December 2016 - Blind Match Racing

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December 2016 - Blind Match Racing

With this article I reach the end of 20 years. The articles started with the rule changes in 1997. There are small minor changes coming to the racing rules in 2017. I will cover them starting in January. This month I am going to discuss something completely different.

In late September, I went to the US Sailing Match Racing Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. There were two regattas going on at the same time, one in Elliot 6Ms, the other in Sonars, the same boats that are used in the RCYC match race program.  The attached picture for the regatta looks like any other match racing regatta, except that the sailors are blind.  There are no sighted sailors on board.  The regatta was the World Blind Match Racing Championships.  The other regatta in the Elliot 6Ms was the World Women’s Match Racing Championships.  I was actually there to umpire the Women’s regatta.  It was exciting, but not really new.  Blind match racing was new to me. I was asked by many people ahead of the regatta “How does blind match racing work?” During the first few days of the regatta, we were stuck on shore with poor weather.  Part of it was dense fog.  The blind sailors did try to point out to us that dense fog doesn’t stop them. It does stop the race committee, the umpires and the coaches.  During that time we set up a blind match racing course in the boat yard.  The course looks very similar to a regular match racing course.

There are a couple of small differences. A mark (yellow in the diagram) is used instead of the signal boat as one end of the line. The race committee is in a separate boat. The leeward pin (blue in the diagram) is used as the leeward mark. There is only one pair of racers on the course at a time, so there is no need to keep these separate. There is one big difference, the marks each make distinctive sounds. The British match racing skipper explained that for a week or more after a regatta, when she hears a lorry (truck) backing up, she thinks it is one of the marks. The sounds are turned on and off based on which ones are relevant at the time, so on the first leeward leg only the blue mark makes a sound. On the second leeward leg, both the blue and yellow marks make a sound. The marks are not actually coloured as shown, but they are described that way by some of the sailors. Each of the boats has a sound which changes, based on which side the boom is on. The skippers are completely blind. In fact to make sure that they were even, they were blindfolded for the regatta. The other two sailors can have limited sight, but they are both legally blind. The sailors listen for the marks, listen to the other boat and feel the wind on their faces. They do a remarkable job of it. The umpires are fully sighted (or at least as fully sighted as in any other match race). They still signal with flags for the benefit of coaches and spectators but they use a radio to tell the skippers of any penalties.

There were five teams in the regatta, one each from Great Britain, Canada and Israel and two from the United States. The regatta was won by the team from Great Britain, who also won the regatta the last time it was held in 2014. The second-place team and the only team to beat the GBR team in any race was Team Canada, skippered by David Brown, who sails in Toronto.  I am hoping that sometime before the next event (expected in 2018) we can use the facilities that we have in our match racing program to help prepare David so that he can do even better next time. 

© Copyright 2016 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 12/1/2016 1:46:37 PM by Andrew Alberti

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This page provides links to a set of articles original published in Kwasind magazine. The versions here include animated diagrams. The original articles can be found within the original magazines which are available online back to January 2007. 

Articles before December 2020 are based on the Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-12 or 2013-2016 or 2017-2020 and have not been updated to reflect the changes that apply as of January 2021 with the publication of the Racing Rules of Sailing 2021-24. A copy of the new rules can be found on
Andrew Alberti has been writing these monthly articles in the Kwasind since early 1997.  They explain the Racing Rules of Sailing. Andrew is an International Judge and National Umpire. He is a member of the Sail Canada Rules and Appeals Committees. The interpretation of the rules contained in the articles is Andrew's and not that of the RCYC or any of the committees he sits on. 

Send your questions to Andrew at [email protected].


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