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The U Flag is bet­ter than the black flag, but a three-point start­ing line will help keep or­der in the fi­nal minute.

Ken Le­gler, Tufts Univer­sity sail­ing coach and pro­fes­sional race of­fi­cer, can le­git­i­mately lay claim to some sort of Guin­ness World Record for start­ing 50,000 races with­out ever re­sort­ing to the Black Flag Rule. Le­gler’s start­ing pro­ce­dures were ini­tially de­vel­oped in the 1970s at As­so­ci­a­tion Is­land (NY) Sail­ing Cen­ter. Since then, he has honed them in hun­dreds of re­gat­tas for boats vary­ing from Op­ti­mists to Farr 40s, in­clud­ing, most re­cently, the 2017 At­lantic Na­tion­als at Kol­legewidg­wok YC in Blue Hill, Maine.

I re­cently re­viewed ar­ti­cles by Le­gler about start­ing races and had the chance to ask him some ques­tions about the rea­sons for and the de­tails of his pro­ce­dures. Any time com­peti­tors en­ter a re­gatta, they ex­pect the race com­mit­tee to be fo­cused on giv­ing them as many great races as pos­si­ble in the time avail­able and to con­duct those races fairly us­ing pro­ce­dures that give ev­ery boat the same shot at a great start. Le­gler does just that.

There are two im­por­tant fea­tures of Le­gler’s start­ing pro­ce­dure that set him apart from most other race of­fi­cers. He uses three marks for the start­ing line, and he rou­tinely uses Rule 30.1, the I Flag Rule — of­ten called the “Round the Ends Rule.”

The three start­ing marks in this con­fig­u­ra­tion are SS (sig­nal), SP (pin) and SM (mid­line), and each mark is a race-com­mit­tee ves­sel. Com­peti­tors can start ei­ther be­tween a staff dis­play­ing an orange flag on SP and a staff dis­play­ing an orange flag on mark SM or be­tween the staff dis­play­ing an orange flag on mark SM and a staff dis­play­ing an orange flag on mark SS.

Here’s an ex­am­ple of a sail­ing in­struc­tion clar­i­fy­ing how the I Flag Rule works with the three- mark start­ing line: When the I Flag

Le­gler rec­om­mends that the boats used for marks SP and SM be small in­flat­a­bles since those two marks are most of­ten hit by boats dur­ing the start­ing scrum. Mark SS, which serves as the sig­nal boat, can be larger. The staffs fly­ing orange flags should be lo­cated near the bow of an SP and SM. Also, for both SP and SM, a 5-pound weight should be at­tached to a shackle and the shackle at­tached to about 8 feet of line. The an­chor lines for both SP and SM should slide through the shack­les so the weight forces the an­chor line down at a steep an­gle. This will pre­vent boats from snag­ging their cen­ter­boards or keels on those an­chor lines. The staff s for the orange fl ags on all three start­ing marks should be tall, and the orange flags them­selves should be tall orange rec­tan­gles. The staff for the orange flag on SM should be mounted in the mid­dle of the in­flat­able used as SM (for rea­sons de­scribed be­low).

The ad­van­tage to hav­ing a three-mark start­ing line in­stead of the usual two-mark line is that com­peti­tors have a clear tran­sit to help them de­ter­mine how close to the line they are dur­ing the fi­nal sec­onds. A boat ap­proach­ing the line be­tween marks SP and SM can sight on the range be­tween SM and SS to de­ter­mine how close to the line she is. A boat plan­ning to start be­tween SM and SS can use the range be­tween SP and SM. Com­peti­tors have re­ported to Le­gler that these ranges are very help­ful. To pre­vent the fleet from push­ing over the line too early, it’s im­por­tant that mark SM al­ways be on or slightly be­low the straight line be­tween SP and SS.

There is an ad­van­tage to us­ing ves­sels as

Another way to avoid hav­ing to use the Black Flag is to give com­peti­tors a bet­ter start­ing line in the first place. “Uh- oh. Time to bail.” Rule is in ef­fect and a boat crosses the line be­tween marks SP and SM dur­ing the last minute be­fore her start, she may sat­isfy that rule’s re­quire­ment by pass­ing be­tween marks SM and SS to the pre- start side of the start- ing line. A sim­i­lar state­ment ap­plies to such a boat that crosses be­tween marks SM and SS dur­ing the last minute. “Nice! Open lane.” “Dang. Bet­ter clear out now.”

start­ing marks in­stead of an­chored buoys. If the wind shifts or if the fleet is crowd­ing near SP or SS, the race com­mit­tee can post­pone the start briefly and mem­bers on board the marks can quickly and eas­ily square up the line with an­chor-rode ad­just­ments. This is much quicker than call­ing on a small ves­sel to move into the start­ing-line area, pick up and then re­po­si­tion an an­chored buoy.

There are two rea­sons for gen­eral re­calls. There are too many boats over for the spot­ters to iden­tify them all. Or only a few boats are over, but the spot­ters can’t con­fi­dently iden­tify all of them. The use of the three-mark line with the re­sult­ing clear tran­sits, as de­scribed above, makes the spot­ter’s job much eas­ier and re­duces the num­ber of gen­eral re­calls. Le­gler dif­fers from most PROS in his heavy re­liance on Rule 30.1. He of­ten uses that rule for ev­ery start­ing se­quence dur­ing an event.

To un­der­stand why Le­gler uses Rule 30.1 so of­ten, imag­ine your­self be­ing the spot­ter for the start on a “nor­mal” two-mark start­ing line with a sig­nal boat at its star­board end and a buoy at its port end. We’ll as­sume that no start­ing penalty rules (Rules 30.1, 30.2, 30.3 or 30.4) are in ef­fect. You are the only spot­ter. It will be your job to an­nounce (to a per­son record­ing or into a voice recorder) the sail num­bers of all the boats that are over the line at the start­ing sig­nal.

Let’s say, for ex­am­ple, that boat No. 5692 crosses the line with 15 sec­onds to go. If you an­nounce her num­ber but she then man­ages to duck back to the pre-start side of the line be­fore the start­ing sig­nal, you must also an­nounce that she cleared. This is a tough task, and even if only three or four boats are over, you might not be con­fi­dent that you have cor­rectly iden­ti­fied them and cor­rectly de­ter­mined whether any man­aged to get back on the pre-course side be­fore the start­ing sig­nal. If you aren’t con­fi­dent that you were ac­cu­rate, then Rule 29.2 re­quires a gen­eral re­call.

The use of a three-mark line with three start­ing ves­sels as the three marks, plus the use of Rule 30.1, the I Flag Rule, makes a spot­ter’s job much eas­ier. Through­out the fi­nal 60 sec­onds, the spot­ter can an­nounce the iden­ti­fy­ing num­bers of the boats as they cross the line, with­out hav­ing to wait un­til the start­ing sig­nal is made. The spot­ter can then leave it to other mem­bers of the race com­mit­tee to note which boats round an ex­ten­sion of the line dur­ing the last minute or af­ter the start­ing sig­nal.

There is an im­por­tant sec­ond ad­van­tage to the three-mark line: There can now be four spot­ters, in­stead of just one. One is on mark SS sight­ing the line be­tween SS and SM; one is on SP sight­ing be­tween SP and SM; and two are on SM, one sit­ting down and sight­ing be­tween SM and SP, and the other stand­ing up and sight­ing the other way, be­tween SM and SS. Plac­ing the staff for the orange flag in the mid­dle of the ves­sel used as mark SM en­ables two peo­ple to use that same staff for spot­ting.

Fi­nally, each of the three boats can be equipped with a hand­held loud hailer and boats may be hailed at the mo­ment they cross the line, rather than wait­ing un­til af­ter the start­ing sig­nal. As I have noted in past ar­ti­cles, hail­ing boats over dur­ing the last minute is another ex­cel­lent way to re­duce the num­ber of boats that cross too early.

With re­ally big com­pet­i­tive fleets, Le­gler has even used a four-mark sys­tem, with two mid­dle mark ves­sels, SMP and SMS, di­vid­ing a very long line be­tween SP and SS into three sep­a­rate shorter lines.

Le­gler finds he has no need for the Black Flag or, for that mat­ter, the U Flag or the Z Flag. His use of a three- or four-mark line with the I Flag Rule re­sults in the fleet get­ting off the line on the first at­tempted start, and he has never had to dis­qual­ify a sin­gle boat as re­quired by the Black Flag Rule or the U Flag Rule, or pe­nal­ize any boats as re­quired by the Z Flag Rule. Also, gen­eral re­calls are rarely needed.

E- mail for Dick Rose may be sent to rules@ sail­ing­

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