Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...


Wednesday Night Sailboat Racing.. Fun is the Goal
& Sportsmanship is the Rule - Part 3
by Mary Lynne Dahl


August 20, 2004

Ketchikan, Alaska - Sailing is different from most other sports as it allows sailors to compete well into their retirement years. It is a sport requiring mental skills as well as physical skills, giving an older, more experienced sailor an advantageous edge to use in every race. In addition, sailing as a sport is different in another way; it requires competitors to know and follow a complex set of rules of the game that rely heavily on honor and integrity, the keys to good sportsmanship.

jpg sailboat racing Ketchikan, Alaska

Last week's KORC XXIV races...
Photograph by Quie Emery

The "Racing Rules of Sailing" which most racing clubs in the US use, are those published and promoted by US Sailing. Racing sailors spend quite a bit of time learning these rules and using them to design a racing program that is competitive and fair.

The most fundamental rules of sailing are classified into 5 categories: 1. Safety, 2. Fair Sailing, 3. Acceptance of the Rules, 4. Decisions to Race and 5. Drugs (an anti-doping rule).

Following these broad categories are the more detailed and specific rules that apply when boats actually race. They are designed to indicate which boats have the right of way in any situation, how to avoid collisions with other boats, what the race course consists of in any given race, what kinds of racing behavior is allowed or disallowed during a race, how a race is scored, what penalties apply when rules are broken, and how to administer the rules and scoring.

To start with, the most basic of rules is to avoid colliding with other boats. The rules of racing give "rights" to one boat over the other in every instance when boats are near each other during a race. This makes it possible to know when to give room to another boat that is approaching, crossing in front, or turning nearby.

jpg Boondoggle Ketchikan

Boondoggle's surprise displayed during the races last week..
Photo by Nancy Jensen

For example, boats "on starboard" have rights over boats "on port" in certain instances. To explain, first you must know what "starboard" and "port" mean. If you stand at the back of the boat facing forward, starboard is the right side of the boat and port is the left side. When the wind is coming across the starboard side, you are sailing your boat "on starboard". When the wind is coming across the port side, you are sailing your boat "on port". When 2 racing boats are going the same general direction, the boat "on starboard" has the right of way over the boat "on port". So, the boat on port will have to change course to avoid the starboard boat. This rule therefore will prevent a collision between 2 boats who would otherwise meet and collide. With thousands of pounds of fiberglass at stake, most racers will go out of their way to make sure they do not bash into another boat, but it does happen sometimes.

Another basic rule is that when racing, a boat may not touch a "mark". What is a mark? It is the channel buoy or temporary buoy placed in the water to mark the place on the race course where the boats are required to turn. This rule even prohibits the sails from touching the mark, not just the boat itself. A sailor whose boat, sails, equipment or crew touches a mark during any race will be penalized for that race without exception. In fact, the rules are so strict on this issue that if a boat gains a significant advantage by touching a mark, she is supposed to drop out of that race entirely.

jpg KORC Ketchikan

Photograph by Quie Emery

To understand the rules, which can be very complex, a basic understanding of some technical terms is needed because sailing is not unlike a foreign language. For example, "tacking" is the term used to indicate that the boat will be changing direction, right or left, as she sails forward, into the wind. Going into the wind is called "going upwind", while sailing with the wind coming from behind the boat is called "going downwind". If you are going downwind and change your direction from right to left, you are "gybing" the boat. When the person on the helm of the boat is ready to change from right to left, he or she lets everyone else know this by saying "tacking", "gybing", causing the crew to unfurl and re-position lines to allow a sail to move to the other side of the boat and catch the wind from a new angle, after which the crew often will go and sit on the side of the boat to balance the weight more efficiently.

Another important set of technical terms are those that identify the parts of the sails and the actions required to make the sails work properly. For example, to raise a sail you must pull on a line called the halyard, which is attached to the top of the sail. It runs from the top of the sail to a specific spot on the boat and needs to be pulled in order to raise the sail to its full position. Then, once raised, the line holding that sail up has to be locked down so that the sail stays put where it should be. Each action, and each piece of line (rope, for landlubbers) or equipment used in this task, has a unique name and usage. A "halyard" is drawn through the "head" (top) of the sail and is fastened down firmly in a locked position, either on a "winch" or through some type of block that holds it in place. At the loose end of the sail, which is the part that goes from side to side when the boat changes direction, another line is attached, called the "sheet". The sheet is adjusted to make the sail more efficient, which is called "trimming the sail".

Wanna-be sailors may think that the technical jargon is mind-boggling and incomprehensible, making it a daunting task to figure out how to get that sailboat moving on the water, but this is not true. Sailing language is sort of like talking to a dog.there are only so many words that apply, so once you learn most of them you are in business! Racing rules, while very complex, do in fact have a common basis, which is safety (avoiding collisions), sportsmanship (no cheating) and fairness. These underlying themes are the foundation for all of the details of each rule, with a heavy dose of common sense as part of the total formula.

So.. ahoy there mate! Pull that halyard, sheet that sail and move to the high side, because we are racing this sailboat in the Ketchikan Yacht Club Wednesday night sailboat races!

jpg Scoundrel Ketchikan

First Place: The Scoundrel and crew...
File photograph by Jim Dahl

Race Results: For all those Ketchikaners who watched the sailing races held this last week in the regatta called KORC XXIV, we are pleased to announce that the first place boat was Scoundrel, a J-24 skippered by Lou Bartos. The second place boat was Spirit, a Soling skippered by Jim Dahl and the third place boat was Possum Fargo, a Scampi 33 skippered by Dwight Lindemann.


Part 1 & Part 2 Articles:

Wednesday Night Sailboat Racing, A Long Tradition in Ketchikan By Mary Lynne Dahl, crew on the Spirit, KYC Racing Fleet... Part 1

Sailboat Racing, A Long Tradition in Ketchikan - Part 2... Which Boat is Which? By Mary Lynne Dahl, Crew on the Spirit, KYC Racing Fleet



E-mail your news & photos to

Post a Comment
        View Comments
Submit an Opinion - Letter

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska