With the exception of being on the port-tack side of a starboard-port collision, just about the worst place any sailor can end up is the protest room. Why? Because for 97 percent of the sailboat racing populace, its just plain no fun to go into a room where youre surrounded by judges ready to pick apart your version of the incident(s) that got you into that room in the first place. For the other three percent of sailors who actually enjoy this experiencewelltheres no accounting for some peoples preferences.
Actually, whether youre talking about a leisurely Sunday afternoon race at the local sailing center or a world championship regatta, a lot can be learned by making a trip to the protest room. But these are usually lessons that come at a steep price relative to your standing in that race. The one thing you can count on is that, if youre in the wrong regarding the incident in question, the judge or judges on hand will be more than happy to explain your transgression. It makes for the perfect instruction on what not to do the next time.
If you do suffer an infraction on the racecourse and end up getting called into the protest room, you can help your case immensely by knowing a little bit about protest protocol beforehand. The following information is an attempt to help the first-time protestees present their cases in the best possible way, thereby giving themselves and their crew at least a modest chance of coming out unscathedexcept for the psychological damage, of course.
Avoid the Issue All Together Sometimes your best chance of surviving a protest hinges on whether you can pick apart the protestors case on procedural grounds and get the case dismissed before its even heard by the jury. Did your opponents hail "protest" and fly their protest flag at "the first reasonable opportunity," or did they file the protest form before the time limit had expired? Find out these things and point them out to the jury if any requirements for the protest havent been met. Sure, this approach might be perceived as weaseling your way out, but look at it this way: if you do this, youll still be learning a lesson, only not at the loss of your standing in the race.
Know the Protocol You should know that its not only fellow competitors that can protest you, but the race committee and the protest committee as well. That alone should discourage you from pumping your sails wildly in order to surf past the race committee boat on the downwind leg. Of course the rules require that all parties involved in a protest hearing "shall be notified of the time and place of the hearing
and they shall be allowed reasonable time to prepare for the hearing," so you shouldnt be caught off guard if youre ever involved in a protest. And no boat or competitor can be penalized without a hearing (except in the cases of the Z-flag rule, the Black Flag Rule, Rule 42 [propulsion], or if that competitor fails to start or finish).
Bone up on the Rules Whoever protests you will be asked to name the rule or rules they believe you broke in the incident. You need to know these too so that you can either prepare your defense or realize that you really dont have a defense. To do this, youll need a current copy of the US SAILING rule book. (The new 2001-2004 rules go into effect on April 1, 2001, and rule books are available from US SAILINGwww.ussailing.org). As soon as the race in which the incident happened is over, get together with your crew and discuss the incident and try to identify what rules are involved. Most protest forms offer space for a description of the event and a diagram of what occurred. If you take the time to use these devices to document the information regarding the incident youll have a clear idea of what happened and how the rules involved apply to the action.
Have the Right Tools Besides having a current copy of the rule book, there are a few other items that will help you prepare for surviving a protest.
1. The US SAILING appeals book. Some of the precedent-setting cases noted here might apply to your situation and it will help if you're aware of them.
2. A book explaining the rules. Several noted rules experts have books out, including Dave Perry (Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing); Eric Twiname (The Rules Book); Paul Elvstrom (Paul Elvstrom Explains the Racing Rules of Sailing); and Mary Pera (The Racing Rules for Sailors).
3. US SAILING makes a Protest Kit, which contains a protest flag, forms, and a template for diagramming the incident.
4. The Bag O Boats (also from US SAILING) contains plastic boats that you can use to reconstruct the incident in several phases.
5. Obtain a table that relates boat speed in knots to feet traveled per second. If you have this you will sound pretty authoritative regarding the elapsed time and distance covered for the duration of the incident.
Know Your Options If you do find yourself being protested on the water for having broken one of the rules in Part II of the rule book (regarding when boats meet), you're allowed the option exonerating your infringement by way of an alternative penalty--a 720-degree turn. (If, however, your infringement caused serious damage or gave you a big advantage in the race, you're obliged to retire from that race.) Lets say youre on port tack during a race and you force a starboard-tack boat to alter his course because you tacked too close to him. Theres no collision or contact, but its pretty clear that you are the one at fault. Why wait to have your boat thrown out of the race in a protest if the sailing instructions give you the option of doing a 720 (two full turns) to exonerate your actions? You might also have the option for taking a 20-percent penalty, and you need to consider that too. Usually the consequences of these options are far better than getting thrown out in a protest after the race.
If the protest ultimately doesnt go your way, you may have the option of appealing it after the fact. Doing this is pretty involved, and youll need to act quickly. You have 15 days after the decision to send a written copy of the jurys decision, along with an explanation of why you feel the committees interpretation of a rule or its procedures were incorrect to the association appeals committee for the place in which the event was held. Youll have to include a filing fee ($50 for US SAILING members and $100 for non members), a copy of the written protest, a diagram of the incident prepared or endorsed by the protest committee, the notice of race and the sailing instructions for the event (along with any amendments made), and the names and addresses of all parties to the hearing along with that of the protest committee chairman. So unless youve got a lot riding on the outcome, youre probably better off swallowing your pride and chalking it up as a good lesson learned. Theres always another race on the schedule somewhere.
Dont Roll the Dice
All the hackneyed maxims youve ever heard about preparation apply to protest hearings: "Keep it simple," "put your best foot forward," "an ounce of prevention
" etc., etc. The fact remains, if youre obliged to go into the protest room and defend what you did on the racecourse, do so in the best way possibleby being prepared. So keep these things in mind:
- Get your story straight and present only the key facts of the incident. If the jurors ask you to reiterate what happened and your second description differs from your first, your case will look weak.
- If there were any witnesses to the incidentand they saw what happened the way you think it happenedget them to agree to testify for you. After the protest has been filed and the time and place of the hearing announced, let your witnesses know when and where the hearing will be held.
- Make your presentation and your answers to the jury succinct and clear.
- Figure out how your opponent will state the case and be ready to rebut those arguments if possible.
- Dont get upset or flustered if the protesting partys story seems distorted. Thats just human nature.
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