July 2, 2009

The law is an ass

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I HAVE A CLEAR RECOLLECTION of an incident from my dinghy-racing days when I felt I was unfairly required to give way to another boat. I was sailing an 11-foot International Mirror dinghy, pointing as high as the gunter rig would let me on, the port tack.

Behind me, and to leeward, was a friend of mine in a larger Finn-class dinghy. He was pointing higher than me and going faster. It wasn’t long before he was shouting at me to get out of his way.

My first instinct was to ignore him, but then I thought of the possibility of a collision and a protest that I might lose. I didn’t think it was likely that I would lose, but ... I was in the lead in my class at the time, and I could afford to lose a little time by tacking out of the Finn’s way, which I did with a lot of grumbling.

The rule cited by my friend was a very basic one from the international collision regulations: when two sailboats are on the same tack, the windward boat gives way to the leeward boat. I personally don’t think it was ever meant to be applied in these conditions, where a bigger faster and more close-winded boat is approaching a smaller, slower boat that can’t point as high — which makes it difficult for the smaller boat to get out of his way.

The racing rules apart, I wonder which of the two international rules would count in this situation. The rule that overrides all others is: the overtaking vessel must keep clear of the other vessel. If you in your sailboat start overtaking a Bayliner powerboat, it’s your duty to keep clear of him. So why should a Finn have right of way over a Mirror he’s overtaking? Grumble, grumble.

If you are under sail alone, you must also keep clear of:

► Vessels not under command
► Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver
► Vessels constrained by their draft, and
► Vessels engaged in a manner of fishing that hampers their ability to maneuver

If you and another sailboat are on opposite tacks, the boat on port tack must give way to the other vessel. And finally, if you’re on port tack and you can see a sailboat to windward, but you can’t figure out which tack she’s on, you must take action to keep clear of the other boat. This could work to your advantage if you’re the windward boat, of course, and running dead downwind. Just keep jibing from port tack to starboard. That should send the other boat fleeing for cover. It’s not in the spirit of the rules, of course, but what the hell, few sailboat racers can claim to be angels, or even want to be.

Todays Thought
I don’t see the use in drawin’ hard and fast rules. You only have to break them.
—John Galsworthy, Eldest Son.

“Filthy pictures, sir?”
“Good grief, no.”
“Filthy pictures, sir?”
“No, no, go away!”
“Filthy pictures, sir?”
“Leave me alone, you’re far too young. Shoo!”
“Filthy pictures, sir?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake … alright, how many d’you want?”

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