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Registering a protest

It is inevitable, when sailing in close proximity to other boats, that at some point something will go wrong. Perhaps some idiot will change course right in front of you, just when you least expect it. Or perhaps a starboard competitor will deliberately sail you towards the shore, so that you are in danger of running aground.

Apart from swearing a lot, what should you do in such a situation?

Reach for the Rule Book, of course! The Racing Rules of Sailing (published by the International Sailing Federation) are the racing sailor’s bible and set out exactly what sailors should do in any given situation.

There are rules governing starts and rules governing finishes. Marks, luffing, propulsion – you name it, there is a rule to cover it. There is even a procedure to tell you exactly what to do when someone breaks one of the rules. For this, it says, you should register a protest.

The Racing Rules are revised every four years, and have probably changed a bit since I last looked at them. But in my dinghy racing days registering a protest meant slapping a red flag up onto the nearest halyard and howling at the offender that he was going to end up in a protest room – and possibly disqualified - unless he accepted a penalty.

Well, maybe we didn’t put it quite like that, but you get the general idea.

Nine times out of ten the offender would then stick up a green flag, accepting the penalty, and carry out a 720 (turn the boat round twice) before pulling down the flag and carrying on.

If he did not, then after the race both you and he would trot off to explain yourselves to the race committee and await their wise and judicious ruling.

Reluctant Sailors have their own rules too. Rule 4 A of the Reluctant Sailor’s ground rules for Sailing (also known as the Fair’s Fair Rule) states:

‘The Sailing Fanatic will accept that it is a pain in the neck when he disappears for a day/weekend/week in preparation for and for the duration of any major sailing event and will compensate the Reluctant Sailor with a corresponding day/weekend/week somewhere warm, dry and comfortable – preferably abroad.’

I began to contemplate this Rule last month, when the Sailing Fanatic had spent three weekends (plus a few days) out of four sailing at various events around the country. He had, it occurred to me, forgotten Rule 4. In fact, he had not only forgotten it, he was in complete breach.

I decided to register my own protest.

I stomped off down to the local craft shop and came back with a sheet of red cardboard. One straw, a few snips with the scissors and a bit of sellotape later I was finished, and the proud owner of a little red protest flag.

I left it sitting on the table. The Sailing Fanatic spotted it the moment he staggered through the door, sailing bags in hand.

He laughed nervously. 'What’s this?'

'A protest,' I replied, explaining, in great detail, what I was protesting.

'Hmmm,' said the Sailing Fanatic. 'Will it help if I say I’m sorry?'

'Not much.'

'How about if I do my turns?' And he turned round, twice, on the spot.

'Still not good enough.' I stalked off to start making tea.

A few minutes later the Sailing Fanatic appeared in the kitchen, waving a flag above his head. But it was not green. It was not even red.

It was white.

'Okay!' he said. “Where do you want to go?”

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