September 2020 - Back to the Usual Start

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September 2020 - Back to the Usual Start

In the first diagram, Blue and Yellow are both on starboard tack approaching the starting line. At position 1, Blue is clear ahead of Yellow, but luffing her sail to slow down since she is early for the start. At position 2, Yellow gains an overlap to windward of Blue. Rule 11 says that Yellow must keep clear of Blue. At about position 4, the starting signal goes. Just as in last month’s article, Yellow expects Blue to bear off and sail close-hauled, which after all, is Blue’s proper course. At the least, Yellow expects mark-room at the committee boat. Blue, though, can stay up and deny mark-room to Yellow for almost the same reason as we saw last month – there is no mark-room at a starting mark surrounded by navigable water. As we saw last month when Yellow establishes her overlap to windward from clear astern, rule 17 does not apply. Blue is allowed to sail above her proper course, so Blue is allowed to shut Yellow out. The second diagram, like the first, shows Green and Red approaching on starboard tack. This time at position 1, Green is clear ahead of Red and luffing her sails to slow down. Red establishes an overlap to leeward from clear astern. This is exactly the situation that is described in rule 17. According to rule 17, Red is not allowed to sail above her proper course. However, if we look at the definition of proper course, it says “a boat has no proper course before her start signal” so at this time there is no restriction imposed by rule 17 on Red. When the start signal goes at position 4, Red must go down to her proper course, which is almost certainly close-hauled. There is room for Green to pass between Red and the committee boat, so she does, and we have a very different race. The simple way to think about this is that in the first diagram today and the last two months, Yellow had the option to go astern of Blue and end up on the leeward side. When she didn’t do this, she became vulnerable. In the second diagram today, Green as the windward boat did not get the choice. Red came up from astern. Green is given more protections once the starting signal has gone.

The situation with Red and Green is very similar to the situation that led to a protest between the 12 Metres Intrepid and Gretel II at the start of the second race of the 1970 America’s Cup. The rules were expressed differently at that time but held a very similar meaning. Gretel II was the leeward boat and she did not bear away to a close-hauled course. This incident is described in a 2013 book “Gretel II Disqualified” written by the chair of the race committee, B. Devereux Barker III, who also had to chair the protest committee. As with many incidents in the America’s Cup at that time (and to a lesser extent today), this created much bad feeling, and subsequently International Juries started to be used for the America’s Cup.

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.

Posted: 9/25/2020 2:27:55 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
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


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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