Racing Rules Of Sailing - Interview with Jos Spijkerman
by Alex Dotsch
Jos Spijkerman - International Sailing Umpire
Jos has sailed since he was eleven. He started with only recreational sailing, but became a sailing-instructor when he was 15 and instructed for nearly 12 years in the summer.
When that was no longer something he wanted to do, he started helping his club with their annual regatta. One thing led to another and some years later he was a Race Officer.
When Jos discovered he had a talent for using the Racing Rules of Sailing and started doing Protest committee-work, it got 'worse', partly because he had enough encouragement from others and partly because he never got the results in racing he 'craved', the RRS-part got bigger and bigger.
He became an International Judge in 2005 and just recently (November 2007), an International Umpire. Volunteering for two local clubs, KWVL (Langweer) and the KWS (Sneek), doing unpaid work for his National Authority and attending as many events as he has days for. Jos can say that "the rules" play a big part in my life and now he has started blogging about them as well.
1. What made you want to start the Racing Rules of Sailing Blog and do you believe that it has had an impact on the online sailing community to be able to easily access and quote their opinions on new rules as set by the International Sailing Federation?
I started the blog after I discovered it was much easier then maintaining a website. I wanted a place on the web where Race Officials (and sailors) could find study-material to help them learn and understand the RRS. The motivation to do that, came from a study-group that was formed to help pass my IJ-Seminar in 2004.
Most of the candidates for that seminar in Hamble (UK) participated. We got a lot of material together and corresponded by Email for weeks before the seminar. I believe it was a great help and am sure that because of that, I passed the test the very first time. It seemed a shame to let all that effort go to waste after just one seminar.
How much of an impact the blog has had, I'm not sure. I do know the number of people who read my posts has steadily increased and do hope they pick something up, they can use. The online sailing community is linking to my pages more and more, so in that regard I think it is becoming a useful resource.
2. Have you had responses from judges who don’t have a Member National Authority, which can help them develop in race officiating that you work in the field has helped them progress?
Yes I have. And that is very encouraging. To help those who don't have a support system at home is one of the main reasons why I do the blog. And some of them have credited the blog for helping them pass the ISAF international Officials Test or doing better protest committee work at regattas.
3. Do you prefer the structure of fleet racing, with its rules and regulations, compared to just sailing for the fun of it?
When I sail - too seldom nowadays - it's mostly just recreational. I hardly do fleet racing any more. That's because I see too much infringements and have no fun when someone breaks the rules again and again, without even knowing it.
4. Have you ever broken any of the sailing rules and what was your worst offence and punishment?
Yes, I have. When I started racing it was because I didn't know any better. Now I do try to avoid that, but if I do - because of a misjudgement - I do my two turns immediately. I do NOT want to get a reputation that I don't keep to the rules. My worst offence? I've been DSQ-ed by Protest Committees - although not lately...(EG) - for tacking in front of another boat. That boat had to crash-tack to avoid a collision......
5. Do you enjoy umpiring over international sailing events and what was the biggest one you did?
With umpiring I go out with the sailors, have a day on the water and am finished when they are also done. National or International events have both their specific appeals. The biggest one I did was last year in Kiel with 24 Match Race teams in the Olympic part, followed by a fleet-race event with over 2000 competitors - Nine days in all.
6. What was the worst infringement on the rules that you had to deal with and which side did you support in the end?
I've black flagged boats in Match Racing - that's when they have three outstanding penalties. The sailor expressed his disagreement with that decision in no uncertain terms. I've also been in rule 69 hearings for stealing. In those you don't support anyone, you try to follow the rules as best you can and make sure you cross your 't'-s and dot your 'i'-s'. In both situations you make doubly sure your facts are correct.
7. I have read in your blog about how you talked with the person who wrote the new rule 18 on boat lengths. Don’t you believe that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately measure whether or not a boat is within or not within 3 boat lengths of the mark? Do you think that the way protest officials deal with this is unsatisfactory, since if a boat is thought to be in within 3 boat lengths without any proof, it is assumed to be true?
I understand it is very difficult to exactly measure. But you also can look at it from the rules side. If you approach a mark, don't just look at the overlap at the very edge of the zone, start looking at the overlap well before you are at the zone. If there's an overlap assume it is not broken when you enter the zone and if there's no overlap assume that you haven't established one, when you enter the zone. A PC - just like an umpire on the water - tries to find the last point were the facts can be established with any kind of certainty and goes from there. Explain this to the PC and quote 18.2(d) to them. Nine out of ten committees will accept this. Rule 18.2(d) has been specifically written to deal with doubt - and that includes the exact border of the zone. I don't think there's another way to resolve this issue.
8. Using current technology, wouldn’t it be possible to create a system in which the 3 boat length rule could be proven without a shade of doubt, in the same way that in tennis they are able to work out if the ball was out or not?
I don't think so. I have not heard anything that could do this. In match racing you are in the zone when the umpires determine you are in the zone. In the last AC they then switched on a light (purple), so the boats also were made aware that they were in the zone. The 'overlap' at the moment the light came on, determined if a boat had mark-room or not. In normal fleet racing you have to use your best judgement (and rule 18.2(d), the same way a PC does)
9. I have always found sailing rules to over-regulate the sport. They seem to cover every possible occurrence that could happen. Do you believe people should have to learn every rule in order to compete? Do you think that sailing as become over complicated and that some of the rules could be removed or changed to make sailing more accessible for younger people who are less interested in the formalities and more interested in just having an enjoyable time on the boat?
You don't have to learn every rule to compete. Once you've mastered the basics you are good to go. Port-Starboard, Windward- Leeward, that kind of stuff. Once you've mastered boat speed and gained a little tactical insight, you will want to know more about the rules. Concentrate on part 2 at first and then expand. I don't think young people are especially less interested in the intricacies of the rules. It is much more a question of character. Look at team-racing. Lots and lots of young people sail in team-racing and find enjoyment in knowing the rules backwards and forwards. Using every possibility within the rules to get the other team a penalty. Also in Match Racing rules are very important. It is an extra dimension. Beside the best possible boat speed and boat handling, match race sailors need to be tactical and they need to know the rules. If you know the rules, you know what you can and cannot do. Once you do, you can win races with it!
The current rules are well thought out, have been proven to work for several years and cover almost everything. Still, there are incidents that are not foreseen, that's where the jury comes in and finds a solution.
If you delete some of the rules, you must also accept that the Jury will need to be consulted more. That said, there are some rules which are very complicated. But sailing is complicated and it should be. If it was easy, it wouldn't be half the fun anymore.
Find out more about Jos and the Sailing Rules at his Racing Rules of Sailing Blog
Have any questions for Jos? Ask them below! I cannot guarantee he will answer any of them.