Most protests between sailboats on the racecourse come from situations where boats are going around marks, which is Rule 18. Rule 18.3 (mark room when a boat tacks in the zone) was written to reduce congestion at the windward mark. The rule makers wanted to encourage boats to tack for the mark farther away than three boatlengths, which may be another reason they increased the zone from two to three lengths. With the fast action of boats tacking, turning the mark and hoisting spinnakers in a crowded space, there was too much going on in a very small space, which created too many protests.
Rule 18.3 makes it hard for a port tacker to approach the mark within three lengths and not lose a protest — and the rule makers did that on purpose. The rule gives the boat approaching the mark on starboard a lot of control over the boat tacking in the zone. In fact, UK Sailmakers’ rules guru Butch Ulmer has said, “If you tack in the zone, you are leading with your chin.” His quote is a boxing reference that refers to a boxer not protecting his head, which often leads to a knockout punch from his opponent. The video above offers a thorough explanation about what rule 18.3 requires of a boat tacking in the zone from port to starboard …what to do and what not to do.
As we have noted in many previous posts, the most important thing you can do approaching a mark, on either tack, is to anticipate any situation that may develop. If the port tacker has to tack close ahead of starboard, sail a boat length further and then tack onto starboard. You’ll have clean air, can foot a bit so you’re not down-speed, and eliminate the risk of fouling the right-of-way boat. If you’re coming in on starboard, anticipate the close tack before it happens so you can maintain your speed, yet be prepared to luff to avoid the tacking. If you have to luff above close hauled, yell “Protest” and fly your flag. Rule 18.3 is there to protect you. Remember…anticipate!