Yesterday I forsook my Laser and helmed a Kestrel two-hander - the results were less than spectacular (all right, dead last place coupled with an ocean dip could even be considered as downright awful). But that is not the subject of the post (does my ego really need to rehash it?), but rather a lesson learned (or more accurately, re-learned).
Sailing is, as pointed out by a colleague over a post-race beer, not a contact sport and the rules reflect this. Yesterday, during the minutes before the start when I should have been focused on looking for the favored end, timing runs out and back, thinking about the first leg, etc., I was using most of my mental energy on dealing with an unfamiliar boat which, by the way, has an extra sail and person aboard, compared to my Laser, not to mention a spinnaker with all sorts of ropes attached which come out in weird places. As we reached 10 seconds to go, I was coming up from leeward on a starboard tack, subtly suggesting to a couple of windward boats that they should perhaps consider luffing up a bit (the official transcript reads something like " GO UP, UP, UP you $**$@#, get the #$*%^ out of the way"), the result of which the immediately windward boat observed in a somewhat voluble manner, that while Rule 11 did indeed oblige him to do so, his ability to execute the required maneuver was impacted negatively by the presence of another immediately windward boat who for reasons not entirely clear, had not sufficiently luffed up in response to my suggestions. (Official transcript "Hey, I hear you, but I can't do anything - you can't just keep coming up on me, you [something unintelligible muttered])”. Immediately thereafter, contact was made among several boats, several observations were exchanged and after disentangling, everyone sailed off. The gentlemen to my windward did, although there was no individual recall from the RC, chivalrously restart in view of his being luffed (well, physically pushed) over the start line.
So, the point of all this was to remind me (once again) that right of way boats have “right of way”, which is not the same as a letter of marque authorizing them to capture and pillage other boats.
First, even the keep-clear boat has some rights. Rule 16.1 provides that
“When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.”
“Room” means “the space a boat needs in the existing conditions while manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way.”
Next, even if a right of way boat is giving the keep-clear boat room but contact is imminent, it must act to avoid contact.
Rule 14 sets it out:
“A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However a right-of-way boat or one entitled to room or mark-room
(a) need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room or mark-room, and
(b) shall not be penalized under this rule unless there is contact that causes damage or injury.”
So, I was initially right, but then I was wrong (twice).
I had right of way and could luff windward boats as much as I wanted. Rule 17 which requires a boat becoming overlapped from clear astern within 2 boat lengths to sail its proper course does not apply – because a boat has no proper course before the start.
But, as I was luffing up with my right of way, I was changing course and I was required to give the keep-clear boat room. My windward friend could hardly maneuver promptly in a seamanlike way to keep clear and my continuing to luff him only made things worse.
At that point I had already infringed Rule 16.1 with respect to my immediate windward boat and so I don’t think I had right of way more over him, but I did for the next windward boat that had plenty of room to maneuver. If there had been a protest, it would have been against the second boat.
And, finally, even if I continued to have the right of way and the windward boat had room to keep clear, when it became obvious that the windward boat was not going to avoid contact, I had the obligation to try to avoid contact. The thought crossed my mind to bear off and I glanced to leeward and noticed another boat coming up – oh, let’s be honest, I didn’t make any serious effort to avoid contact.
At any rate, it was all discussed over a glass of beer afterward and in a friendly, constructive mood - good sportsmanship is alive and well in our club.