Force 5 Class Association

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Home Rules Corner - Issue 5 Posted THE RULES CORNER - Issue 2



This Fundamental Rule reflects the core values of competitive sailing.  We race to test ourselves and our abilities against our peers.  To be meaningful, this test must be fair to all competitors.  It also must be conducted in accordance with generally-accepted principles of sportsmanship.  But what constitutes our sport’s recognized principles of sportsmanship and fair play?


First, I think, would be good faith adherence to the RRS themselves.  It should be each competitor’s obligation to understand and comply with the rules governing our sport.  At a minimum, this requires actually reading the rulebook.  How can a competitor possibly claim good faith adherence to rules s/he hasn’t even read?  And since the RRS change (at least to some degree) after every Summer Olympics, I would argue it is incumbent on each of us to re-read the rulebook at least every four years.  [Ed. The current RRS are effective through 2012.]  Some of you may be rolling your eyes right about now.  “The rules are so complicated!  Just look at Dave Perry’s book!  How can the average sailor be expected to understand all that?”  Maybe s/he can’t.  But take a look at the RRS text itself.  All the secondary-source expert commentaries/analyses/nuances aside, the rulebook published by U.S. Sailing is pretty clear and concise.  A few pages contain every basic racing rule you need to know.  An adequate understanding of all those rules is easily within the grasp of any sailor who invests the relatively short time it takes simply to read them.  Tip:  There’s no need to memorize what the RRS say.  Instead, try to visualize the situation each rule addresses as you read it.  What’s important is the basic concept the rule embodies, not the rule itself.  And, when the time comes, it will be much easier to master the rule’s more subtle nuances if you’re working from the concept rather than the text.

Next would be good faith adherence to the Class Rules.  As with the RRS, I think it should be each Force 5 sailor’s obligation to read, understand and comply with the supplemental rules the Class Association (that’s all of us!) has agreed should govern Force 5 racing.  The Class Rules are available right here on the Class website (just find & click the Class Rules link to view).  And they’re much simpler that the RRS.  The Class Rules specify every racing modification or adjustment you are permitted to make to your boat, rig and other equipment.  They also expressly prohibit a few things—including any modification, adjustment or equipment that is not specifically authorized in the Class Rules.  While the RRS are intended to ensure that each competitor’s personal conduct is consistent with fairness and good sportsmanship, the Class Rules are similarly intended to ensure that no competitor’s boat or equipment gives her/him an unfair advantage.


Note that in contrast to almost every other rule, RRS-2 expressly prohibits a disqualification under RRS-2 from being excluded from the boat’s series score.  This prohibition suggests RRS-2 is intended to address (and severely penalize) particularly egregious conduct—a conclusion that receives further support from the rule’s additional specifications that it may be invoked only if it is clearly established that principles of sportsmanship and fair play have been violated.  Note also that corollary RRS-69 references “gross misconduct”.  It follows that, without more, infraction of any other rule(s)—even serious or repeated infractions—is insufficient grounds to invoke RRS-2 unless it can be clearly established that the infraction(s) also egregiously violated principles of sportsmanship and fair play.


So, I think we may conclude that a competitor’s unfamiliarity with the RRS—even a competitor’s willful ignorance of them—is not in itself sufficient to disqualify the competitor under RRS-2.  If s/he violates the RRS due to lack of understanding or ignorance, s/he should be disqualified under the violated rule(s), not under RRS-2.  At some point, however, a protest committee should be entitled to exercise the discretion contemplated under RRS-2 to conclude that chronic RRS infractions due to a competitor’s enduring unfamiliarity/ignorance has become sufficiently egregious to cross the threshold into unsportsmanlike conduct in violation of RRS-2.


Class Rules violations are somewhat different.  Almost by definition, a Class Rules violation gives the violator some advantage over her/his competitors.  This is where I think “good faith adherence” should come into play.  I’ve previously claimed that both the RRS and Class Rules are reasonably clear.  Neither set of rules, however, is completely unambiguous or exhaustive on its face.  There is plenty of room for legitimate interpretation, variation and creativity under each set.  What is essential is that any such interpretation, variation or creativity be reasonably consistent with what the RRS and Class Rules permit—both literally and in spirit.  This is what I mean by “good faith adherence” to the RRS and Class Rules.  And this, I suggest, would be an appropriate test to apply to RRS-2.  If a competitor is found to have knowingly violated a Class Rule—in contrast to mistakenly or inappropriately interpreting it—in order to gain some competitive advantage, I think the competitor legitimately may be disqualified under RRS-2 as well as under the violated Class Rule.  If, on the other hand, the competitor violated a Class Rule through ignorance, mistaken or otherwise inappropriate interpretation, or without purpose of gaining a competitive advantage, the competitor legitimately may be disqualified (if the violation warrants) only under the applicable Class Rule.


Let’s conclude with a few examples of RRS-2 in application:


(1)  Competitor X, who thoroughly understands the RRS, is sailing upwind on port tack and converging with competitor Y, who is on starboard tack.  The crossing will be close, and competitor X knows there’s a substantial possibility s/he will not clear competitor Y.  In fact, competitor Y hails “Starboard.  You’ll never make it!”  Competitor X nevertheless tries to cross competitor Y, seriously fouling competitor Y and also causing competitor Y to capsize trying to avoid a collision.  Competitor X immediately takes the prescribed two-turn penalty & goes on to win the race.  Competitor Y ends up finishing last.  May competitor X be penalized under RRS-2?


No.  Although competitor X may have exercised poor judgment, and competitor Y finished last as a direct consequence, there is no evidence that competitor X intentionally fouled competitor Y or that competitor X benefitted from committing the infraction.  Competitor X simply took a risk and lost, violating RRS-10 (Right of Way—On Opposite Tacks).  That is the only rule under which competitor X could be penalized in this scenario, but s/he is exonerated because s/he took the prescribed penalty.  It is immaterial that competitor X ultimately won the race.


 (2)  Competitor X, who thoroughly understands the RRS, is sailing upwind on port tack and converging with novice competitor Y, who is on starboard tack.  Competitor X cannot clear competitor Y, but doesn’t want to alter course or tack.  Competitor X hails “Starboard.”  Competitor Y panics and tacks, only afterwards realizing Competitor X’s hail was a ruse. May competitor X be penalized under RRS-2?


Debatable.  Competitor X could argue it was competitor Y’s responsibility to know which tack s/he was on.  The contrary view is that it was unfair and unsportsmanlike for experienced competitor X to take advantage of novice competitor Y’s inexperience.  [ISAF Case 47 says competitor X violated RRS-2.]  Do you agree?


And here’s one for discussion @ the bar in Key Largo:


(3)  Competitor X, an experienced Force 5 racer, used 3 different sails over the course of a 7 race regatta (one discard race allowed).  S/he used one sail in the first 3 races, another in the next 3 races, and a third one in the last race.  The second sail change was due to extensive damage; the first one was not.  Competitor X did not seek Race Committee permission for either sail change.  Competitor Y protests, alleging competitor X should be disqualified in the last race under both Class Rule 6.03 and RRS-2—the latter because using 3 different sails without Race Committee permission was an intentional violation of Class Rule 6.03 for competitive advantage.  Competitor X claims s/he should not be disqualified under either Class Rule 6.03 or RRS-2.


Competitor X wins the regatta only if s/he can discard the last race.  Disqualifying competitor X under RRS-2 would preclude her/him from discarding that race; disqualifying her/him only under Class Rule 6.03 would not.


Should Competitor X be disqualified?  If so, under what rule(s) and in which race(s)?


Have fun!