Forum: The Racing Rules of Sailing

“I owe you one”, “Was MY score effected?”, “Not-Worthiness” and “Stigma”; Four Mindsets Eroding Fair-Sailing in Club-Level Racing.

Angelo Guarino
Once while sailing around the world, he discovered a short cut
Nationality: United States of America
Certifications:
  • Fleet Measurer

(Paul Z suggested I expand one of my comments in a previous thread and start a new topic based upon it. It kind'a grew into an article detailing my thoughts and observations. Here it is below ... and looking forward to your comments)
(Editorial Note: Sections in blue added after first publishing incorporate ideas brought up by forum contributors. Thanks Paul Z, John and Brent for your input.)

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The very first precepts established in the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) are the Basic Principles and the very first Principle is 'Sportsmanship and the Rules' which says:

"Competitors in the sport of sailing are governed by a body of rules that they are expected to follow and enforce. A fundamental principle of sportsmanship is that when competitors break a rule they will promptly take a penalty, which may be to retire."

Therefore, Following the rules and Enforcing the rules are paramount in the RRS, and are of equal importance. Next, the RRS requires us is to police ourselves and to take our penalty when we know we have committed a foul, regardless if we are protested or not.

Follow the rules.
Enforce the rules on yourself and others.
Take your penalty when you know you've fouled ...

Pretty simple stuff.

But, over many years in the sport, I've consistently observed sailing-community "cultural mindsets" which tend to suppress the even enforcement of the RRS across the fleet, by eroding the adoption of this Basic Principle and thus fair-sailing in club-level racing. Some are attitudes, others are peer-pressure and misunderstandings, but taken together they combine to suppress the improved-understanding and fair-application of the rules by inhibiting racers from embracing their responsibility to enforce the rules, not only to their benefit but more importantly for the benefit of all the other competitors in the race.

At the heart of these erroneous mindsets, is a me-centric point-of-view in deciding how to handle on-the-water fouls. These racers ask themselves ..

“Can I ignore my foul because my competitor let me go by saying, ‘You owe me one!’ ?”

“Did the foul effect MY score or standing?”

“I am not in contention for silver, so why ruin a top boat’s chances?”

“Will I get a reputation if I keep protesting boats that foul me?”

I short-cut the above as .. I owe you one, Was my score effected?, I’m Not Worthy , and Stigma.

I OWE YOU ONE

I put this one first because it’s so emblematic of the me-centric thinking at the heart of the problem. The bottom line is that it is NOT at the discretion of a fouled-boat to let another boat off the hook. The rules are very clear. If a racer knows they have committed a foul, they must take a penalty whether they are protested or not. Period. A boat saying ‘I owe you one’ is acknowledging that they committed a foul and their intention to not take a penalty.

On the surface, 'I owe you one' might seem "friendly", but the absence of the fouled-boat’s protest, and the fouling-boat's turns, is nothing less than collusion between boats to break the rules. The two boats are basically forming a rule-breaking compact to benefit each other (to the detriment of all other fleet competitors). When put in these terms, it becomes obvious how corrosive to fair competition for all “I owe you one” is.

WAS MY/YOUR SCORE EFFECTED?

I put the “my/your” in the title because this question is just as often asked by others as it is to ourselves. We’ve all had the experience of being asked after protesting, “Well, did the foul really hurt you?”. The notion underlying this question is that competitors need to rely upon more than the 'Basic Principle' to justify enforcing the rules. That somehow it is incumbent upon us to do a complicated analysis projecting the race forward and to predict if an infraction had a significant effect on only the boats directly involved in the foul.

Again, this is me-centric thinking which totally misses the point. The question is not, "Was the fouled boat harmed?", but rather it is, "Was the fouling boat advantaged?"

The answer to that question has to be that the fouling-boat is advantaged against all other racers in the fleet, first by committing the foul and then by not taking their proper penalty. We have to assume that other boats on the race course ARE enforcing the rules on themselves and others, so it is unfair for two boats to commit the same foul where one takes their penalty and one does not. Therefore, fair sailing requires all of us to enforce the rules upon ourselves and upon others regardless of the perceived gravity or impact of the foul upon the boat(s) directly involved, because by doing so we are protecting fair sailing for all boats on the race course.

I’M NOT WORTHY

I put this one between ‘Was my score effected’ and ‘Stigma’ because I feel it incorporates a little bit of both. Boats who are at the bottom of the fleet’s standing can feel pressure to not ‘ruin-it’ for the top boats. This stratifies the fleet into sub-classes where the top boats can unfairly gain advantage when interacting with ‘lower boats’. Some may think, ‘why protest as I know I won’t be in the mix anyway’. Others may associate top sailing performance with top understanding of the rules which results in an improper deference to the top boats during incidents. But these concepts aren’t completely self-inflicted as there can be social pressure on boats that are consistently in the bottom half of the fleet to understand their place and that there are really 2 races going on .. the race between the top boats and the race between everyone else.

STIGMA

Let’s face it, if you are a racer who accepts the RRS's 'Basic Principle - Sportsmanship and the Rules' and accepts what it says, that it is each of our responsibility to enforce the rules to ensure fair sailing for all, you are going to feel peer-pressure to not be.

I’ve heard it coming from respected sailors suggesting that, ‘… you don’t want to get a reputation’.. or ‘.. you don’t want to be that-guy’. These are typically from those same top performers that are first to think it’s their prerogative to yell, ‘I owe you one’, or be the ones to ask ‘was your score effected?’ or fouling lower-performing boats figuring that they are unlikely to complain.

Sometimes the Organizing Authority or Race Committee (OA/RC) can inadvertently support this environment with short-hand statements like, "Let's keep the protests down," at a pre-race briefing or, "We had very few protests .. " at an awards ceremony, which could be misconstrued that protests should be avoided. Instead, they should be more deliberate and spell it out to support the Basic Principle with something like ...

"Let's have clean racing out there people. Follow the rules and if you know you fouled someone, just do your turns like you are supposed to. Let's reserve the protest hearings for only those incidents where the foul or fault is in question".

Or after the race, praising the number of turns they saw people do on the race course ...."We saw great sportsmanship out there, we saw boats doing their turns for clear fouls without any fanfare."

Both of these would remind racers of their obligations and help support the correct mindset set forth in the Basic Principles.

Concluding Remarks

I don’t have a silver-bullet to address this, but I think a first step is to shine light on it and start the conversation. There needs to be more emphasis on what the RRS's Basic Principle says, means and how important it is in club-level racing. Somehow, we need to turn the page on the ME-centric thinking and the stigma and turn both 180 degrees on their heads. So that …

Instead of the one-on-one thinking that ‘I owe you one’ represents, we think about our responsibility to the entire fleet and how unfair it is to all competitors in a race for one boat to let another boat break a rule without penalty.

Instead of asking ourselves if the foul was significant enough to change MY score, realize that no one can project what advantage the fouling-boat might have gained, as even the smallest change in course might make the difference in that boat’s next crossing with another competitor. It’s an impossible task to project all those outcomes, so let us just stop. The realization must be that a fouling boat has gained an uncalculatable advantage against all other competitors in the fleet and that boat must take a penalty.

That lower performing boats need to evenly enforce the rules, not to improve their own score, but to ensure a fair race for all racers from the bottom of the fleet to the top.

And finally, that the stigma and reputational fear of protesting too much disappears and instead that reputational fear and stigma is turned toward its proper target .. on those competitors that try to get away with fouling, on those who shirk their responsibility (for whatever reason) to enforce the rules for the benefit of all, and onto those who socially intimidate others from doing the right thing.
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Those who would like to contact me directly about this article, my email address can be found on the J105Fleet3 website under 'Officers'

Created: 17-Nov-30 23:52

Comments

Leo Reise
Nationality: Canada
Certifications:
  • International Judge
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Angelo,

Well written and right on point.

With your permission, I would like to copy this to our club newsletter.

I hope this “article” is picked up by other publications.

Thanks for writing it.

Created: 17-Dec-01 02:09
Angelo Guarino
His shirts never wrinkle
Nationality: United States of America
Certifications:
  • Fleet Measurer
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Thanks Leo for the kind words. I wrote it to be read so you (or anyone else) can forward it by link here or if copied, with proper attribution.

If more info is needed or appropriate I can be reached at the email above.
Created: 17-Dec-01 02:20
Brent Draney
Nationality: United States of America
Certifications:
  • Judge In Training
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I agree but would add another category to the reason why someone fails to protest. Often when a boat is at the top of the fleet or may have even won a race they may fly a flag on the water but fail to file the protest because there is a risk that the protest may not go their way. I've seen that many times and its part of the you beat me so why would you risk filing culture.

Would you consider failing to file after flagging on the water breaking rule 2?

I would challenge all of the boats in the top of every fleet to lead by example and take a turn immediately. The top boats will quickly recover from the 4 or so boat-length loss and gain the respect of all. The rest of the fleet will follow the example and you'll create a culture of fair sailing.
Created: 17-Dec-01 05:35
Paul Hanly
Nationality: Australia
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IN Australian club/fleet sailing you will occasionally hear someone say "...after all, we are not racing for sheep stations!" (a station is a large farm or ranch, often in the tens of thousands of acres). The general implication is not to make a fuss about things.
In my book, if we are not racing for sheep stations, why doesn't the offending boat sail by the rules including just doing their penalty in the prescribed manner if they misjudge a crossing on port and force a change in direction of a right of way boat, or touch a buoy? Afer all, they are not sailling for sheep stations either!
I also would like to provide a copy to our newsletter editor (with proper acknowledgement and link as mentioned above by Angelo.
Created: 17-Dec-01 06:30
David Wilber
Nationality: United States of America
Certifications:
  • National Judge
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Very well written!
Created: 17-Dec-01 12:37
Greg Dargavel
Nationality: Canada
Certifications:
  • National Judge
  • Regional Race Officer
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Well said. I too would like to give it wider exposure. I will post the link to the Ottawa Sailing Community Facebook page. I will be interesting to read local club racers' comments.
Created: 17-Dec-01 13:38
Angelo Guarino
He is considered a national treasure in countries he’s never visited.
Nationality: United States of America
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  • Fleet Measurer
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Brent, interesting additional thought. Thanks for adding. Though having the same effect (not protesting), I do think what you bring up is slightly different as there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not a foul occurred and if so, who was at fault. If there is no contact and both boats are confused about if a foul even occurred, then sail-on IMO as I think it's knowledge that a foul HAS occurred which compels racers to protest, not inkling.

Paul H. I can't wait to use "we're not racing for sheep stations" next season on my boat! (hopefully, my crew won't commit me).
Created: 17-Dec-01 16:53
Paul Zupan
Nationality: United States of America
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  • National Judge
  • International Judge
  • Regional Umpire
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One of the issues that bothers me is when the OA or PRO makes some statement during competitors' meetings about avoiding protests, or praising the lack thereof. I think that creates some stigma for those that have already filed and/or it discourages protests for the remaining races. Personally, I think we should encourage competitors to protest if they believe they were fouled and the offending boat didn't take her penalty. So I think the PRO is best served by not making any kind of judgement statement on the number of protests at competitor meetings. If the issue comes up, I would encourage the PRO to praise the number of penalty turns he saw on the water. That is much more significant than the number of protests brought to the jury.
Created: 17-Dec-01 17:14
Angelo Guarino
His shirts never wrinkle
Nationality: United States of America
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Greg & Leo, I think it would be interesting if you would give us a taste and share a bit of what you get back from your racers. Wonder if they would have a different perception not being folk who usually contemplate their sailing-navels - Ang
Created: 17-Dec-01 19:48
Greg Dargavel
Nationality: Canada
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  • Regional Race Officer
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Wilco, Ang. It will be interesting how many respond, as we are now all on the hard for winter lay up. If they do respond, will there be any consensus?
Created: 17-Dec-01 20:07
Brent Draney
Nationality: United States of America
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  • Judge In Training
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Hi Paul,
I agree that the way the OA and PRO phrase what they are saying contributes to the perception. I think what they are really trying to say is sail clean and with good sportsmanship which includes doing your circles. I think that the PC Chair can help to fix this perception perhaps by speaking up in the briefing (with permission) to say that the PC is here to serve the sport and competitors and that we are happy to do our part to make the event great. Use us as you need to in assisting with decisions but please do your part of fair sailing and sportsmanship by promptly taking a penalty when required.

Created: 17-Dec-01 22:30
Paul Evenden
Nationality: Canada
Certifications:
  • Judge In Training
  • Regional Race Officer
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Such a great article.... everyone should read it and be aware of the implications of letting it slide.... Thanks!
Created: 17-Dec-02 02:52
John Thorne
Nationality: United States of America
Certifications:
  • Regional Judge
  • Regional Race Officer
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Angelo's comments are right on target. Several years ago I was active as a RC and PC member in a Southern California club where there was at least one protest in most events. Returning to SoCal after a 30 year absence, I have been asked to stand by for PC duty several times a year and noticed that the number of protests being filed was very small in spite of some obvious fouls.
Created: 17-Dec-02 20:26
Angelo Guarino
His friends call him by his name, his enemies don’t call him anything because they are all dead
Nationality: United States of America
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  • Fleet Measurer
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Paul, John & Brent,

You all make great points and I can see that in my original article I left out an important point. The issue is not the lack of protests, but rather the lack of people doing their turns without a protest .. and then only after that .. the lack of protests. It would be wonderful if there were no protests at all because everyone just did the sportsman thing on the water and did their turns.

As Paul rightly pointed out, the OA/RC/PC should be encouraging and reminding everyone of Basic Principle ... please take your turns and enforce the rules . and that protests should be reserved only for differences in opinions regarding the infractions AND NOT knowing rules violators being forced to a hearing because they are trying to get away with it.

It's a chicken-n-egg though, protests need to maybe go way up so that the risk of a DSQ outweighs loosing a few boats due to turns.

Think I might edit/add some of these ideas into the article when I get a chance ...

Great input.
Created: 17-Dec-02 21:11
Brent Draney
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Submit it to sailing world
Created: 17-Dec-03 06:16
Angelo Guarino
His lovemaking has been detected by a seismograph
Nationality: United States of America
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I added some foundational language at the beginning for a more general audience and added some of your comments regarding OA/RC comments contributing to the issue. Additions are shown in blue.
Created: 17-Dec-03 15:57
John Eilers
Nationality: United States of America
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We start 5 classes 3 minutes apart at Cowan Lake; if a boat of another class fouls me, or visa versa, is it wrong to ignore the foul by agreement between the boats?
Created: 17-Dec-03 23:35
Greg Dargavel
Nationality: Canada
Certifications:
  • National Judge
  • Regional Race Officer
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John, that sounds to me like a breach of RRS 24. Yes, you both agree, but do you have consent from everyone in the who is sailing under RRS? It is a strong precedent in common law that people can't contract out of obeying the law. This seems to me to be what you and the other boat are trying to do. If there is a foul, there should always be a penalty taken or a protest lodged or we no longer have a self enforcing sport.
Created: 17-Dec-03 23:56
Angelo Guarino
Once a rattlesnake bit him, after 5 days of excruciating pain, the snake finally died
Nationality: United States of America
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John E said .

We start 5 classes 3 minutes apart at Cowan Lake; if a boat of another class fouls me, or visa versa, is it wrong to ignore the foul by agreement between the boats?

Thank you for that question as it hits on so many points of the article and provides an opportunity to address the "I owe you one" issue in a different way.

Here are the questions I'd put back to you.....

Let's say you are in Fleet A and you let a boat in Fleet B foul you without penalty. Unbeknownst to you, simultaneously on the other side of the course one of your competitors in Fleet A is fouled exactly in the same way by a different boat in Fleet B and at the time of the fouls, the two Fleet B boats were in a tie on the course. The 2nd fouling Fleet B boat understands her responsibilities, abides by the RRS and takes her turn .. and now is behind the Fleet B boat that fouled and did not take her penalty. Is that fair sailing?

Same scenario, but this time the 2nd Fleet B boat changes their course such that no foul occurs .. maybe they tack away from the favored side of the course or maybe duck the Fleet A boat which forces them take the stern of other boats as well .. again putting them behind their Fleet B competitor, Is that fair that the first Fleet B boat didn't have to alter course and got the advantage?

This is exactly the failing that I tried to address with the "I owe you one" mentality and why it corrupts fair sailing.

Ang

PS .. this also address the Stigma issue. I know you might feel like you're being a xxxxx by protesting, but that's exactly the problem. It's the boat that's not taking their rightful penalty that the stigma should be put on, NOT the person who is holding them to their responsibility.

Created: 17-Dec-04 02:21
Bill Handley
Nationality: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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  • National Judge
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Having received an email direct from Ange and entered into some correspondence he has suggested that my reply to him should be posted here and I am happy t oblige -

Ange
I have re read your article and at the risk of sounding like bit of a cop out I really don't have much to add because I agree with pretty well everything you say. It has often occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection that the use of the word "enforce" in the basic principle could have a pretty dramatic implication. Given that enforcement can really only mean lodging a protest could it be that the failure to lodge a protest could be seen as breach of the principle ? This of course does rather contradict the use of the word "may" in 60.1 but it is food for thought.

I think the only solution to the problems that you identify is education. When I give one of my rules talks I always major on the safety aspects of protesting. I say something like - there are three reasons a boat breaks a rule -
1. A genuine error of judgement which resolves itself by the infringing boat acknowledging her error and taking the appropriate penalty.
2. Ignorance, the boat doesn't think she has broken a rule and so doesn't take a penalty.
3. Cheating, the boat has broken the rule, knows she has but banks on the fact that other boats will not protest her.

Whilst the boats in 2 and 3 are morally miles apart they will both go on breaking rules for different reasons. The way to stop them is to protest as the ignorant will learn the rules and the cheat will stop cheating because it doesn't work. The PC has a role to play here. The cheat will often want to retire just before the meeting "to save everyone the trouble" whilst what he really means is that he thought he would get away with it and now he hasn't he will try and salvage some credibility by retiring. The PC must insist on holding the protest despite outside pressures not to so that a DNE under rule 2 can be applied if appropriate.

Where the safety comes in is what happens if boats don't protest. Sooner or later people get fed up with the rule breakers under 2 and 3 and if they do not protest they resort to trying to enforce their rights of way on the water by using their boat as a 10 ton battering ram. Very often where you get damage and injury the roots can be traced back to someone deciding to "take the law into their own hands". The message I give is that if you don't protest you are making and incident where someone is going to get hurt become more likely if not inevitable. That approach usually has a pretty good effect.

I also agree that as a PC we have to be prepared to demand our say at any briefing. I remember once following a RO who had given the usual line about how the event did not have many protests. I made the point that if this was as a result of boats obeying the rules that was something to be proud of but if it was achieved by boats breaking the rules and doing nothing then it was dangerous and something to be ashamed of - I didn't get invited back.
Created: Sat 03:09
Jerry Thompson
Nationality: United States of America
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I have worked Opti Nationals as a judge. Our charge was enforcing Rule 42 which we did. I have also worked two Opti regional championships.

I want to share with you that I was dismayed at the amount of rule breaking happening, especially at the starts, with very few protests and even fewer taking of penalty turns. I heard lots of boat to boat contact and yelling with no protests or penalty turns. A couple of friends working the signal boat even witnessed sailors grabbing another sailor's boat - in my mind egregious breaking of rules.

I am glad to say that I did not see near the level of rule breaking at either regional event that was seen at Nationals, I but still heard some boat to boat contact without a protest or penalty turns. Not to be totally negative, I did observe sailors taking penalty turns at all three events, especially the regional events.

I don’t know how to address this problem.

Created: Wed 19:59
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