Monday, October 19, 2015


We had an incident in our club last week that left a bad taste in our mouths.

One of our best sailors - let's call him Sinbad -  has not been sailing with us much lately since he often goes to another club with better competition.  When he races with us he is almost always in the first 2 places. But last weekend he came to sail with us and we were glad to see him again.

Since our best sailor was not there, Sinbad was practically guaranteed to win the 3 races scheduled for the day - and he did so.   But, it was clear that he was cheating in the process.

At one of the starts I was coming up below him near the Committee Boat and yelled "up, up" and he just looked at me and said "but I am stopped here and can't do anything".  He made no effort to sheet in and turn up. 

On a broad reach toward the leeward mark, I was about 2 boat lengths behind him and another boat and he was blatantly violating Rule 17, luffing the windward boat far, far above his proper course. I yelled at him and said "Hey, Sinbad, you are way above your proper course. This is Bull***".   He didn't react at all and sailed on.

The wind was relatively light and on several other legs he was rocking and pumping like crazy - one particular incident occurred when a middle of the fleet sailor was briefly ahead of him.

No one protested and no said anything to him back on shore about the cheating. He acted as if nothing had happened and didn't say anything about my yelling at him.   He left as soon as his boat was derigged.

Several of us talked about it afterward - basically shaking our heads and saying the whole thing was so unnecessary for him. 

I really don't know the best approach to take.  We don't have a culture of protesting in our club and when an incident does occur on the water, we usually discuss it in the bar afterwards and sometimes I post a Rules Quiz based on the incident for comments and general education during the following week.

But Sinbad is very experienced and surely knows Rules 17 and 42 and I had shouted at him on the water. He chose to blatantly cheat.

Should we have protested or at least said something back on shore and gotten the issue out in the open?  Sinbad would have won anyhow. Nothing really changed for the other sailors' standings. 

Sinbad has been a supporter of the club, volunteering for duties in the past, and his son is very active in the youth program. And Sinbad is sailing less and less with our club.

As a general matter, sailing is self-policing and no one, including the protest committee, is required to call a foul.  If no one wants to protest, even in big regattas, many judges will leave it at that for routine violations, even if they see one. Nothing in Rule 60 requires anyone to protest a boat, with "may" being the operative word (except when the Race Committee receives a report from an equipment inpsector or measurer on weighing of clothing/equipment or compliance with class rules)..

But, of course, sailing with Sinbad will never the same for several of us who understood what was going on.  I had always felt he pushed the limit of rules, but this was far beyond the limit. 

What is the best solution?


  1. I think the best approach would be to get out a rule book and have a discussion with him. Make it sound as if you are just trying to understand the Rules and want to learn from him. Give him the benefit of the doubt until you hear him out.

    "Can you please explain Rule 17 to me. Look this is what it says in the Rule Book. How does this apply to that time when you were luffing so-and-so last week?" And, as I am sure you know, whether or not he could sail above his proper course depends on how the overlap was established. Maybe a discussion of how the overlap was established would be productive - I know I sometimes forget myself.

    Similarly with the Rule 42 and start line incidents. He may genuinely see things differently from you, or even if he is knowingly breaking the rules, he might respond to a friendly, open-minded discussion .

    You may think he's cheating but I doubt it would be productive to call him a "cheat" publicly.

    One thing we did when we had a frequent Rule 42 violator in our fleet was to ask one of the fleet to run a Rule 42 seminar for us, including going through all the ISAF interpretations. It triggered a good discussion and calmed things down for a while.

    And then, if all else fails, change the culture of the fleet so that protests are acceptable, and protest the bugger.

  2. Not being quiet on the race course toward the violator (which you weren't) is a good beginning. I must admit at falling behind on the rules somewhat as the last copy I have in the house is the previous edition to the current set. But you must be careful with Rule 17 as it is a dynamic rule which does allow a leeward boat that starts clear ahead to luff above the straight line course to the mark. You didn't detail whether Sinbad was clear ahead or overtaking in this incident.

    Stuart Walker has a theory of everyone being mindful of the "pecking order" within a fleet. It is my experience when that pecking order has changed, some competitors react like Sinbad. To wit - Sinbad was top dog in your fleet. He now returns to the fleet that has improved and he is now scrapping with competitors he used to easily beat. To maintain the proper pecking order (in his mind with him on top) justifies some bending of the rules. Just remind him that he now returns, no longer a sailing god, but a common mortal and must obey mortal's rules.

  3. Thanks to the 2 Tmans for the thoughtful comments.

    FYI - Sinbad established the overlap from clear astern within 2 hull lengths - so he was restricted by Rule 17 to not sailing above his proper course

  4. This is a real pain in the butt that has to be addressed or else you'll start to lose good sailors. No one wants to protest at the club level but that may be necessary. Get several witnesses so that it does not look personal but rather something that protects the fleet. And if he continues pumping, suggest a windsurfer.


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