Turning in the Widening Gyre

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Initially published on SLSailing.com, December 11th, 2007.

I love watching the Sunday Big-Boat Races at NYC. From high above you get a truly remarkable view of the tall ships as they maneuver over the race course, jockeying back and forth for position. But that’s not really what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about something much more serious… The End of the World.

courtesy of D. Spitz

The first leg of nearly every race at NYC is an upwind beat from the Bismark Sea start line that crosses Bougainville Strait and proceeds into New Georgia Sound. The course is limited on starboard by Vella Lavella Island and on port by the End of the World (EOW). As shown in the diagram below, it usually takes a few tacks to make it to the first mark.

Since this narrow, upwind leg happens immediately after boats cross the start line, several boats are commonly in a parallel, overlapped position as they get close to end of each tack. Under ISF Rule 19 (room to tack at an obstruction), if a skipper is heading toward a fixed object (like Vella Lavella Island) and can’t maneuver because another boat is blocking the way, the skipper can demand that the blocking boat change course and provide necessary room to avoid a collision.

End of the World at NYC

However, except for Christopher Columbus, few RL sailors ever need to contend with the End of the World. The EOW is unique to SL waters, and it often does not act like a fixed obstruction, since objects (including boats) can bounce off the EOW edge without loss of momentum. The problem of how to handle the EOW is an ongoing discussion on the Forum, where opinions vary. Myrrh Massiel argues that Rule 19 does not apply, since:

“The only limitation imposed by an edge-of-world is constraining a boat’s movement to 180 degrees of arc.

Any boat whose root prim origin point reaches the edge-of-world can still sail freely and at full speed on any tack parallel to or within the sim border, even while maintaining full contact. Any boat whose root prim origin point reaches the edge-of-world can still freely alter course, gybe, heel, etcet, to full effect – even if the transom, bow, mast, boom, or crew extend well beyond the edge-of-world in the process.

Tacks beyond an edge-of-world still maintain their full velocity component parallel to the sim edge, with no friction or maneuverability penalty.

Additionally, edges-of-world are much more difficult to gauge visually from any distance, and are easily confused with conventional sim borders, particularly on slow-res days.

This makes for a fundamentally different navigation challenge than conventional hazardous obstructions, far more vague and far more forgiving, both.”

Agreeing with Myrrh, Mark Twain White offerred a more succint, and curiously tautological opinion that “Land is land, and the End of the World isn’t.”

The issue came up again in the Rules for the Tako Cup 2007, where MarkTwain handled the unique nature of the EOW by deciding:

In Tako Cup fleet races there will be an imaginary (or actual) line 20 meters from the edge of the EOW. All rules are turned off in that zone and any boat venturing into that zone does so at its own peril.

NYC continues to use the 20m “zone” ruling for many fleet races, including the Big-Boat series. To illustrate the point, the following picture (A) is from last week’s race, showing three Larinda Schooners fresh off the start line and heading towards the EOW and the first tack point. Gemma Vuckovic is in the lead, with Hpathe Boucher just windward and overlapping Gemma’s stern; Har Dyrssen brings up the rear, in hot pursuit.

In A, Gemma’s getting near the EOW and wants to tack so she can continue beating upwind towards the mark. At that moment, Gemma is leeward to Hpathe and she has Right of Way. Unfortunately, under the ISF and SL Sailing windward/ leeward Rules, Gemma can’t force Hpathe to tack; she only has the right to luff Hpathe into the wind. If the SL Sailing Rules actually considered the EOW to be an obstruction, Gemma could demand Room! and tack to avoid hitting it under Rule 19.

EOW a

Watch what Gemma does next here:

In B and C below, Gemma just crosses the line into the 20m zone defined by MarkTwain above. According to the recent Tako Cup decision, within that 20m gap Gemma is in an End-of-World twilight zone without rules where, to quote Yeats, ”things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”

(OK, OK; maybe that overstates the case just a bit…)

In any event, in the Zone Gemma’s got no rules, so she can bring her boat about. As the pictures show, the instant she’s across the line she spins the helm and skillfully flips sail onto to a port tack. More important, she audaciously does that directly in front of Hpathe, within inches of his bowsprint. Hpathe is forced to slam the helm over hard, straining to avoid a collision. He makes it clear, but the forced maneuver causes him to fall astern and leeward of Gemma, as shown in G.

EOW b c

Nice sailing, Gemma!

Although the “20m no-rules zone“ is a pragmatic solution to the EOW rules issue, I think most sailors would agree it is a pretty uncomfortable fix, and it sidesteps several of the real issues and problems the EOW presents. For example, two key points that need further discussion are:

Since under some conditions a boat can bounce off the EOW border without loss of momentum, is it legal for a sailor to use that effect to speed turns while racing? and

Since under some conditions a boat can ’scrape along’ the EOW edge (set a heading for wind= 35, for example, and push against the EOW edge to force the boat along a more windward course), is it legal to ‘game’ the EOW and completely avoid tacking in a race? And (grin) if you think all this sounds too serious, let me add Pensive Mission’s question from the Forum, which was never adequately answered:

Does Rule 19 apply if Pensive’s Tako hits an extra-slippery iceberg on shock absorbers? (believe me, these issues keep me awake at night)

If you think about it, since “anything goes,” problems #1 and #2 are made worse by the 20m EOW free-fire zone ruling in Tako Cup 2007.

On the other hand, if went back and just considered the EOW to be an ordinary ”obstruction,” then under Rule 19 and possibly Rule 14 (Avoiding Contact) it’s pretty clear that hitting the EOW for any reason would be a no-no. A boat that intentionally hits the EOW or causes another boat to hit it would be subject to a penalty call.

Actually, treating the EOW as a regular obstruction would even answer Pensive’s iceberg question. (Hey Pensive? That iceberg? Bad idea! Stay clear!)

I think SL sailors agree we should always try to adapt RL sailing rules and methods to SL in the most direct and simple manner possible. By that standard, the big dark blue thing north of Bismark and Bougainville? Call it what you will… but it looks like an obstruction to me. If you apply that same “Simple, direct, real” standard, in my view Myrrh’s opinion above, the one where she argues the ‘EOW is not an obstruction,’ well… in my view her opinion falls flat. Let me hasten to say I think her arguments are very well taken and I think they are, indeed, valid. However… I think her points are focused on technical issues and ‘gaming’ the system. Concern over such issues is important, but I think it makes far more sense for us to concentrate on our real goal; a world-wide sailing community that join together to construct and critique a sailing emulation. That’s the goal, as we all share jokes and tinker with ideas to adapt the ISF Rules in a way that fits the emulation framework.

Oh, geez… I forgot…

one final thing… that race above with Gemma, Har, and Hpathe?

It was full of great sailing and tacking duels. Har Dyrssen went on to win that race, but that’s a story for another day.

courtesy of D. Spitz

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