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Andrew Campbell's Monday Morning Tactician

by Andrew Campbell on 9 Apr 2008
It’s Monday again and this past week has provided its fair share of head-scratching incidents that have sent me to the rulebook for a little clarification.

We’ve been in Hyeres, along the south coast of France between Nice and Marseille for the last ten days enjoying the improving spring temperatures and varying breeze common to the area during this time of the year. I was able to hook in with a small training group made up of the top Swedes, Norwegians, and an Austrian sailor who descended upon the Base Nautique for a week-long camp. Yesterday after much of the group had gone home just Kristian, Stian and I headed around the peninsula that protects the bay from westerly breezes, into the waves and wonderment of the open Mediterranean…

Our coach Brian Stanford was there to capture the action. Enjoy: Hyeres Training Session-Downwind.

Now that everybody has been sufficiently distracted by the film footage, I’m sure that nobody’s reading this Monday Morning Tactician analysis, so at least there’s no pressure for good literature. We had one incident in particular this week that seems a very common after practice. It was a major point of contention a couple of months ago at a training camp in Terrigal and it came up again here this week. It involves two boats traveling around a windward mark. The boat ahead having pinched to get around the mark is going decidedly slower than an oncoming boat behind also trying to bear away around the mark. As the boat ahead heels to windward very tight to the mark and then gets his bow down leaving a space between him and the mark the boat behind is having a stellar mark rounding, wide and looking to leave the mark tight to his port side. As the boat ahead rolls into a gybe, he realizes that all of a sudden a starboard tack, leeward boat has appeared in between him and the mark preventing him from completing his gybe onto port (or in many cases, prevents the Laser from making a full 180 from close-hauled on starboard to by-the-lee on starboard). Where did this guy come from? He didn’t have room at the mark when the first boat entered the two boat-length circle… but now he’s yelling 'Hey, I’m the leeward boat and I’m on starboard. Now get out of my way!' And the boat ahead must crash-turn out of his maneuver and veer off in the other direction yielding the left side of the racecourse (looking downwind) to the other boat’s control.

For the boat behind, this seems like a totally reasonable play to force a boat ahead to have a bad rounding. As soon as the boat ahead slips his transom away from the mark, there is very little (besides maybe a rule) preventing the boat behind from tossing his bow between the boat ahead and the mark. In most classes, this is entirely possible without incident because the boat ahead usually has to clear away from the mark before it can setup for the run anyway. For the Laser, which covers such a massive amount of angle change without gybing downwind, thanks to by-the-lee capabilities, and for any other boat trying to pull off a gybe-set after having pinched around the windward mark, there is a constant threat of a boat behind just pulling into that lane and preventing you from pursuing that option.

When boats are 'about to round or pass a mark,' Rule 18 (involving room at marks and other happy incidents surrounding obstructions) applies until all the boats involved in the incident have moved on from having been 'about to round or pass a mark.' Very generally, from the time your bow overlaps the mark to when ??your transom breaks overlap with the mark you are rounding or passing that mark and thereby restricted by the hullabaloo of Rule 18. This rule gets fuzzy in our situation today because, the boat ahead has essentially exited from the mark, but because the boat behind is still in the act of 'passing and rounding' the mark the procedures for Rule 18 and specifically 18.2(c) [but who’s counting?] still apply to him as well as all the boats involved with him. For our case 18.2(c) is the only rule we’re really talking about because our boat ahead entered the two-boat length zone clear ahead of the boat behind. The boat behind therefore did not have an inside overlap and in no way is entitled to room of any sort at the mark. Because rule 18 applies for both boats for the duration of time that it takes both boats to round the mark the boat behind is the keep-clear-boat throughout, and cannot interfere with any gybes or directional changes that the boat ahead may desire to make. It is a very complicated scenario because it seems counterintuitive for the boat behind not to stick his nose between the mark and a boat ahead of him having a bad rounding. But because it is likely that when he does get his nose stuck in there he is still overlapped with the mark, he still falls under rule 18 and therefore must keep clear the entire time. Dave Perry’s book: 'Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing' has outstanding commentary and illustration of this point on pages 169-171. I hate sounding like one of my little brother’s professors (Today’s readings are not required but strongly recommended!) ugh… but the extra reading is worth checking out for further clarification and some great illustrations.

Monday Morning Tactician Says: This is a curious case where the boat behind wants to take control of a situation by being taking advantage of his newly acquired power position of leeward, starboard, and upwind thereby controlling all lanes to leeward. We must be careful to recognize the rights of the boat clear ahead. Often times that boats rights are heavily restricting to the boat behind’s actions, but with a little finesse we should be able to slice and dice our way past without too much controversy. When you are the boat behind going into a weather mark like this, it is OK, and indeed recommended to set up for a better mark rounding than the boat ahead of you. But, make sure to give that boat his space. As soon as you realize that he is not going to round hard by-the-lee or gybe and you can cleanly slip off to that desired side of the race course, then go for it. Remembering that anticipation is generally the single most powerful weapon in your arsenal, being ready to pounce regardless of the other boat’s actions will ensure that you gain throughout the situation.

If we are the boat ahead it and we want to make a break for that hard leeward turn or gybe, then it is important to make it clear to the boat astern that he has no right to prevent you from doing so. Usually a simple hail 'Hey I’m going to gybe, and you have NO room!' will do the trick. Most importantly, don’t be frazzled if things don’t go exactly as planned. Having to pinch around the mark and have a slow exit does limit our options to some extent, and especially in the Laser fleet there is a whole swarm of guys ready to jam it into places where they probably shouldn’t go. Like the boat astern, having anticipation on our side is important as well. If hailing to the boat astern doesn’t work out as planned and he commits a foul, then we need to have gone through in our heads how best to handle the situation: Hail 'Protest' and then change to Plan-B as quickly and smoothly as if you it had been your original strategy. Most importantly, don’t be shaken by it, stick to the protocol of the rules, file a protest if you wish, and make sure that you beat the other guy to the finish line.

Monday Morning Tacitician (TM) is written by Andrew Campbell for If you enjoy this column please consider donating towards his Olympic Campaign through 'JustGive' or check out the 'How to Support' lin
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