Wednesday, October 13, 2010

College Sailing & Rule 42

Today's post is about a longstanding controversy in the US concerning the fact that the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association ("ICSA") modifies rule 42 for college sailing regattas.

For a number of reasons, the ICSA has decided that a modified version of rule 42 is better suited for the particular characteristics of college sailing.

Here are the two changes to rule 42:

  • During and immediately after tacking or gybing, a boat’s crew may move their bodies to roll the boat, provided that the boat’s mast does not move aggressively away from the vertical more than once (Changes RRS 42.3(b))."
  • RRS 42.2(c) is changed to read: “Except on a beat to windward, when surfing (rapidly accelerating down the leeward side of a wave) or planing is possible, ooching (sudden forward body movement, stopped abruptly) is permitted in order to initiate surfing or planing.”

The ICSA has a lengthly set of procedural rules which govern college regattas. These rules are invoked in the Sailing Instructions of each event, and themselves rank as additional Sailing Instructions. 

College sailing takes place in a number of different small boats, such as 420s, FJs, Larks, and Technical Dinghies. However, the class rules of these classes do not apply in college racing; it is very common for each host college to modify its fleet of boats in ways that bring them outside the class box. For example, MIT's fleet of FJs (picture at right) have extra-large Mylar sails, slightly different hull construction, and a number of other changes. 

(This post is continued below, hit "read more")

Here is the problem: Sailing Instructions, and therefore the ICSA Procedural Rules (which rank as Sailing Instructions) cannot change rule 42 (see rule 86). Only the class rules for a given class can do so. 

Thus, ICSA adopted an innovative solution: it created its own class of dinghy, the Collegiate Dinghy. Here are the class rules:


As you can see, the Collegiate Dinghy is a box rule. In order to qualify, a boat's hull must be not greater than 19 feet. Another requirement is that the hull be approved by the organizing authority before racing.

The Collegiate Dinghy class rules modify rule 42 in the ways stated above.

Nonetheless, a number of judges and race administrators (very few of whom are associated with college sailing) in the US remained unhappy. For whatever reason, they disliked the fact that the Collegiate Dinghy class modifies rule 42. I find it interesting that this debate is largely between those "inside" college sailing who appreciate the policy reasons for the change in rule 42, and those outside who attack the change on procedural grounds.

Some argue that the Collegiate Dinghy is not a legitimate class. I find these arguments to be unpersuasive. Granted, the "box" the class rules create is very broad and a number of boats fit into it. But there is no rule that requires class rules to be more specific than the Collegiate Dinghy rule. The box rule for many classes is quite broad; see, e.g., the International C-Class Catamaran, the International A-Class Catamaran, the International Moth, and so on.

The Bayview Yacht Club sent a question to the US SAILING Appeals Committee seeking clarification on what is required to constitute a class. Frankly, I'm not sure what Bayview's stake in this controversy is, but be that as it may.  

Here is the appeal:

Appeal 87

I believe that this answer strongly supports the Collegiate Dingy's legitimacy as a class. The Appeals Committee made clear that the fundamental element of a class is that it specifies the physical characteristics of its boats. The phrase used is "grouping of boats of a specific kind that conform to prescribed physical specifications..." This is precisely what the Collegiate Dinghy class rules do!

This issue has simmered down somewhat in the past few years, but a number of judges and race officials in the US still maintain that the ICSA's actions are improper. I would challenge people in this camp to come foreword and make their case -- in fact, I would love to have someone who holds this view do a guest blog post here.


  1. I was watching a collegiate regatta, and was disgusted at the flagrant ooching I saw among the lead boats----that is until I was told it was legal in college sailing. My first thought was "no, that can't be right"! My second thought was "why in the heck would they legalize it? :-P

    So why is that? From an "outsider's" perspective it seems like what's good for the goose (US Sailing, ISAF) should be good for the gander (ICSA).

    Why all the fuss to get around (some parts of) R42? Why is it so important to collegiate sailing?

    I'm not necessarily saying the insiders can't have their own rules, but I don't understand why they'd want to modify this one.

    At the risk of being argumentative :-) what is it about the "particular characteristics of college sailing" that warrant the change, especially considering all the hoops they had to jump through to make the change legal. Isn't that possibly teaching/reinforcing a "bad" habit?

    I didn't start sailing until after college, so I could be missing something...I just can't imagine what it is about the rule that the outsiders deemed illegal that is so precious to ICSA.

    trying to understand.... not throwing rocks --just maybe a pebble or 2 :)

  2. Mike,

    I sort of tried to focus this post on the procedural issues involving the change to rule 42 rather than the policy reasons for that change. I will do another post in the future about the policy reasons, which I personally find compelling. That said, I'm happy to adress the ooching issue.

    What it comes down to is this:
    1. Ooching is only effective downwind in waves, and only when the ooch is perfectly executed
    2. Being able to ooch effectively adds another skill set for the crew. College sailors are young and athletic, and this is a way to make the game more physically engaging for crews. It is another thing for crews to be good at.
    3. Ooching, when well executed in the correct conditions, is fun!

    Consider, as an analogy, classes like the 470 and Finn which allow unlimited kinetics in certain conditions. Why do they change the rule? Because it makes those boats more fun to sail, adds another skill for sailors to master, and on net, the game is better with the change.

    College sailing has made a similar determination. While there may be valid reasons for ISAF to ban ooching in general, in the specific circumstance of college sailing, our game is better with it than without it. My point vis-à-vis the procedural issues is that college sailing ought to be (and in my view, is) allowed to make this change.

    Cheers, Matt

  3. Thanks for the comments, Matt. Sorry for the tangent.

    I can appreciate the fun aspect of ooching as well as the skill involved. I was unaware of the 470/Finn rules.

    So back to your main point: ICSA has to come up with this box rule to create a class because they can't very well change the class rules for 420s, FJs, etc? Sure...I guess they should be able to do that if they want. It just seems like the 420 class (for example) would want the same exceptions for the very reasons you listed.

    I suppose rather than battle with each class rule if ICSA wants it, and everybody agrees to it, they should be able to change it. Kinda a shame that they have to jump through all these hoops to do it tho. It just creates another layer of rules, which was my point against it.

    I think prescriptions are a similar issue. Each country should have the right to add their own...its just a necessary "evil" because we can't all agree on all of them.

    So I guess I'm torn. I don't want to deny any group from modifying the game as they see fit, I just don't like the red tape that must go along with it. RRS, prescriptions, class rules, ICSA rules, SIs...its a lot to digest, and be responsible for knowing :(

  4. The difference in the rules becomes obvious when a college sailor and outside-world sailor are on the same dinghy, and I believe it hinders mixing between the two groups.

    In my experience, no-one knows the text of the rule, but people learn culturally what is acceptable. Cultural differences often lead to negative stereotypes ("US college sailors cheat" / "outside-world sailors are lazy"). I think it helps when posts like this spread the understanding that rule 42 is, the fact, different for the different groups.

    More on-topic: How do I write a Notice of Race to make clear that ISAF rule 42 will hold unchanged, invite dinghys that happen to fit within the box rule, and let trapeze classes use their trapeze?

  5. I think one of the major reasons for the rule is that college sailing does not allow the use of trapeze or spinnakers which would normally make the classes very challenging. The modification allows back some of the technicality that missing from the college races.

    OHara: I am not sure if you are writing this NOR for college sailing or in general. For college sailing all of the boats must be of the same type if they are raced together- race 420s with 420s, FJs with FJs and only racing the same generation of Larks verse each other (Baker, Parker, Rondar). College sailing does not allow an FJ to be in the same race as a 420 as the boats sail differently, the rule more allows all types of boats to be considered in the same class. College Sailing does not use trapeze and even if you allowed it, most teams would not have trapeze harnesses.