Monday, 17 March 2014

Back to the Basics (Part 4); Barging I

A blog post in a series: Racing Rules for Novices*
(*I'm going to try to do one of these on Mondays)

In this series I would like to give you my insights into those issues in the Racing Rules for Sailing, that nine times out of ten are asked in one of my rules talks, I do for clubs, sailors and/or class organizations, during the winter season.

This weeks issue is about Barging.
It looks like that I need more than one week to write this up, so next week I'll continue.

Two Traditional Thames Barges in the Lower Thames Estuary, 1935
The dictionary has a whole list of explanations when you type in the word "barging". What is most obvious when reading that list, is that "barging" is associated with rude behaviour, to barge in when not appropriate, aggressively and clumsily. In short; a foul nobody wants to make...... or is it?

Barging in sailing happens very early in the race, before the starting signal and is mostly done either by boats who have no clue about the rules or are especially inapt in timing there approach to the start. But wait, it is also done by people who think they can get away with it, because if successful, it has potentially great benefits. The boat that is most close to the committee boat gets free air and can tack as she pleases.

Let us first have a look at why this rule infringement - basically a very simple windward-leeward issue - is still misunderstood by so many.

It begins with that there is a mark involved; a mark of the starting line. That mark can be - and in many cases is - a committee boat. The committee boat at the end of the starting line - if so described in the sailing instructions - is a mark of the starting line, and boats must pass it on the correct side in order to sail the course.

That committee boat is also - by definition - an obstruction. When sailing directly towards it and one of her hull lengths from it, a boat must make a substantial course change to avoid it. The committee boat is big enough to fall into that category, hence it is "an obstruction"

These two facts about the committee boat - it being a mark and also an obstruction - leads by many to the assumption that the rules, governing mark rounding (RRS18) and passing obstructions (RRS19), apply. And that is - surprisingly - partly true.
But - and this is the part a lot of sailors have a hard time grasping - NOT when boats are approaching the committee boat to start, until they have passed it.

The preamble specifically switches off section C (all rules regarding marks and obstructions) during that very brief period. When boats are sailing around in the start area, a couple of minutes before the start and they happen to pass the committee-boat together, overlapped, rule 19 is applicable. Only during the short time approaching the startline these rules are switched off.

So, depending on the type of boat your are sailing, how good you are in slow speed and the angle of approach, that time may vary from a minute or two to 10 seconds before the starting signal.
During that time the rules that dictate the situation are only the rules in section A, B and D. With rule 11 (Windward must keep clear of Leeward) the main right-of-way rule. During that time, windward boats are not entitled to room from the leeward boats to pass the committee boat on the specified side. They are not allowed to barge in.
Both Red boats are "barging", trying to get to the starting line. This is not permitted.

Because of this, an accurate depiction of the situation would be to forget the committee boat and treat the situation as if it was not there. In open water, a windward boat would have no doubt that she could not come down. She would know she had to keep clear. (This is an oversimplification, but on that subject more next week)

To make things even more complicated, there is an exception. If the starting mark (i.e. the committee (boat) is for example on the end of a long pier and therefore NOT surrounded by navigable water, the preamble of Section C does not kick in and rule 19 is once more applicable. In other words, if barging boats have no water to escape on the outside of the starting mark, you have to let them in, you have to give them room. This is not something that happens in normal racing, but I have seen Extreme Sailing Series races, in very narrow and restricted waters, where the committee boat was so close to a harbour wall that, for all intends and purposes, it was no longer surrounded by navigable water. So it does happen, occasionally.

The leeward boat can sail is high as she wants, it does not have to be close-hauled. Even with a rule 17 restriction she may go up to head-to-wind. All windward boats have stop or tack or whatever it takes, to keep clear.

If you can't wait for next week, you can go back to one of my earlier posts on barging:

Otherwise, to be continued.

Next week: Barging II

Previous episodes in this series:
Back to the Basics (Part 3): Sweet Seventeen
I am a little disappointed that no courageous sailor, umpire or judge came up with an answer to my last question. Fear not, you can keep trying, I'm not going to tell you.
Back to the Basics (Part 2): Where's the referee?
An uniform is not required, but did you check if the B-flag was where it was suppose to be?
Back to the Basics (Part 1): Keeping Clear


  1. Do the Si have to define the committee boat as a mark. What if the start line comes from it. Is it not defined as a mark. Mike b

  2. Thanks Jos. Whilst I have been racing for 40+ years, I still very much appreciate commentaries on rules; whether they be basic rrs or more advanced.




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