The Rules in Practice 2017-2020 by Bryan Willis

There's no helping some people.

Take Bryan Willis, for example. Since 1985 he's published a new edition of The Rules in Practice, with clear and concise interpretations of the new racing rules of sailing.

He even puts in beautiful diagrams to illustrate the rule and how it works in real life on the water.He's done such a good job that the book is one of the most widely recommended purchases you'll get as a sailor. In fact, Nick Craig told me that "every four years when the rules come out I always buy (The Rules in Practice) because the rule book itself is a horrible thing to try and read and decipher."

And he's right. It's true. The rule book is a horrible thing to try and read and decipher. But Bryan Willis doesn't only read and decipher it, he interprets it and presents it in such a way that it is comprehensible to everyone, from beginner to multiple world champion.

Like Nick Craig, The Rules in Practice has been pretty ever present in my house. My dad would also have bought a copy every time it was revised, quite probably so he could hand it to me when I came off the water and get me to look up exactly which rules I had broken that particular day, with beautiful pictures to illustrate exactly where I had gone wrong. I also bought it for myself as an adult for similar reasons.

It is how I learnt the rules - by breaking them, doing an indignant and self-righteous 720 whilst vowing to educate my latest arch-nemisis, then coming off the water and looking up the rule in The Rules in Practice only to find out that my latest arch-nemisis was right after all, and that they had in fact been incredibly polite and patient with me.

Over time, you tend to learn a lot about the rules this way.

But there are still times when even Bryan Willis can't help me.

Take a recent Laser event I sailed at. I was sailing downwind on port, by-the-lee. There were a couple of other Lasers a little ahead of me on starboard, and I was catching them.

Suddenly we "remembered" (or some might say that the Race Committee reminded us, but that would be outside assistance so that definitely did not happen) that the Sailing Instructions included a stipulation that you were not to sail through the start-finish line on a downwind leg.

Blue pointed up sharply, whilst Green held her course and very suddenly I was in a starboard sandwich. Blue was close enough to me that I couldn't gybe because in doing so my boom would hit her. Had I avoided hitting Blue with my boom, I'd have turned into Green too quickly and hit her instead.

Both boats kindly reminded me that they were on starboard and, though I tried to slow down, it was impossible to do so enough - sheeting on would have forced a gybe and collision; sheeting out would have caused me to capsize onto Blue.

And so, after a little "friendly" nudging I was squeezed out the back.

Now I'm fairly sure I was in the wrong here, but I'm not exactly sure how.

Yes, I should have known the course, because if I had known the course then I would have positioned myself better or accepted that I'd sailed myself into a dangerous position. But all three of us made this mistake (I'm sure of that because the sailors themselves told me), and it only became a precarious position once we'd all simultaneously been informed of our mistake.

And yes, I was on port and they were on starboard, but I'd have hoped for more time to make adjustments given the unusual situation - did they give me enough time? And how much time is enough time?

Or should one or both of the boats given me room to keep clear of a right-of-way boat? And if so - which one?

Anyway, I did my turns and did OK in the race so it wasn't a complete disaster. After all, I was on port and probably shouldn't have got myself in such a situation in the first place.

But it did get me to thinking that I probably need to bring Bryan Willis with me to regattas as my rules infringements are becoming more and more complex.

But I doubt he'd agree to do it.

After all, he's smart enough to realise that there really is no helping some people.

Where to Buy The Rules in Practice 2017-2020
by Bryan Willis

The Rules in Practice is pretty essential for racing sailors. It covers all the main recurring rules scenarios on the racecourse, and explains exactly what your rights and obligations are. The illustrations are superb, helping to clarify exactly what you may or may not do, and the full racing rules are also included if you really do want to see what the letter of the law actually says.

If you race regularly then this book is an important bit of kit, and it will almost certainly save you quite a few arguments over the next four years.

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