Sailing Rules mast abeam.jpg

Sitting around the UK Sailmakers water cooler (technically a scuttlebutt) the other day, a bunch of us got talking about the Racing Rules of Sailing and some of the rules that were deleted when the rules got a major overhaul in 1997. By far, our favorite was Mast Abeam. For you millennials reading this with no idea what we’re talking about, the mast abeam rule was technically rule “39.2 Luffing” in the 1993-96 rule book.

Simply, the rule said that if a leeward boat’s mast was abeam of the windward boat’s helm position, the leeward boat could no longer luff the windward one. It made sense in close situations because the windward boat could put her stern into the leeward boat’s topsides when turning up to keep clear. Ah, the good old days.

To get the inside skinny on the actual rule, we rang up International Umpire Emeritus Mary Savage who was sitting at home listening to classical music in the background. Mary chuckled when asked about the mast abeam rule saying “I really used to like that rule it because it worked.” Only Mary would have at her fingertips decades of old RRS to check. Here’s the last hurrah of the mast abeam rule from the 1993 – 96 RRS edition:

39.2 Luffing – After starting and clearing the starting line, subject to rule 32 (serious damage), a yacht clear ahead or a leeward yacht may luff as she pleases unless the windward yacht has been mast abeam (ah, there’s a definition of the term) at any time during the overlap.
We looked at the definition of mast abeam.

Definition: Mast abeam – a windward yacht sailing no higher than a leeward yacht is mast abeam when her helmsman’s line of sight abeam from his normal station is forward of the leeward yacht’s main mast. A windward yacht sailing higher than a leeward yacht is mast abeam when her helmsman’s line of sight abeam from his normal station would be if she were sailing no higher forward of the leeward yacht’s mainmast.

There you have it, a walk down the Protest Committee’s Hall of Fame. All that aside, arguably the two most striking differences from the 1993 rules and today’s are in the choice of the language used. First “Yacht.” That brought another chuckle from Mary. The others were “helmsman” and “his.” How would that fly in today’s #metoo world???

More Rules memorabilia in the future.