Gut Hiking: Just Say No

Published on March 26th, 2014

To say that hiking hurts is like saying the wind blows. Of course hiking hurts. It has always hurt, but it always hurts more on boats that were never meant to be hiked on.

If the boat was designed for people to hike on, than some consideration was given to the sailor’s body. But for the other boats… forget it.

Boats that fit into the “never intended to hike on” category are keelboats with lifelines. Wrapping your torso around the lower lifeline like a dish towel hurts. Pound a few waves, have that lifeline cut into your body, and hurt finds a whole new meaning.

“Among the things we need to do with our sport to get people to smile more often is to stop this hiking madness,” stated Ken Read in his presentation at the Sailing Leadership Forum. “This is the dumbest thing. It’s no fun, no one wants to do it. We must stop it.”


Adding to the discussion is Mark Baxter, long time sailmaking professional, who takes a look at the Racing Rules of Sailing which address the lifelines and crew position…

I’ve been advocating a ban on hanging drooped over the lower lifeline with one cheek hooked on the gunwale for several years now. It is painful, unhealthy, dangerous and simply not fun. Glad to see an industry leader like Ken Read getting on board, but how do we actually address the problem?

One design classes will develop a consensus on what they are willing to accept, but for handicap racing on boats with lifelines, how much do the current rules allow… and is it too much?

RRS 49 is the area in question, titled “Crew Position; Lifelines”. It’s pretty specific about what it deals with, which pretty much applies to most handicap racing boats.

Rule 49.1 says “Competitors shall use no device designed to position their bodies outboard, other than hiking straps and stiffeners worn under the thighs.” That seems quite clear about what you can use to hold bodies outboard, and it would be a stretch to argue that lifelines are hiking straps.

Rule 49.2 allows the torso to be outside the upper lifeline only “briefly to perform a necessary task” or when “sitting on the deck facing outboard with his waist inside the lower lifeline”.

I’d argue that a single cheek hooked on the sheerline does not count as “seated on the deck” and that if everything above and below the waist is effectively outboard of the lifelines, the rule is being violated.

But clearly serious racers are not seeing either of these rules that way. Is this simply another case of the rules being pushed to an extreme and competitors accepting it rather than stepping up and filing an unpopular protest?

If so, how could the rules be rewritten in a way to achieve the desired result, and then who will enforce them?

We all have to do our part in stopping this madness. The next time some hotshot tactician with a comfortable spot in the back yells at you to hike harder, just say no!

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