New Responsibilities.

Offshore racing yachts that can travel in excess of 30 knots bring new responsibilities to both crews and race organisers. But are the existing rules and the policing of them good enough to deal with the potentially deadly hazards of a Volvo 65, for example, charging through a mixed fleet of racing yachts at 25 knots. I know from experience that they are not. In Cowes Week last year, the Volvo 65’s along with some 100 footers were sent around the Island. They started early in the morning, but were charging thru much of the fleet in the Eastern Solent as they reached towards the finish at the Royal Yacht Squadron later in the day. I was racing aboard a Quarter Tonner on starboard tack doing just under 5 knots. Our fleet was virtually at right angles to the 65’s which were reaching on port tack at around 20 to 23 knots. In itself not necessarily a problem with plenty of sea room, but my five crew mates and I had the distinctly uncomfortable experience of Brunei hurtling towards us without wavering course at all. It was impossible to tell initially, from our very slow moving boat, whether or not they were going to hit us. Of course all we could do was hope they had seen us – little we could do to influence the outcome because of the vast differences in speed. What really bugged me about this, as Brunei blasted past our stern  at ninety degrees to our course – a mere 10ft away was that nobody on Brunei made any attempt to show that they had seen us. The helmsman made no attempt to dip the bow a few degrees to demonstrate that he had seen us. To say they behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner is an understatement, but even more importantly they gave no allowance for the speed of their boat compared to the speed of the boats they were crossing, which could have very easily led to a disastrous T Bone collision. Worse was to come however from the Cowes Week race organisers. I reported the incident to the race office and was told to expect a telephone call from the Cowes Combined Clubs chief race officer. The call never came. And before you think that I should have protested and filled in a form, that was precisely part of the problem of mixed fleet racing with high and low speed boats that I wanted to discuss with the organisers. The protocols of conventional protests simply don’t apply in these circumstances. One day one of these high speed machines, driven by crews who fail to understand the limitations of much slower boats, will collide and kill someone. The rules, as they stand for events like Cowes Week, are simply not good enough.

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