Yacht Racing for Dummies – What Happened Next – Part 1

Who has right of way?

Two duelling yachts – Windward Leeward fight out as they ’round the mark’.

Okay, let me start by saying how much I love this image. It says so much about why we sail boats, and moreover in this case, why we race them. The passion, the energy, the skill, the fear, the emotion, the power of nature are all on display here.

I decided to write this blog when I spend 20 minutes discussing the whys and wherefores with a friend. And whether you are an aficionado of boats and racing, or a complete novice in your understanding of the sport of Yacht Racing; looking at images like this is a fascinating insight for both camps.

Two Duelling Race Yachts

Setting the Scene

My Description

Breaking down our discussion. We were looking at what had just happened, what was happening now, and what would happen next. All this within the context of yachting, good seamanship and the Racing Rules of Sailing.

There are 3 yachts in the picture (if you look carefully) but we shall only concern ourselves with the two in the foreground. Yacht 19, which is the ‘Windward’ Yacht on the left (the one which the wind will hit first) and 11 the ‘Leeward’ (pronounced “Loo’ard”) boat on the right. To make sure yachts don’t crash into each other, there are a set of rules – sometimes called the ‘Rules of the road”. These basic (well in theory at least) set of instructions are then turned into a racing set to allow for the sport to be competitive and fun. These are known as the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) and change every 4 years in sync with the Olympics.

The Rules

To stop boats from crashing every time they round a ‘mark’ (it’s the white inflatable in our image, but can be boats themselves, other fixed buoys in the water, sometimes ever just a dot on your chart) the inside yacht, if it has it’s nose in front, must be given room to move around before normal rules kick back in.

So in this image, 19 almost certainly has its nose overlapping the back of 11 on the approach to the turn, so had to be allowed around.  But here’s the thing, once around, as the ‘Windward Yacht’ she now has to keep clear of 11.  As she came from behind (in every likelihood), 19 is free to sail anywhere she likes.

When a Leeward yacht overtakes, they must stick to their ‘proper course’ (always debated but defined as the way you would go to be the fastest if there was no one else around).  So now, 11 has probably already broken a rule and 19 could or already has hailed “protest!”.

The Verdict

Phew!  What  a lot of rules!  But to break it down, 11 was given room to get around the ‘mark’, but once she is there, is obliged to do much more than she is to keep out of the way!  19 can’t deliberately nudge into her, he has probably already established that 11 is “in the way”.  PROTEST!

Do you agree with my interpretation?  Are you a novice and learnt something new? Tell us here!
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