You know how it is. You've been on the water for three hours.
It was an exhilarating race; every muscle in your body was complaining
as you tried that little bit harder up the final beat and just
managed to pip those two boats on the line to finish in the top
ten ... and here you are, sat outside the protest room, defending
yourself over an alleged infringement on the start line with
a boat you never saw again during the entire race, whilst your
friends are enjoying themselves in the bar. The fun of the day
is already disappearing. And it'll be totally ruined if the decision
goes against YOU. Hence the 720° penalty.
Now consider match racing. As soon as the two boats start manoeuvring
against each other, they each put up a protest flag at the first
opportunity. The average television viewer, who knows as much
about yacht racing as I know about the benefits of teetotalism,
is confused. He understands football, or Wimbledon, or the Grand
National. The winner is the guy that goes faster. But this sailing
lark, it's different. The two boats come together before the
start, they shout at each other and both fly a red flag. They
then sail the course and the first boat wins by a mile, and then
eight hours later you learn that the second boat won because
he was a better shouter. Doesn't seem to make much of a television
sport, this sailing. (They've made progress since then. They
now decide the result in a New York courtroom one month before
the race takes place 3000 miles away, and so the television viewer
doesn't even have to watch the race). It is also not exactly
ideal for the competitors. Hence 'On the water judging'.
So how does it work? Well, the aim is whoever crosses the finishing
line first wins the race. Incidents are judged as they happen
by two umpires who immediately after the incident indicate which
yacht, if any, is to take a penalty, and the umpires' decision
is final. So the yacht has no option but to take her penalty
and then get on with the race.
It was first tried in 1988 at the Congressional Cup, and was
then used at the Grundig and the Royal Lymington Cup where I
was one of the umpires. Despite its newness and the umpires'
inexperience, it has been universally well received by organisers
and competitors, if only because after racing competitors and
organisers can socialise in the bar instead of becoming involved
in interminable protest hearings. It will be used throughout
1989, in particular for the Royal Lymington Cup which has been
chosen for the 1989 match racing world championships.
Umpiring, though, is not easy. The umpires don't have the opportunity
to mull over a decision for half an hour in the protest room,
or to question competitors on the positions of the boats thirty
seconds before the incident. However, it is often thirty seconds
before the incident that right of way is established, and if
the umpires miss seeing that, they will for a while, thereafter,
be unable to judge any incidents.
An example of this happened in the very first race of the Lymington
John Kolius on starboard crossed just ahead of' David Bedford
on the final beat when Bedford was just below the luff line for
the finish, and tacked to cover. Because Kolius had lost speed
on the tack, the bows of .the two boats were about level as they
went away on port tack. Thirty seconds after the tack Bedford
luffs hard almost head-to-wind, and hits Kolius. Who is in the
wrong? The umpires called Kolius. However, the key moment was
thirty seconds previously, the moment Kolius completed his tack.
Bedford only had luffing rights if at that moment Kulius was
behind mast abeam.It was.agreed in the bar afterwards that at
that moment Kolius was ahead of mast abeam and the umpire's call
was wrong, and the drinks were on the umpires.
So a method had to be devised to keep track at all times of which
yacht holds right of way. This involves watching both yachts
at all times, and the only way to ensure this is to allocate
one yacht to each umpire, and each umpire continually talks through
what his yacht is doing.
One umpire might be calling "I'm on starboard,....I'm right-of-way
yacht .... I'm luffing, preparing to tack, I'm still right-of-way
. . . . I've completed my tack NOW, I have luffing rights, do
you agree? . . . . I'm luffing, I can go as far as head-to-wind,
you must keep clear .... I've gone beyond head-to-wind, I'm non-right-of-way
.... We collided, I am in the wrong, do you agree?'".
All through this the other umpire will be calling his yacht and
ensuring they both agree. This continual conversation ensures
that the build up to an incident is closely watched and generally
the decision is known prior to the collision happening. It also
ensures that the umpires know immediately if they disagree, and
can usually identify who is in the right before any incident.
In the race between Pelle Peterson and Derek Clark that I was
judging, during pre-start manoeuvres the boats were close hauled
on the same tack when the leeward one, Clark, started luffing.
Both boats ended up head-to-wind, (head level and about four
feet apart. At the same time Clark to leeward decided to bear
away and Peterson to windward decided to tack. Both sterns consequently
started to swing towards the other, and the gap became three
feet, two feet ....
The conversation in the umpires' boat was going as follows (Clark's
"I'm leeward boat, I'm right-of-way boat, I'm ahead of mast
abeam, I can luff to head-to-wind slowly".
"I'm windward boat, I'm keeping clear".
"I'm still ahead of mast abeam, I've luffed to head-to-wind,
I've stopped luffing". I
"I've luffed to head-to-wind, I've kept clear".
Things then got a bit less clear-cut (again Clark's umpire first):
"I'm bearing away, I'm leeward boat, I'm right of way boat
altering course, my stern's swinging towards you, I'm not allowed
to cause a collison".
"I'm tacking, I'm non-right-of-way boat, my stern's swinging
towards you, I'm not allowed to cause a collision".
Together "I hope we don't collide" (or words to that
Fortunately, the two helms, aware of us breathing down their
necks, were equally unsure and were both leaning over the gap
and watching it closely. When the gap between the boats got down
to two feet (and the gap between the helms' heads got down to
six inches) they both stopped altering course, the boats drifted
apart, and the judges relaxed.....till the bar that evening when
they tried to sort out who would have been right.
The success of on the-water judging was such that it will be
legislated for in the new rule book. We found at Lymington that
the rules regarding hails needed changing, as it is a hit difficult
adjudicating on the validity of a "Mast Abeam" hail
when you can't actually hear the hail . . . and who needs hails
when you've got umpires on hand.
There are grand plans afoot for the training of umpires. Competitors
travel around the world to a number of events each year, while
umpires stay at home and do one. Result: competitors get smarter
than umpires. I would normally be confident that the competitors
would for the good of the sport stay fair and honest, to each
other. We now have both appearance money (presumably based on
rankings) and large amounts of prize money on offer in worldwide
match racing and I hope that the sport is able to cope. I believe
And, a final comment on why I believe it will. These match race
events are now expensive to mount. This expense is necessary
both to attract the finest crews from all round the world, and
also to allow for on-the-water judging. Each race requires a
pair of judges, a manoeuvrable judges' boat with a flying bridge,
and ideally a second rubber dinghy that can go astern on runs
and abeam on reaches without affecting wind. All this was laid
on at Lymington . . . and the result? I judged seven round robin
races and two semi-final races. All starts and most races were
fiercely competitive. But I was not called upon by the competitors
to judge even one incident in the whole event. Every race was