October 16, 2014

Illegalities … Where is the Line?

By Pam
An anonymous poster reading Doug's sailing notes from the recent Worlds commented that Doug did something illegal and suggested he withdraw from two races. This has given rise to some discussion and reflection. I generally encourage Doug to refrain from addressing such accusations. I'm sort of protective that way.

Doug follows three basic rules when sailing: don't get greedy at the marks, do your circles and avoid the protest room at all costs. I imagine most of the front of the fleet guys have their own simplified version of the rules that keep them out of trouble most of the time and, when in doubt, they can spin on a dime and not lose anything they can't get back.

The Worlds are Doug's main sailing event each year but he doesn't get the least bit nervous anymore. For him, it's about staying fit, seeing old friends who he's sailed with for decades and meeting new ones and he loves going head to head with really good competition and learning and trying new stuff. He has no desire to cheat or do anything illegal in an effort to gain any unfair advantage. I'm pretty sure he only skimmed SI's for this event. They were in small print and he's still having problems with his eyes and he just assumed they said what they always say.

During the postponement on the first day we were talking with Brett Beyer and I mentioned the yellow bracelet everyone was wearing. Doug told me it was to get him into the various events and mine was a cloth one since I wasn't sailing but I had seen a sailor with a cloth one and was confused. Brett started laughing and asked if Doug was serious. He explained that Doug was supposed to put the bracelet on the check-in board before sailing and then remove it when he returned or he'd receive a 6 point scoring penalty for the day. Good thing we had a postponement and talked with Brett.

When Doug got to the first mark leading in the first race, he turned to Roberto Bini (ITL) right behind him and asked if they were sailing the inner or outer course. Doug was confused because the fleet in front was on the inner course and previous Worlds alternated inner with outer. It was indeed the inner again. When they returned to shore, Roberto came over and asked if Doug really didn't know or was just messing with him. This is classic Doug. Absent minded professor type, good guy, talented sailor, not sweating the details, lucky as can be, and usually surrounded by really good people.

So, to the illegalities, the rule of thumb is that if you are fast, you don't change a thing but if you are slow, you keep trying different things until you are fast. In the tune up event Doug found he was slow so he experimented with equipment, rigging, technique, clothing, etc. A few things he tried were: a new light air mainsheet in the practice race, a rolled sail, a hastily broken in sail that he stretched the heck out of on shore, a new rigging system for his outhaul that wouldn't tweak his rotator cuff which is still healing, sailing with and without a compass, a new knee brace, ankle boots, ankle support wraps for his feet in place of ankle boots, a different starting technique, sailing the course vs. the fleet, sailing on the less dominant right side of the course vs. the left side, a new lightweight wool top, and the alleged illegal heavier warmth layer on one particularly windy day that added weight when sailing.

Rule 43.1(a) states: Competitors shall not wear or carry clothing or equipment for the purpose of increasing their weight.

Bottom line, Doug was not aware of this rule and probably would not have tried a 'heavy when wet' warmth layer if he'd known about it. However, it did not provide him with an advantage. He was dead last at the 3rd mark in the first race that day and he was so far back in the second race that the rib I was on could not wait for him to finish. He edited his post to add warmth over weight so as to not wrongly influence others who might read the post later and also because it was equally true. This lengthy post is ensure the subject is not dismissed out of hand but given proper attention and focus for others in the future.

So, was trying a heavy when wet warmth layer illegal? Personally, I don't think so. Doug added one 'heavy when wet' shirt. He generally wears less gear than most competitors (no boots, wet suit shorts - not pants). Any reasonable person would be cold in his usual gear. On top of that he bangs and scrapes his knees and feet on everything and bleeds all over the place and he usually doesn't feel the cold or see the blood or missing skin until he's between races or when he gets to shore. If he would just wear the gear I've bought him, he'd be much heavier and injury free at the end of the day. Despite the warm temperatures, Doug returned to shore most days and was wet, cold and shivering. He does this often (which really sort of ticks me off) and when he went with the heavy warmth layer on the day the wind was up, part of the reason was actually because he began to wonder if he might be making mistakes because he's cold (to which I say, duh?). Even though he was warm that day, the results appear to show that his Canadian brain does better when chilled. Actually, I think he's just a creature of habit and the less he has on, the more connected he is to the boat and the more he can feel the changes in the wind.

Should he now withdraw from the two races? Well, one was his worst race and was already discarded. If he withdrew from the second, he'd move down 5 places. Sure, he wants to do the right thing but he also feels like one heavy layer worn one day as an experiment by someone out of the top 10 who did horribly that day just isn't that relevant. I could point fingers in other directions at things that others at the front of the fleets are doing that is relevant but, really, does it matter? They pay for the trip, they pay to sail, and they sail for fun and fitness. When they win, they only receive a tiny little cube, not money.

Doug does his best to sail clean and fair and to be very open about what he's doing (not many publish a race-by-race account) His results in this regatta were what would be expected of someone of his talent with a weight disadvantage. He rose to the top in the light stuff and fell back in the heavy stuff. Everything was as it should be. A blog post that emphasized one aspect of a selected layer is shaky grounds for accusing someone of illegal behavior and asking for his withdrawal from races. 

According to the SI's (4.5 and 5.1), the whole wet clothes or equipment issue can only be addressed or protested by a class representative, race committee or jury. Doug brought the matter to the attention of a class representative and was told "there is no way you should ask to be tossed from those races. You are a totally honest sailor and it was an honest mistake, and clearly didn't give you any advantage." Doug is now acutely aware of Rule 43.1(a).


  1. I would consider 43.1(b) which specifies an upper limit of 8kg. If Doug's all up clothes (drained) weight was under this, then he would not be gaining any advantage under the rules. Sure rule (a) specifies an intent that only Doug can answer. Others cannot decide on on Doug's intent. But if he was under 8kg, then he was not gaining an advantage using excess weight.

    1. Well that was an interesting exercise. The dry weight of the gear Doug was wearing that day is 2 kg and the sopping wet weight (I'm not patient enough to wait for it to drain) was 4 kg. Now that I've completely soaked Doug's gear that he's wearing in a regatta this weekend, I guess I better hang it out to dry.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I find some of the opinions in this post a little troubling. I don't want to have a go at Doug specifically but I do think there are some ethical principles in our sport that need restating from time to time.

    Things like...

    It doesn't matter whether I got an advantage from breaking a Rule or not, I should still take the appropriate penalty if I know I have broken a Rule.

    An honest mistake is still a mistake. If I find out later that I have broken a Rule because I didn't know the Rules well enough, then I should still retire from that race.

    The opinion of a "class representative" is not the same as listening to my own conscience. I have to live with the latter for the rest of my life; not so much the former.

    Just because other sailors are breaking some Rules doesn't mean it's OK for me to do so.

    The respect of my fellow competitors (and my blog readers for that matter) is way more important than the results in any regatta.

  4. Wow ... just wow ... I do not know for certain whether Doug has broken any rule. It seems like it's a matter of interpretation and that interpretation is up to the RC, jury or class representative and then a protest committee (not blog readers). Consulting with a class representative who also happens to be a fellow competitor was Doug's way of: a) showing respect for a blog reader's opinion by following up instead of ignoring it or censoring it; b) checking with an appropriately authorized protesting party, bringing attention to something that was not questioned during the regatta; c) checking with the Laser Class with its zero tolerance on breaking rules; and d) seeking the opinion of a fellow competitor. I'm pretty sure Doug's conscience is clear and his self-respect intact.

    However, perhaps I erred in encouraging Doug to make his personal World's journals public. We thought they might be helpful to others. And we thought blogging about our experiences as we learned might be useful and fun. I never dreamed it would be used to question his ethics (not useful or fun) ... or is it my ethics being questioned ... they are my opinions after all?

    Lord knows, I don't know the rules, and I'm quite certain I break at least one every time I sail, but I wouldn't know which, nor do I really care because sailing isn't a sport for me, it isn't a career ... it's a hobby and I really don't care if I follow every little rule. I try to compete fairly and be respectful of my fellow competitors but I doubt I always succeed, in fact, I'm certain I don't. Mainly, I really just care about being active, getting fit and having fun.

  5. Sorry if my comment offended you guys. It wasn't intended. I hope we can agree though that we experienced sailors should be encouraging newcomers to our sport and especially young sailors to set high standards for themselves in following the (admittedly complicated and lengthy) rules of our game.

    It's just my personal opinion that we shouldn't be opening the door for ourselves or other competitors to start thinking things like, "Oops, I didn't gain an advantage from hitting that mark so I don't need to take a penalty," or "I didn't know it was against the rules to pump continuously all the way down the run in light air so it was an honest mistake and I don't need to do anything about it."

    I do admire Doug's openness in reporting so fully about his regatta and especially about this issue and I think we can all learn from it - and from the comments of Doug's readers. I don't always like the comments that people make on my blog but, hey, that goes with the territory, and I do try to learn from the feedback I get, negative as well as positive.

    I know I don't always live up to my own standards (as expressed in my previous comment) when racing but I do try. And yes it is all about having fun, but speaking purely personally I find it more fun if we are all playing by the same rules and doing our best to follow them.

    Are we still friends?

    1. Yes, we are still friends.

      If I can convince Doug to ever write another post, I really would like him to write about the differences in the rules at the front of the fleet versus the middle or back. They play a different game up there. Sure, they have their pet peeves but mostly, they don't get bogged down by righteousness and focus more on moving forward and achieving a certain balance. Therefore, this sort of stuff always takes Doug by surprise.

    2. Thank goodness for that. I would hate to lose your (virtual) friendship and still hope to meet up with you guys some day.

      The intention of my comment above was to ensure that some of the implications in this post about when it's OK to ignore possible rules infringements might be misunderstood by newer sailors and applied in situations quite different from this one.

      As I said in my first comment I don't want to get into debating whether Doug did or did not do the right thing related to this particular incident, as I'm not an expert in how this rule is applied at top level events and I am sure Doug was trying to do the honorable thing.

  6. Tiller man is so right - you ask if it matters? Of course it matters, if we don't play by the rules then why have any? He did 'horribly' on the day in question, and breaking the rule didn't workout in terms of an advantage, so the rule is not relevant? Of course it is relevant. Doug's intent was totally clear from his post, to increase his weight, experiment or otherwise, the total limit is there for a different reason,safety,wear enough to keep warm, or cool,or hike harder,then go race, don't deliberately increase your weight,of course he gained an advantage, he was heavier,by design, it just did't help much!!. If he gets cold there are numerous super light and super warm tops available, you know this. By the way, footwear doesn't get weighed - small point, by accurate all the same. The simple question is this - did he break the rule? Sure he did, does he know it now? Yes, should he retire, absolutely. Whether he actually gained an advantage, or is forgetful, or didn't read the SI 's cannot matter.

    I find it depressing that doug reckons that because others are cheating, you mentioned not taking penalties, tricked up blades and other issues, then it doesn't matter so much if he gets a rule wrong. He is a twice world champion, and I totally agree with tiller man that it is not OK to set such a standard for other sailors especially those starting out. Your candour in posting is to be admired and it clearly serves a purpose if we all learn something here, but in this instance you both have it some considerable distance off the mark.

    I love sailing a laser, the friendships, the spirit of one design racing, the standard of racing in a world championship fleet , all the more so because we sail to the rules, and don't consider after the race which ones matter and which don't.

    As for the prize, nobody cares of course, we all know who the top people are. This is an important issue and it really is one that Doug should address directly himself. An honest mistake is still a mistake, he can fix that.

  7. Knowingly breaking a rule that does or does not yield an advantage is a problem.

    Unknowingly breaking a rule that yields an advantage is a problem.

    Unknowingly breaking a rule that does not yield an advantage is problematic but it is not cheating and it is not poor sportsmanship. It is how most of us learn the rules ... usually after the fact. It should make us uncomfortable and motivate us to read the rule carefully, talk to the affected parties and determine the right course of action to make things right. In many cases, it's as simple as saying lesson learned, or it may result in discussions that lead to the conclusion that no rules was broken at all, and in rare cases, it might be worthy of taking a scoring penalty or withdrawing.

    Discussing rules is one thing. Accusing someone of a perceived infraction and stating that perception as a fact, when in fact, it may not be true, is not only damaging and destructive but it may very well be illegal in the United States. There is a process by which the compliance and enforcement of rules is handled and this is not it. In the case at hand, even competitors were not empowered with the ability to question another's compliance of this particular rule. Only the RC, jury or class representative were empowered by the SI's to allege an infraction. There is a responsibility of a competitor to make every attempt to comply with the rules. This has been done as outlined in a follow up post

  8. Tillerman and Anonymous are both right about ethics. And changing text in Day 4 blog, after the fact, to suit your purpose, as well as taking down all the day by day blogs altogether (so that others can't read it?) pretty much sums it up.

  9. Did you read what he wrote? If you did you would know that what you infer is complete bull shit. Doug made reference to wearing a warmer sweater so he wouldn't get so cold. He then said that it got too heavy and caused him to crash more than once. Never did it imply that he was taking advantage or knew about a rule infraction. I don't know Doug as well as some but I can tell you all this; he's an honorable man who would stay on the beach before cheating. What pretty much sums it up is that you have no clue what your talking about.

  10. Actually Mike, he wrote very clearly that he wore the sweater to increase his weight when it was wet - he amended this to make reference to keeping warm only once rule 43 was mentioned. He knew the rule. He also mentioned that wearing it got him into trouble when trying to get back in the boat. Goodness knows how he will get on when he is fully layered up with wet sweaters to the max 8kg as now declared legal by Pam and her Judge. Oh, they then deleted the item. Pam also then drew parallel with other sailors knowingly cheating in assorted areas. If so honourable, why not protest them? Too much emotion in your comment, not enough logic. Pam's journey through this has travelled from 'it's illegal, but Doug did not know about it and anyway did not gain an advantage' to 'it's not illegal'. Quite something. More than one Anonymous commentator here.

    1. You, dear Anonymous, have been reading quite closely and have grasped the changes in attitude.
      a) Yes, Doug's original post emphasized weight (without knowledge of Rule 43.1(a)).
      b) Upon learning of Rule 43.1(a), he felt it irresponsible to emphasize weight and changed the post to emphasize warmth which was also equally true, even if not emphasized in the first post.
      c) That doesn't change whether or not it was a violation of 43.1(a). In his mind, applying a different mentality than most of us, on balance, it wasn't a problem that demanded a withdrawal.
      d) Nevertheless, he reported it to a class representative and offered to withdraw if the representative thought it appropriate. The rep did not, applying the same logic that Doug had applied.
      e) This was not acceptable to some readers and Doug was still prepared to withdraw but I sought further guidance on the interpretation of the rules only to be told that rule 43.1(a) was not about layers but about weight jackets and similarly modified clothing. Rule 43.1(b) was about the weight of layered clothing and Doug, soaking wet, was at less than half the maximum weight.
      f) I continued to research and learned of yet another rule that was more on point in the Laser Class rules regarding a maximum weight of non-floating, non-protective clothing which also left questions about interpretation.
      g) I fully intend to follow up with US Sailing, ISAF, and the Laser Class on proper interpretation of all of these rules because I do believe we should all know the answer as the proper authorities interpret it.
      h) Yes, I deleted a comment and decided against pointing fingers. There are unsubstantiated rumors of altered centerboards and those at the top do sometimes break the rules and don't do circles and no one at the top protests because they are playing a different game with the rules applied a different way.

      My logic is Doug did not know about this rule. He did not gain an advantage. A heavy layer may or may not be illegal but I do intend to find out whether or not it is. In the meantime, Doug is prepared to drop the races and move on but I'm asking him to wait until I find answers I'm satisfied with and he's humoring me and allowing me to do that.

      I do not know which comments you have written. I think it's a responsible thing to bring rules to everyone's attention as we should all be aware of the rules applying to weight. There is a proper and an improper way to do it and I realize that people get emotional and have lapses in judgment in how they do things. I'm trying to see through the flawed methods and give merit to the intent.

  11. Since the posts have been removed, I guess the proof of truth is gone. I may have read the modified version. That in itself still does not change the assertion you make questioning honor. You are right about the emotion comment though. Doug is an acquaintance and friend from the race course. We have had a few laughs together and spent enough time at the same table to sum each other up. From what I know and have witnessed, intentionally bending any rule is not in his repertoire. I do get a little worked when strangers make comments questioning the integrity of a friend.


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