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@ sailingworld.com