Sunday, April 17, 2011

Interesting scenario at Mark 1

This one comes to me from an umpire at the ICSA Pacific Coast Team Racing Championship.

Approaching mark 1 (to be left to starboard), Dark Blue is nearly stationary. Her teammate, Light Blue, is approaching from behind with an opponent, Yellow, to windward. As they approach Dark Blue, Yellow hails for room. Light blue continues to point directly at Dark Blue's transom until Yellow is "hooked" to windward. Light Blue then bears down below Dark Blue, and Yellow is trapped to windward. Yellow protests. What should the call be?

I'll post my answer in a few days.

Friday, April 15, 2011

College Team Racing Procedure Issue: When Is a Spin a Penalty?

Here is a question from a reader:
At the pre-start of a college team race regatta with less than 30 seconds to go boat X fouls boat A near the starting line. Boat A protests boat X and X does not spin. A, then deciding that their position on the line is unfavorable, tacks and then gybes around to their old spot on the line. When he returns to his hole on the line he calls for an umpire. The umpires decide that his timing of the umpire call was not an issue; however, does his reposition on the line (i.e. the tack and gybe) constitute a one-turn penalty, thus negating the umpire call? It is clear to the umpires that the tack and gybe was done for tactical reasons and not to clear a penalty. The question is whether one tack and one gybe in a situation where there is a foul is always considered taking a penalty, or whether it can be done for tactical reasons while still allowing for an umpire call.
Here is the relevant ICSA procedural rule:
When a boat protests under a rule of Part 2 or under Rule 31, 42 or 44, she is not entitled to a hearing. Instead, a boat involved in the incident may promptly acknowledge breaking a rule and take the appropriate penalty. If no boat takes a penalty, the protesting boat may  request a decision by conspicuously  displaying a raised open hand and hailing the word “Umpire.” An umpire shall decide whether any  boat has  broken a rule, and shall signal the decision in compliance with Rule D2.2(b). 
So the question is whether A's actions (tacking and gybing around to re-establish her position on the starting line) constitute a penalty turn, meaning that she is no longer entitled to hail for an umpire decision.

Here are my thoughts:

  • First, make sure that A's actions comply with the technical requirements of rule 44: the boat must get well clear of the other boats and do a tack and gybe in the same direction. 
  • Second, if they do, decide whether A has done anything to disclaim that her actions are not a penalty turn. If she yells "I'm not spinning" or something to that effect, I would not treat her circle as a penalty turn. I think you have to apply the same standard as when deciding whether to penalize her if she's been the one breaking a rule; but if she does something to make clear she's not spinning, I don't see why the umpires would be required to green flag her umpire hail. The rules are not clear here, so there is space for prudent interpretation. However, I think that it would be going too far to simply assume that the turn was not a penalty if A did not do something to make this clear.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rob Overton on Protest Procedure

Rob has a new post over at the UK Halsey Racing Rules Blog. He argues that we should "[r]elax the time and notification requirements for protesting and for taking penalties" in order to encourage more people to protest and more people to spin by giving them more time to do each.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Tough Black Flag Situation

I was an umpire at the Friis-Marchiando trophy this weekend, a college team race co-hosted by MIT and Tufts. Interesting weekend of racing, with lots of calls. The College of Charleston won over BC, with Harvard and Brown in third and fourth, respectively.

Here an interesting scenario we ran into:

Team A, B, C is winning the race with a 1, 2, 3 combination at the top mark. Downwind, their opponents (X, Y, and Z) make some gains, and at the leeward mark X is inside C, who was in third place. Both X and C believe they have mark-room; C argues that she X did not establish an overlap by the time they entered the zone, and X saying that she did. C refuses to give room, and X is forced to the outside. A, B, and C round the leeward mark in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively. The boats are all very close together (bow to stern).

X protests, and asks for an umpire decision. The umpires were certain that X had established an overlap in time, and accordingly, the C owed mark-room to X.

We discussed the incident briefly, and then displayed a red flag (to penalize C) and a black flag (to indicate that C's team may have gained an as a result of the foul).

Here are the relevant rules:

D2.2(d)(5):
An umpire may take action without a protest by another boat when a boat or her team gains an advantage despite taking a penalty.The umpire may impose a penalty of one or more turns, each including one tack and one gybe, signalled by displaying a red flag and hailing the boat accordingly, or report the incident to the protest committee, signalled by displaying a black flag, or both.

D3.1(c)(1):
After a hearing the protest committee may penalize as follows: When a boat has broken a rule and as a result her team has gained an advantage, it may increase that boat’s points.
C spun her penalty circles, and her team went on to win the race with a 1, 2, 6 combination (9 points), and X, Y, Z had a 3, 4, 5 combination (12 points).

After the race, the jury (the two umpires from the race, plus a third umpire) held a hearing under the black flag to determine (1) did C's team gain an advantage as a result of her breach of rule 18.2(b), and (2) if she did, whether to add points to C's team's score.

The first question was easier. It was clear to us that C's team had gained an advantage: rather than round as a 1,2,5 with the opponent's 3rd place boat right behind their 2nd place boat, A, B, C instead rounded in a 1, 2, 3 combination. This was a direct result of the foul. We could have given as many penalties at the tim to C as we wanted, but it wouldn't change anything; C's presence put X farther behind B.

The second question was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make as an umpire. On one hand, C's team had has a 1-2 combination all the way from the start to the finish. If we decided to add points so as to reverse the outcome of the race, this would give the win to X, Y, Z and mean the race was, in effect, over at the leeward mark. On the other hand, it was clear to us that C's team did gain an advantage and there was no penalty other than adding points that would be relevant.

We were eager to look for a middle option. In my opinion, the rule should allow the jury to order a re-sail of the race. But it does not. Likewise, were the umpires allowed to, we would have awarded a single penalty turn to B (who did not break a rule) to eradicate the advantage gained through C's foul against X. Here, again, the rules did allow this option.

Reluctantly, we added 3 points to C's team's score. The teams were now tied, and per rule D3.1(d) ("If the totals are equal, the team that did not have the first-place boat wins"), X, Y, Z won the race. 

Naturally, A, B, and C were very upset -- justifiably so. The jury was left with two bad options: reverse the result of the race, or allow C's foul to go effectively unpunished (since there was no other option that would be an effective penalty).

Lessons from this:
  • C was unwise to shut X out; if C thought that X did not have room, she should have nevertheless allowed X in and then protested her. This way there was no chance of a black-flag situation.
  • If, after the black flag were displayed, A or B had done a one-turn voluntary penalty, the jury would not have acted as it did. Doing this would take a huge amount of foresight, but believe it or not, I've seen it done before, and it is an excellent way of averting a black flag situation for a team that knows the rules well and is aware of its surroundings.
  • The rules need to be modified. The jury should be allowed to order a resail. The umpires should be entitled to penalize other boats to negate the advantage gained by their teammates' fouls, when necessary.