June 2020 - An Unusual Start

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June 2020 - An Unusual Start

I started these articles in January 1997. By my calculation that makes this the 250th article. Since the right-of-way section of the Racing Rules of Sailing is only 8 pages long (13 if we include the definitions), there is only so much to write about. If I am to continue with these articles, I need more questions to start coming in. Please send your questions to kyrules@alberti.ca
This month I am going to cover an unusual starting situation. Most of the time we start upwind, but in point-to-point races, we sometimes start downwind. Wind patterns in the harbour dictate that RCYC’s Friday night TGIF races often begin with downwind starts. The rules are the same, but the way they apply is different.

In the diagram, Blue and Yellow are both on starboard tack approaching the starting line. Yellow is overlapped and to windward of Blue. Rule 11 says that Yellow must keep clear of Blue. At about position 3, the starting signal goes. Yellow expects Blue to bear off and go to the next mark, which after all, is Blue’s proper course. Yellow remembers reading some articles about finishing lines and remembers that the signal boat is a mark, so figures that Blue has to give Yellow mark-room. There is a long-term rivalry between Blue and Yellow, so Blue has other ideas. Blue keeps going straight towards the signal boat, only bearing off when it is too late for Yellow to go in between. Who is right? Let’s look at Yellow’s arguments one at a time.
First let’s look at Blue’s proper course. The end of the definition of proper course says that a boat has no proper course before her starting signal, so Blue has no proper course until position 3. After position 3, her proper course is the course she would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of Yellow. If Yellow were not there, then Blue would probably bear off and sail towards the mark, so Blue is sailing above her proper course. Next we need to determine which rule says that Blue is required to sail her proper course. The only rule even close to this situation is rule 17. Rule 17 says that the leeward boat cannot sail above her proper course, but it only applies if the leeward boat becomes overlapped from clear astern within two boat lengths of the windward boat and they remain within two boat lengths of each other. At position 1, Blue and Yellow are already overlapped and they are more than two boat lengths apart. It doesn’t matter how they became overlapped, as they haven’t remained within two boat lengths of each other, so rule 17 does not apply. Blue is allowed to sail above her proper course. 
Next we look at Yellow’s belief that she is entitled to mark-room. Mark-room is given in rule 18. Rule 18 is part of Section C. The preamble to Section C says that none of Section C applies at starting marks, when the boats are approaching to start. Blue and Yellow are approaching to start, so mark-room does not apply. If this were a finishing line then Yellow would be correct. 
Looking at all of these rules, the situation-specific conclusion is that Yellow would have done well to bear off and go astern of Blue back at position 1. The broader observation, and most important takeaway, is that rules seldom stand in isolation. Yellow’s half-remembered rules might have stood him in good stead in some situations, but combined as they were here with the particulars of the occasion – the downwind start is the greatest variable – they didn’t. Fortunately, Yellow accepted Blue’s little victory and the only result was that Blue scored a point off her opponent, a point that Yellow will almost certainly try to reclaim at their next meeting.


Proper Course A course a boat would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of the other boats referred to in the rule using the term. A boat has no proper course before her starting signal.

If a boat clear astern becomes overlapped within two of her hull lengths to leeward of a boat on the same tack, she shall not sail above her proper course while they remain on the same tack and overlapped within that distance, unless in doing so she promptly sails astern of the other boat. This rule does not apply if the overlap begins while the windward boat is required by rule 13 to keep clear.

Section C rules do not apply at a starting mark surrounded by navigable water or at its anchor line from the time boats are approaching them to start until they have passed them.
at caused injury or serious damage or, despite taking a penalty, gained a significant advantage in the race or series by her breach her penalty shall be to retire.

Posted: 5/19/2020 2:29:59 PM by Andrew Alberti | with 0 comments

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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 2016 are based on the Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-12 or 2013-2016 and have not been updated to reflect the changes that apply as of January 2017 with the publication of the Racing Rules of Sailing 2017-20. A copy of the new rules can be found on sailing.org.
Andrew Alberti has been writing these monthly articles in the Kwasind since early 1997.  They explain the Racing Rules of Sailing. Andrew is a National 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 kyrules@alberti.ca.


166 Years of Tradition | World-Class Sailing | Toronto Island & City Clubhouse
December 2020 - Proper Course – an over-used term
November 2020 - Further down the line at the start
September 2020 - Back to the Usual Start
July 2020 - An Unusual Start II
June 2020 - An Unusual Start
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