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Are Your Sailing Principles Principal?

Are Your Sailing Principles Principal?
by Bill Stump

In trying to teach young people the complex rules of sailing, we often overlook the two BASIC PRINCIPLES of The Racing Rules of Sailing, found on page eight (8) of your RRS. These two precepts are so basic they don’t even have rule numbers.

One is called Environmental Responsibility, which states, “Participants are encouraged to minimize any adverse environmental impact of the sport of sailing.” This is backed up by RRS 55, Trash Disposal, which mandates, “A competitor shall not intentionally put trash in the water. This rule applies at all times while afloat. The penalty for a breach of this rule may be less than disqualification.”

We get the part about not throwing trash overboard, and our regatta hosts usually specify where competitors can deposit trash while on the water, like on a RC boat. But what about minimizing any ‘adverse environmental impact’? Big words, easy concepts. Bringing your own reusable water bottles and snack wrappers, conserving water when cleaning your boat, carpooling to regattas and utilizing your club’s Opti trailer to get your boat there – these are things we think about and sometimes practice. Collectively, it all makes a difference to our sailing environment.

But, let’s talk about the really big principle – Sportsmanship and the Rules. Two compelling sentences guide our conduct on and off the water: “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.” So, what’s this mean?

We know that we’re supposed to understand all the rules (See definition of Rule in the front of your rule book.) and follow them – don’t break them. Now, what about enforcing the rules? We’re sailors, competitors, not judges or umpires. Right? Yes, but, ours is a ‘self-policing’ sport. You’re supposed to acknowledge and absolve yourself of any infraction caused by you, which may be to take penalty turn(s). See RRS 44, Penalties at the Time of an Incident.

Moreover, you’re supposed to protest other competitors when they break the rules. That’s what’s meant by ‘enforcement’. Display your red protest flag, clearly hail “Protest” (And, it’s a good idea to identify which competitor you’re protesting, especially in a crowded fleet.) and if the protested boat does not take her penalty turns, follow the procedures for filing a protest.

Understandably, it’s not pleasant to protest, especially against older, more experienced sailors, but that is part of our sport, an important part. Without all competitors helping regulate compliance with the rules, sailboat racing would cease to be enjoyable and become chaos.

Crucially, the fundamental principle of sportsmanship is to take your penalty for breaking a rule. Back when I was your age, the penalty for hitting a mark was disqualification. Yep, brush a mark with the end of your boom and you were out of the race! And, it did happen to me at the 110 Nationals in San Francisco Bay – leading the race, we stupidly (!) hit the weather mark, looked at each other, probably said a few unkind words, and sailed in, and learned a big lesson.

Remember last issue’s tribute to Paul Elvstrom, the legendary Danish Olympic sailor? His enduring legacy was not all those gold medals he won, but his attitude towards training, competition and sportsmanship. As he famously said some years ago, “You haven’t won the race, if in winning the race you have lost the respect of your competitors.”

And, that means: 1. Know the rules; 2. Play by those rules; 3. Take your penalty if you break a rule; and, 4. Don’t cheat, ever!

Sail fast, sail fair, and you will have fun!