HOW TO NEVER LOSE A PROTEST
I have been racing sailboats all my life. In the beginning as crew, I would see my skipper occasionally try to make his case before the race committee. Both times, when either he was protesting or was being protested, I saw a lot of emotion and not always the result he wanted.
At 25 I began racing my C&C 25 "Banana Split". The boat was yellow. I read the sailing right of way rules over and over. I discussed them with my friends who also had little to no knowledge of how it really worked.
My first protest was a simple port/starboard. I was racing in the Manchester fall series with the "Split" and a C&C 39 came charging down the line on port and I screamed starboard but he held his course and at the last minute I turned to avoid collision. I screamed protest and put up my red flag. I never really was near the boat again but stopped at the committee boat at the finish to claim my protest. I waited what seemed like forever at the Manchester Yacht Club and finally they called me in to the protest room. 4 old guys with blazers with big emblems on them and Bermuda ties asked why we were here? They said, " Son, mister George David, the man I was protesting, is very busy and does not have time for this nonsense". The "son" sank deep. I looked at my feet and walked away. George David is the current owner of "Rambler". I'm not the smartest person in the world, but I knew I was not going to win that protest. George was an important man and a member of the Manchester Yacht Club.
Since then I have been in about 30 protests and have won or tied about 25. A tie is when both boats are thrown out or penalized.
Every rule has a burdened boat. So one boat is innocent until proven guilty and the other is guilty until proven innocent. For example, port/starboard. The starboard boat is innocent and the port boat is guilty.
1988 I was racing a C&C 37R "Overtaker" in the 4th of July Annual EYC Regatta. There was a custom 42 footer sailed by the Naval Academy in my class. Half way up the first beat I crossed him, on port by about 12 feet, which in my book was a lot. As I crossed they called protest and flew their red flag. I thought you got to be kidding me.
In the protest each boat is allowed one representative of the boat and one witness. The boats almost always bring a crew member as a witness. Since the crew member is biased, his testimony does not mean much. If the representative and witness were smart enough to rehearse what they say and to be prepared for the questions the committee will ask, it can help. If you can bring in a witness from another boat that confirms your story, that is huge. He is being an unbiased witness.
So I entered the protest meeting with my crew witness, since I could find no other crew from another boat to testify. I kept thinking I cleared by 12 plus feet will the other boat lie and say we were going to hit?
In walks this Naval Cadet in full dress uniform. He has this huge name tag on that says Safety Officer. He introduces himself as safety officer so and so assigned by the Naval Academy for all safety issues related to this yacht. In his opinion 2 large yachts with over 15 people on board traveling at a crossing speed of 15 knots, he instructed his helmsman to turn the boat 10 degrees to leeward increasing the space between these boats to a safe distance. I knew I was screwed.
Again I studied the rules. On my own boat my crew includes 2 US Sailing Judges.
So how do you never lose a protest? Don't protest and don't get yourself into a protestable situation. Even if you are sure you are right.
I had the inside overlap. The boat above me yelled no room. He is the burdened boat. I went inside. We tangled and 3 boats passed both of us. I protested and won the protest. He was thrown out. To this day he hates me. Even though he lost he thinks he got screwed.
Last year a competitor clearly barged at the start. I yelled at him. After the race I pointed out his error. He said I owe you one. We remained good friends.
In the Ted Hood regatta we crossed a boat on port easily. He yelled protest. I said ok we will do a circle. He did not protest.
Avoid protests and protestable situations and you will never lose. Better to lose a little distance than the whole race. You will also have a lot more friends.
Yacht Racing is supposed to be fun.
Please mail comments to me at Bump@newwaveyachts.com