October 20, 2017
Dear fellow sailors,
On Friday afternoon, a week ago four RS 400s, a Kestrel, a Feva and four Lasers were heading upwind against the current from Colonel’s Rock back to a finish at the Club. From my vantage point, half an hour into the race, all four RSs were within ten boat lengths of each other. The breeze was gentle, but strong enough that Meg and I were periodically adding kicker and hiking hard. The water around us sparkled as the sun settled lower back toward the Club. The boat was light and fast. We were so close to Antoine and Pierre, Ian and Joan, and Peter and Merinda that we could tell with our every move and every tack whether we were gaining on them or falling back. Every ounce of hiking effort, every decision to tack, every aspect of sail trim mattered. In that golden bubble, we were a team, calm, focused and appreciating the moment.
This was club racing as it is supposed to be, as I dream about.
When the results for that race were posted, our What’s App group erupted for a few hours over whether a boat had rounded the required mark at the southern end of Colonel’s Rock, whether it was clear which mark to round, whether the race officers’ decision to disqualify that boat was correct and whether all procedural requirements were followed. The controversy has given our club a chance to take a fresh look at our program and how we can improve it.
We are first and foremost a community of people who enjoy sailing and being in each other’s company. For me, the priority is for the ADSC to keep providing great sailing experiences in a culture that celebrates sailing. If we measure ourselves on membership, numbers of people sailing, hours sailed, even ADSC shirts sold, we’re doing well on this front.
A big part of providing great sailing opportunities is our volunteer culture. Every week the people who run the races are our members who are volunteering their time to set a course and run good, enjoyable, safe races. We owe it to the race officers to thank them for their efforts and to understand when things don’t go perfectly. In my race officer experience, both here and at other clubs, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, including messing up starting sequences and sending half the fleet to one mark and half the fleet to another. This is not to suggest that there were any meaningful errors by the race officers in this case. In fact, where a race committee observes a rule violation, a boat over the line early, or a failure to sail the course, it is a positive thing when they point that out.
Sailboat racing always involves application of the rules and that’s as it should be. You can’t have competitive sailing without conflicts over the rules. After five years in Abu Dhabi, I can safely say that this is the least litigious club I’ve ever seen or known of. This keeps the sailing relaxed for the most part, but at a price. Being involved in a protest, on either side, is one of the best ways to learn the rules and to apply them in the future. We all need to understand the rules in order to make the races fair and enjoyable.
Ultimately, whether we tweak our protest procedures or not, we should remember that our sport is self-policing and is based on a culture of good sportsmanship. The very first statement in the Racing Rule of Sailing (below) is the golden rule of sailing. If a sailor knows that he or she violated a rule, crossed a starting line early, or failed to sail the required course, it does not matter whether the race committee or another sailor observed the fault. It is every sailor’s responsibility to take corrective action – doing a 720, a 360, restarting, properly rounding a mark, asking for redress, or withdrawing from the race as appropriate.
Here’s the first basic principle of the sailing rules from The Racing Rules of Sailing:
SPORTSMANSHIP AND THE RULES
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.
I’d welcome comments on our protest and race management procedures, either in person, by email or by What’s App. Let’s get our thoughts out there and help to further improve on the fun, competitive sailing that we enjoy here at ADSC.