Rule 42: It’s not the what, It’s the how

Published on January 28th, 2020

The Racing Rules of Sailing outline how boats are to be sailed, which is to use “only the wind and water to increase, maintain, or decrease her speed. Her crew may adjust the trim of sails and hull, and perform other acts of seamanship, but shall not otherwise move their bodies to propel the boat.”

This is Rule 42, and while it also lists prohibited actions and permitted exceptions, managing this rule has been historically challenging, which has led some class organizations to modify it or remove it altogether.

However, long-time windsurfer Guy Le Roux believes the administration of the rule is the problem and offers both a technical and remarkably simple solution.

I believe Manfred Curry once discussed kinetics saying something like (and I paraphrase), propulsion of racing sailboats should be the result of “Wind against the sail and water against the hull, not sails against the wind or hulls against the water.” Maybe those weren’t his exact words, but it is an essential mantra.

Now we have “Wind Rowing” or “Wind Humping” or whatever you want to call it. Many would argue that we can’t get back there from here; that we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. I don’t believe this pessimism. Technologies exist to control pumping!

Look no further than your phone. Inside is an accelerometer that measures motion on three axises. There are manufacturers of affordable button-sized, battery-powered Bluetooth accelerometers that can be placed on boom ends or mastheads or on a leech to measure rig movements (both pumping and rolling and a combination thereof).

It’s not too hard to imagine an on-board receiver that tracks pumping and rolling that has a warning light that flashes when rig movements are say, 300% greater than the median movements. We could limit these movements to less than 3 times within a 10 second interval, or outlaw them altogether. Plus there could be a memory stick that can be reviewed by judges.

Such a device is do-able with today’s technology! In addition to catching pumpers and modifying their behavior, such a device, when combined with GPS, could measure pumping efficiency so it could be utilized to help refine techniques for sailors in classes with unlimited pumping.

I wish I was tech savvy enough to make this happen, or maybe we should all just have bells on the end of our booms…

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