This note rounds up some changes and common misunderstandings about doing turns and explores some examples.
In principle turns undo any gain made by the infringing boat. In practice they more than undo the average gain, otherwise there would be too many times when breaking a rule and spinning would be attractive.
How many turns?
One if you hit a mark and break no other rule. Otherwise 2
These terms proved too precise and have been replaced by turn(s) including a tack and a gybe. If 2 turns, both must be in the same direction.
When can they be taken? When must they be taken? And when not?
After the warning signal (when the racing rules first apply) and before finishing. This changes an earlier wording where a pre-start infringement could only be exonerated after the start gun.
The key word is ‘immediately’, of which more later. ‘Before the next mark’ isn’t and never has been true.
Turns can only exonerate a boat on boat or boat on mark incident. Obviously turns can’t exonerate an underweight boat, and oversized sail, missing out a mark (which used to be common in youth events) and so on. Less obviously, they can’t exonerate rule 42 breaches or failure to take a penalty correctly. The rules implicitly draw a line between accidents (misdemeanours, if you will) and crimes. While I favour an intermediate category which allows a boat breaking rule 42 to admit fault and still complete the race, gaining agreement and implementing it remain obstacles.
A boat infringes and is protested. When it’s obvious she isn’t doing turns an independent witness advises her she should, and she does.
Q. What rules apply?
A. The rule says ‘immediately sail clear and do turns’. In theory bad boat didn’t comply with the ‘immediately' bit and should retire. In practice the wronged boat is usually satisfied that justice has been done and lets it drop.
As #1 above but when the independent witness advises her she should spin, she does a single turn. The independent witness advises her, in rather stronger terms, she should have done 2 turns, so she then does the second.
Q. What rules apply?
A. Bad boat still didn’t immediately sail clear, but in addition didn’t initially do both turns. The rule implies she must, and this is reinforced by subsequent appeals (intriguingly nicknamed "turnus interruptus” and “picnicking on the M25”. Ask me over a beer). So neither turn counts. We'd DSQ bad boat twice if we could.
This has a more serious side. Bad boat’s reluctance is now tying up the attentions of both good boat and the independent witness. Dunno about you but fighting the boats around me absorbs all my attention, and I don’t have any spare to shepherd bad boat’s antics.
An abiding principle of our sport is that it’s self-policing, and bad boat was pushing and has now broken that limit.
Q2. At some point bad boat might get protested under rule 3 (fair sailing) or 69 (gross misconduct). If so, what happens?
A2. Protest committees used to be desperate not to convict under Rule 69 because of the high standard of proof and the knock-on effects. How can a committee know what was in the offender’s mind? I’ve seen one of the most experienced team racers in the country given a slapped wrist after doing one turn not two. He used the ‘Red Mist’ defence.
Q3. But it’s the same people every time, surely we can do something?
A3. Yes. The rules have been changed in subtle ways which make a fix much more accessible.
Firstly, what used to be ‘onus of proof’ - a legal term with a fairly well understood, but high, threshold - has been removed because it and the associated ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ were being serially misused. The last vestiges of the 'onus’ principle are now only in establishing or breaking an overlap…where there’s doubt about whether an overlap was established or broken it shall be assumed that it was not. You may hear this called ‘the last point of certainty’.
The new wording requires the committee (rule 69 [and damage hearings] are the only protests requiring a committee) reach a ‘comfortable satisfaction’ the rule was broken.
With this lower onus and (as I read it) ability to consider past behaviour, decide for yourself how seriously you view these cases:-
Number of rule 69 warnings in the last 2 years are 1, 3, more than 3
Otherwise reformed hothead teenager, last warning 18 months ago
And again for items 2, 3 and 4, but the current offence is a different category (e.g. this is incomplete or delayed turns, all the others were rule 42. Or vice versa)
There’s an inbuilt safeguard in rule 69 penalties, that a ban (the alternative to a warning) gets referred to the RYA whether the sailor wants that or not. You can usefully think of it as ‘auto-appealed’.
Q. A boat realises she is about to be caught port and starboard on a beat and to lessen the impending collision starts her tack and shouts ‘Sorry, my bad, I’ll spin’, and completes 2 turns ending up on port. Is this OK?
A. No. The penalty is ‘to sail clear [… and then] do turn(s)’. As described she can’t have sailed clear before starting the first turn. Colloquially, a tack or gybe which is part of the infringement can’t also be part of the exoneration.
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