Two Laser's (let's call them W & L) are sailing downwind on starboard tack (booms are over their port sides), 2-5 boat lengths apart as they progress downwind, W is to starboard of L, overlapped and neither has broken overlap in many minutes. Wind on this leg wind has decreased to 2-4kts, sea state is minimal (6" or 30cm). There are no surfing opportunities for either boat. As Laser's do, both are sailing by the lee to improve flow over the sail and thus boat speed.
The competitors on W & L engage in a brief conversation about what constitutes windward versus leeward. They decide that since the wind is flowing over both of their port sides that boom position is irrelevant and that L is now the windward boat and must give way to W. W announces their intention to come "up" (turn to port), and takes about 30 seconds to come into contact with L via a main-sheet touching the hull of L. W informs L that they have made contact and L promptly does turns. I witnessed this from astern, about 100yards/meters behind, while sailing in a different fleet, I am not a Laser.
On shore I am asked if I saw what happened and what rules I believed applied. I inform them that even though what they observed as traditional Laser sailing tactics, they do not change the rules and that W had no rights on L because both boats were on starboard with their booms over their port side of the hull, thus this was a windward/leeward situation and Rule 11 was in force at the time of contact. I explain that while Laser's do traditionally sail by the lee, that is an irrelevant fact to the rule and thus the PC and that in this case the ruling would be against W. I've sailed in major Laser events (read very crowded course) and this was never questioned before and I'm sure about rule 11. A PC can not be expected to be able to discern the fact that a boat is sailing by the lee and the position of the boom is what determines what tack a boat is on, even if both boats agree and present to the PC that they were indeed both sailing by the lee.
But this forum has more experienced race officials than I and I wanted to know if the method of how to sail a boat is ever considered in a protest that would effect Rule 11? This concept would become even messier if this were a case of a port tack boat sailing hard on the wind met a boat on port tack boat sailing downwind but by the lee. Port/leeward cannot be expected to understand that port/windward is actually sailing by the lee and thus on starboard. The rules would fall apart if this was permitted.
I promised both competitors a researched answer. Thoughts?