When Outside Help Is Allowed

Published on November 19th, 2018

Dick Rose has been dissecting the Racing Rules of Sailing for Sailing World magazine since 1984, and in his October 2018 column he reviews how a close call during the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race might result in a rule change regarding outside assistance.


Late in the afternoon on January 6, 2018, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet was charging northward at more than 15 knots across the Coral Sea, sailing a leg of the race from Melbourne, Australia, to Hong Kong. The Volvo Ocean 65s were many miles from the nearest port when SHK Scallywag, in last place on the position reports, was crossing over the vast Lansdowne Bank.

On the north end of the bank, there is an area called Nereus Reef, where the water depth is only 12 feet deep in some places. Scallywag drew just over 15 feet. Every boat in the fleet was being tracked electronically, and Rick Tomlinson, the official observer on duty in the event’s race-control office, was monitoring their tracks.

According to the international jury serving as the protest committee for the race, Tomlinson was “an employee of Volvo Ocean Race who, as a member of race control, has a responsibility for the safety of all competitors.”

Tomlinson noticed that Scallywag was on a collision course with Nereus Reef, so he emailed the boat’s navigator. “Just so I can relax a bit here in race control,” he wrote, “tell me you are happy with your course in relation to Nereus Reef on Lansdowne Bank.”

It’s interesting to watch the gyrations in Scallywag’s track immediately after the boat received the message. Before receiving the email, it had been heading just east of north at 16 knots. At about 0800 UTC it bore off to the east and slowed to around 7 knots. An hour later, it had turned through south to a westerly course, and at 1120, it was back on its original course and speed.

The race committee estimated that Scallywag lost 50 miles on the rest of the fleet during the time it was off course and sailing at reduced speed while working out a way around Nereus Reef.

But didn’t this assistance for Scallywag contravene Rule 41 which specifies how a boat shall not receive help from an outside source? Full report.

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