Monday, 23 January 2017 09:58

Judging and common infringements

Chris Watts talks about judging the Finn World Masters and common infringements

One of the more familiar faces at the Finn World Masters is Chris Watts, who has been a regular on the International Jury for many years. We asked Chris about his background and also about the most common infringements he is looking for when he is following you closely around the race course. Next time you see him on the water, give him a wave and try and remember what is going through his mind as he keeps a close eye on the fleet, along with the rest of the jury. Chris Watts is an International Judge and National Race Officer, and the RYA Race Officials’ Education Officer

How long have you been on the jury at the FWM and how did you first get involved?
My first Finn World Masters was at Cannes in 2004 where I was the Eurosaf Exchange International Judge. I then missed two championships as they did not fit with school holidays, but have since been at every one since Murcia in 2007.

How long have you been judging before that?
I took up judging in the mid-90s after feeling that as a sailor I was getting some very wrong decisions from protest committees. I went through the RYA system and eventually qualified as an International Judge in 2000. I had formed relationships with some of the classes
sailed at Stokes Bay and attended by invitation some of their International events travelling to South Africa and Portugal in my first year.

What is your background in sailing?
I think I have always needed a crew (to blame) and started off with several Fireballs and also sailing a friend’s 5o5, all with a fair bit of success. With a young family I had to limit my sailing to closer to home and chose a popular class at Stokes Bay and with other clubs within a few miles also with big fleets. This was a 15 foot dinghy called an Albacore, which is a two person, non-trapeze and non-spinnaker boat. The tactics, very close racing and having to think your way round the course I really found exciting. Like many others who achieved some success I went on to join successful big boat crews as a tactician, but still kept racing dinghies. To a lesser extent all that still happens.

The FWM is getting more and more competitive? Do you see this as a good situation?
The key thing is enjoyment. The enjoyment factor in the class is very high and relationships between competitors are tremendous, so it is possible to have really competitive racing and yet to come ashore and share a beer and just enjoy being with friends.

How did you find the atmosphere among the sailors compared to other events?
There is little doubt that the atmosphere in the class is fantastic and it is a real honour to be part of it. Particularly my wife, Elaine, and I look forward to the Finn World Masters every year. There are other classes that are friendly, love fun and non-stop disco dancing; however, with the Finns you get a chance to sit down and chat with friends.

Are the Finn Masters in general well behaved on the water?
In general they are excellent, take penalties when they should and keep friendships. However, not being aware of, or not being used to, sailing where there a strong current does lead to unintentional problems at marks. Also keen competition between friends, not being aware of what you are doing or perhaps ignorance can lead to breaches of rule 42. The thing to remember here is that we are still only talking about a small percentage of the fleet.

What are you looking for in terms of Rule 42?
We can only be the equivalent of the police on the motorway and where we are things are normally fine: no one speeds. So our job is to put ourselves where things are liable to happen and discourage someone hoping to gain an advantage at a critical time. Our aim is to try to make things fair for those that sail to the rules.

 - On the start?
These are tactical breaches and performed to gain an advantage. The boat that is being shut out and needs to get forward is liable to scull or rock. We will be where the boats are closely grouped, as this is where the most breaches of Rule 42 will occur. There are great advantages from being able to get off the line with speed, so we are looking for the big rock off the line, which is really bad news for the boat to leeward. One soft rock to bring the boat up to speed is fine.

Such infringements only happen once and are penalised by the judge that witnesses it, there is no need for agreement between the judges.

 - Upwind?
Only in light winds are there normally problems such as rocking the boat upwind or sculling to make that last bit round the windward mark. Just occasionally a helm may bounce on the side several times to flick the leach to gain that extra bit of speed but with the judge knowing that it is most likely to happen just after the start or when trying to cross a right of way boat, means that it is likely to be spotted.

 - Downwind?
Most breaches downwind will be technical ones and therefore needed to be repeated and here both judges will need to agree on it being a breach of the rule. These can be the hardest to be sure of as the effects of a quartering sea on one gybe really does make it difficult to spot as to whether the movement of the boat is caused by waves or the body movement of the helm. The doubt is always with the competitor and I always insist that the judge has to be able to explain clearly to the competitor what they were doing wrong or they should not have given the penalty. Common breaches are: heeling the boat to steer but helming against the change of course which turns it into a rock; fanning the sail; and of course pumping more than once or failing to get the boat to rapidly accelerate down a wave after a single pump.

- At marks?
All the action, when it happens, is near the edge of the mark zone. Anything to gain the overlap or break the overlap, however, it is worth remembering rule 18.2(d) which is the one about doubt and the making and breaking of an overlap. It is worth reading.

I would like to sum up the Rule 42 business and put it in context as we have said quite a bit about it. The question you might like to have asked was, “Is the breaking of Rule 42 a big problem in the class; do we have lots of cheats in the fleet?” My answer would be an emphatic no. The number of penalties given in each race is usually a very small percentage of the number of boats racing.

What are the most common infringements you see at the FWM?
Usually at the leeward gate when a lot of boats arrive together, where there is often a lot of shouting, sometimes the word “protest” and very few actual protests coming to the jury. The other one would be boats coming in on port at the windward mark. However, with both occasions the concerns in the FWM is considerably less than in other classes.

Do you ever step in and protest a boat for a non-Rule-42 infringement, or leave that to the sailors?
Sailing is rightly so a self-policing sport and it is up to competitors to protest. However, I do give instructions to the jury, which are also posted on the official notice board, that say we will protest any boat where we believe they knowingly broke a rule and did not take a penalty or protest. Such a protest by the jury would include Rule 2 (Sportsmanship) and could result in the boat being given a DNE (Disqualification Non-Excludable). An example might be hitting a mark in such a way that it would be obvious to the sailor that he had hit the mark and not taking a penalty or being involved in a protest about it. Protests by the jury and race committee are informed by a notice on the official notice board within the protest time.

Do you think a sailing event like this could ever be self-policing, without the need for a jury?
Well it would be nice to think so, but even football has gone to having another assistant referee behind the goals, making six in all? The trend in all sports is for more technology to be used. So we could be at home watching via our own drone and shoot a nice paint ball on to the guilty sailor’s mainsail.

What is your opinion on the format in terms of splitting the fleet and fleet sizes?
In teaching race officers in GBR we talk about fair starts, making sure they have a good spread down the line as the gun goes. If the boats are all at one end the team need to postpone and reset the line. If there is only one way to go up the beat then the line will have to be biased to allow for this. The larger the fleet the harder this is to do and the first beat as you approach the shore will be chaotic as it can be on inland venues. In such conditions there is no way back up the fleet if it is too large and if you do not get a good start.

I do not think that is good for the class or its racing. We have been to venues where the line has been so long that there were often different wind and current conditions at either end, it was possible in Murcia to reach the windward mark on one tack from either end of the line as it was so long. Again I think this is devaluing our racing and removing opportunity for fairness. I would say that 70 to 80 Finns on a line is manageable but beyond that it brings in too much degree of chance. So yes I would support splitting the fleets and having smaller numbers on each start.

And do you think the medal race has a place in the Masters?
I enjoy the medal racing and I believe those taking part do as well. It was designed to be an event for spectators as well as the final showdown. I am not sure we have achieved the spectator bit at recent championships. It does mean that we have to have a more experienced jury who are familiar with medal racing and this is good for all aspects of the championships.

How would you like to see the FWM developing in the coming years? Any changes you’d suggest to improve anything?
The formula you have is great and when expecting between 200 and 300+ competitors for a weeks’ sailing you obviously have got it right. If it is not broke then there is no need to fix it.

Do you think it should remain an event for everyone and retain its traditional values (i.e. less races, wind speed limits), or do you think it should start to reflect the increasing number of top sailors competing, or maybe even split categories like the Lasers?
I guess we are all here to provide what the sailors want and the traditional seems very much to be the favourite in the class. If you change the wind speeds up or the Rule 42 down you will make it a more physical boat which certainly will not favour the more mature masters. Each venue you visit will have different challenges and 300+ boats on Lake Garda will bring about several challenges that I know are already being considered. Being flexible enough to allow your committee to make adjustments to fleet size and number of fleets is very important.

It has been suggested that the role of the coach should also become one of safety. Is this achievable without compromising the integrity of the competition?
The number of coaches is increasing at the championships. The class can easily copy sailing instructions for governing coaches from other big events. Many have a signal that can be flown by the race committee and with a VHF broadcast allowing coaches to enter the racing area to assist with rescue. That would be better than giving them free access to the racing area which would open a real can of worms.

Split had a ‘young’ person in a wetsuit in each rescue boat who would dive into the water and help with righting a boat and hauling the Finn sailor back in before returning to their own rescue boat. It worked well. At the time this did breach the outside assistance rule, but now probably only the righting of the boat would break the rule as it stands. A sailor in the water is in danger and can now be returned to their boat without breaking the rule. The rule can be changed by the sailing instructions as you wish.

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