D followed the prescriptions for establishing her “right of way” position and for giving Team F the chance to keep clear. Nor, apparently, did Team D alter her course without allowing Team F opportunity to keep clear.


So let’s look at Rule 17.1. Team D did not cite this rule in her protest, and from the beginning of the discussion did not clearly present a factual description of how the overlap was established or just when. (It’s important in our short races, when boats are racing close together, to be certain where you are in relation to other boats, and if an incident occurs, to poll the crew to reconstruct these important details immediately while they are fresh in your mind, so you can present a factual case to the protest committee. In fact, during the hearing Team D couldn’t recall in what order the two boats had rounded the windward mark.)


If Team D had separated from Team F by more than two boat lengths after the rounding and caught up enough distance so that she then established the overlap from the side, this is called “converging” overlap. If Team D were converging on Team F in this situation, she had the rights to luff Team F up to head to wind. But this does not seem to have been the case.


Under Rule 17.1, Team D has rights to sail her proper course and Team F is obliged to keep clear. Team F has the obligation, in a hearing, to prove that Team D sailed above her proper course to exonerate herself from the protest.


How easily can Team F prove this? The answer is “not very easily.” Let’s look at what a “proper course” means. The rule above says (i.e., the course that will take you to the next mark the fastest). So this can vary depending on the conditions. But it definitely does not limit the leeward boat to sailing a rhumb line course.

In light air, as we had last night, the proper downwind course could be 40 degrees above the rhumb line to sail faster even though over a longer distance. It’s also called “tacking downwind.” And we saw a lot of that last night with boats gibing back and forth for the best angle on the runs. So Team F needed to be prepared to avoid Team D and not hold directly on the rhumb line course.


The governing rule here is that the “proper course” which the skipper thinks is the fastest way to the mark is set by the leeward boat, even if she has overtaken from astern to gain her overlap.


The decision: The protest was disallowed on a technicality. (Doesn’t that sound like a cop out?) The finishing order of the race stands. (Team F nosed out Team D at the end.)


Here’s why we made that decision.  Team D protested under the wrong rule, Rule 11 instead of Rule 17.1. She didn’t establish enough important factual information to make her case, reflecting a less than perfect understanding of all the rules, which applied to the situation, particularly Rule 17.1.


That said, it seems clear that Team F was in the wrong through her claim that she had the right to a “proper course,” and she would have been disqualified if the case had been presented properly.


Neither Team avoided contact as called for in Rule 14 above. So a hard-nosed Race Committee had the grounds to disqualify BOTH boats for failure under this rule. Remember, Avoiding Contact is the first rule to follow in racing.


In a separate decision, Team W was awarded scores equal to the average of her previous finishes in the series. The turnbuckles in her shrouds had been left unpinned and the rig kept de-tuning itself through out the evening. (Scorer please note.)


See you next week! 


Captain Herb Motley, BHSC


Mailing Address: 58 Batterymarch Street #211 Boston MA 02110-3207
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