I'm a US SAILING judge and something I witnessed about a year ago while judging a Laser regatta serves as strong evidence regarding the above notion. At this event, there was a lot at stake because the top two finishers would qualify for a prestigious national event. In the last race of the series, I was alone in a powerboat downwind of the leeward gate, watching a large group of boats jockey for position as they approached in a building breeze. This group was leading the race in a fleet of about 30 boats. One boat (I'll call him Tucker) was trailing the lead pack of four boats, just behind and to the inside, with no overlap on the most inside boat of that group (whom I'll call Dan). Dan clearly had an overlap on the next boat outside of him (I'll call him Steve). As the lead boats entered the two-boatlength zone, it appeared to me that Tucker did not have an overlap and was clear astern of Dan. (In a Laser, the two-boatlength zone is less than 30 feet.) Tucker, however, was coming on quickly and did indeed gain a late overlap inside the other three boats. Much yelling ensued, but Tucker did not give way, and rounded the mark inside of Dan and the rest of the large group.
It appeared clear to me that Tucker had no rights for room at the mark because he had only gained his overlap well inside the two-length zone. Steve, who was outside Dan, had to react quickly and consequently became tangled up and slowed down dramatically. Because of that, he was unable to defend against another large group of boats that took advantage of his lack of speed and subsequent wide rounding. They all rounded inside of Steve as well. I made my notes immediately, and waited to see what would happen on shore between the competitors.
The rule that applies in this instance is Rule 18, and specifically 18.2.c, which addresses overlap situations: "Not Overlapped at the Zone - If a boat is clear ahead at the time she reaches the two-length zone, the boat clear astern shall thereafter keep clear. If the boat clear astern becomes overlapped outside the other boat, she shall also give the inside boat room. If the boat clear astern becomes overlapped inside the other boat she is not entitled to room." After you read that you can see how obvious it is that Tucker had no rights in the incident described above.
The important lesson here is that Tucker's lack of knowledge of the rules, and his consequent behavior at the mark adversely affected Steve's results in the regatta. Steve ended up finishing third overall, only two points out of second, and he didn't qualify for the national event. The mark-rounding incident cost him dearly because, he had steadily improved throughout the event and was on track to clinch second place overall. Had Steve finished the last race among the top eight boats, he would have qualified for the next event, and given his performance over the last several races of the regatta, top eight was well within his reach.
Tucker, though a much less experienced sailor who was not competitive in this event, played a critical role due to his lack of knowledge of the rules. So you can see how important a basic understanding of the rules can be, and how that can increase your competitiveness and your enjoyment, and allow your competitors to enjoy their time on the water as well.
If you havenít done so already, take quick look at the most commonly applied rulesóthose in Part 2 of the Racing Rules of Sailing. Specifically, take a look at eight essential rules: Rule 10 (Opposite Tacks), Rule 11 (Same Tack-Overlapped), Rule 12 (Same Tack-Not Overlapped), Rule 14 (Avoiding Contact), Rule 15 (Acquiring Right of Way), Rule 16 (Changing Course), Rule 17 (Same Tack, Proper Course) and Rule 18 (Rounding Marks and Obstructions). Even if you limit your understanding of the rules to these basic situations, my guess is that youíll derive more enjoyment out of your time on the water.
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