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TOPIC: Open hearings 6, 7 & 8, and Comments

Open hearings 6, 7 & 8, and Comments 1 year 7 months ago #123

  • Bill Brockbank
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Open Hearing No #6
When this incident did make it to a hearing, both parties were in complete agreement on the facts. This is quite common, even when participants believe they haven’t seen or can’t remember the whole.
It involves a widely ignored rule, so is worth exploring further.
Approaching a windward mark (to be left to port) P, on port, must tack to round the mark. S, on starboard, can and does lay the mark without tacking.
P tacks right at the mark, the tack itself keeping clear of S. S is now clear astern of P
P feels S can’t claim water since S wasn’t overlapped at the zone. S believes she is entitled to room, and collides (lightly) with both P and the mark.
Who is right?
A: S, under RRS 18.3(b)
P is free to tack in the zone but since S hasn’t tacked in the zone RRS18.3 lists 3 things P mustn’t then do to S.
They are:-
(a.part 1) Cause (which really means ‘force’) S to sail above close hauled
(a.part 2) Prevent (which really means ‘block’) S from passing the mark. But you very rarely see it.
(b) Deprive S of mark-room (‘water’) if S gains an inside overlap
All 3 obligations on P expire as the boats leave the mark
P broke RRS 18.3(b) by depriving S of sufficient mark-room. She could have exonerated by promptly sailing clear and doing 2 turns.

Comments: I suspect this happened because P made a bad tack and stopped. Which meant neither boat expected a collision.
If P is able to tack and skedaddle without infringing against S, no rule is broken
When one and only one boat tacks in the zone to pass the mark, the most familiar part of rule 18 (inside overlap must be established before the leading boat enters the zone) is expressly switched off

During the hearing some wondered if any boat(s) had broken the ‘avoid contact’ rule. Rushed for time we didn’t air this - here’s the answer.
No.
Rule 14, Avoiding Contact, places an onus on both boats to avoid contact if reasonably possible.
The onus is stronger on the ‘wrong-of-way’ boat, in this case P, who retired anyway. Even if she had not retired she expected either that she would clear S or (wrongly) that S was required to alter course. At the speed it happened P would be penalised under rule 18, not (and certainly not additionally!) under rule 14
The onus to avert a collision is much weaker on the right-of-way boat, in this case S.
She is allowed (almost required) to react later, only after it becomes clear P isn’t doing so or isn’t giving mark-room.
She is exonerated from the collision anyway unless damage or injury occurs, and from hitting the mark by 64.1 and a further rule which I can’t now find

Open Hearing No #7
All parties agreed that a third boat, originally thought to be involved, was not
Two overlapped boats, L(eeward) and W(indward) approach race island. They have been overlapped for some time.
It becomes clear to W that L was not allowing W room to pass between the island and L
Unsure of her rights W made a fairly violent course alteration which allowed her to clear L’s stern. At no stage did W call for room (aka water)
W did not protest, instead sought clarification through an Open Hearing

Approaching the island, if L had luffing rights or her proper course could reasonably take her to windward of the island she could have chosen to pass the island to windward and W would need to keep clear.
If L does not do this, then she must allow W room to pass the obstruction. W is not required to hail. Any reasonable doubt about how much room W needs favours W’s reading of the dangers.
L did not allow W room. Because this wasn’t a protest, no boat is under any pressure to retire.

Open Hearing No #8
At the start of a race in very light winds 2 boats crossed the starting line close hauled on starboard with P ahead.
P(ort) tacked, S did not. Opinions differed (and there was no proof either way) about which bits of a shifty wind affected which boats at which time.
S claimed she had to bear off by about half a length to avert a collision with P. S protested, P did not respond.
3 witnesses supported S’ version. P was unable to establish that S had luffed to create an incident, that some part of that luff broke rule 16.1, and that the 16.1 breach was the sole and whole reason S had to bear away.

P (keep clear) failed to keep clear of S (right of way), had this been a pukka hearing P would be disqualified. P later agreed to retire.

Commentary:
Witnesses: In a pukka protest witnesses are called after the main evidence to avoid them being influenced by what they heard. Our decision in Open Hearings to include them has brought more benefits (usually unearthing someone who saw a vital bit of the jigsaw without anyone realising its significance) than snags. Anyone dissatisfied with an Open Hearing can always refer it to a Pukka protest if they wish.
Conflicting evidence: Only the second (of 8) hearings where there’s been a substantive disagreement on the facts. I think that’s about typical. I hope these comments - based on 30 years of on-water umpiring - will help in future.
1: Who has to prove what?
Asserting something doesn’t prove it. Always go into a protest knowing what you have to prove, and how you’ll be able to do it. With experience, also know what your opponent must prove, and how they will do so.
2. Who has the onus of proof?
With the exception of rule 17 (late make or break of an overlap) the concept of onus of proof has been carefully removed from the rules.
Nevertheless a principle - sometimes subconscious - remains. The boat whose actions caused the incident is more likely wrong than the opponent. Colloquially, the aggressor needs to convince us they complied, not the other way round.
3. How the racing mind works.
If you think (e.g.) there’s just room to tack and do so you’ll complete the tack believing you were successful. Even though, throughout the tack, you’re not concentrating on, even looking at, your opponent. Ditto, to some extent ‘he can’t be going that fast’, ‘he won’t catch me from starting there’ (I always underestimate how fast the Phantom accelerates out of a tack) or ‘we’re both in the same wind’.
We believe it true because we want to.
What we believe is less important than what the protest committee believes. Between sailors with good rules awareness asking “how would this look to a protest committee” would halve the number of protests.
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