As much as I like all of sailing’s possibilities, clutching-in twin diesels with overly pitched props is a feeling that’s hard to beat. To pirouette a sportfisherman outside a crowded marina so the tower cants to one side, to bury the throttles in reverse building a crest of white water and then to lay sixty-feet of hull neatly against the dock’s edge is a thrill I rank very high. Twin screws coupled to naturally aspirated diesels will always be my foiling.
The thing is, I know what I’m doing with twin screws. From tug to picnic-boat, I can put a twin-screw craft in any location in basically any wind or sea condition. Such cannot be said of what I’ve seen of some in the high-performance sailing community. From the foiled to the multi-hulled, a lot of what I see is sort of a ship-show out there.
Aboard our trusty 13’ Whaler, I was in Newport a few Saturdays past spying on my daughter’s school sailing team when a hoot and holler caught my attention. To my aft, a sleek catamaran thing was firing past the gunnel of a center-console, its wide-eyed skipper shrieking about room. It was a prime example of an encroaching entitlement I see in the arena of high-end dinghy sailing – that is, foiling craft in the twenty-foot range crewed by the middle-aged. Like the bikes that crowd the roadways pedaled by the clipped-in middle-ager adorned in Lycra, there’s a sense of possessory something that grates the soul and rips at the rended edge of our shared commons.
A sailboat overtaking a powerboat doesn’t get to claim “room”. Rule 13 of the COLREGS isn’t written with equivocating language and makes clear that an overtaking vessel must keep clear of the vessel being overtaken. For the challenged or ornery, the Rule even contains language to the effect that if you’re in doubt as to whether you’re overtaking “assume that is the case and act accordingly.” Sadly, my money says our wide-eyed skipper couldn’t tell us what the Rules of the Road are, much less where to buy a copy, and that’s the problem.
Cash-making career, native-son status or silver-spooned spawn, it doesn’t matter. We’re all out on that same stretch of water and this kind of conduct is going to get someone hurt. We shouldn’t tolerate the smugness that seems to come to some when climbing aboard the latest in sailing tech.
When I stand beer in hand on the Jamestown shoreline and literally have to continually twist my head to follow the path of a catamaran whipping past Rose Island and stumbling headlong into the Fort Adams channel, it’s time. It’s time for the powers that be to amend the Rules of the Road to address the, frankly, terrifying speeds and, with equal frankness, terrifyingly poor seamanship.
First, the Rules needed to be amended to specifically address speed. It seems to me that both powerboats and multi-hulled sailing craft now reach speeds that were not contemplated when the Rules were drafted. While the Rules talk about speed appropriate to the conditions, I think they should impose speed limits and special burdens on vessels that elect to navigate at high rates of speed.
Second, the Rules should be edited to burnish off the scale that is this traditional thought the sailing vessel has rights different from a powerboat. There are others better suited (and more interested) in wordsmithing these Rules, but the square-riggers are yesteryear and most anything with a sail can maneuver just fine.
Third, and this is a thorny issue and one I haven’t yet gotten straight in my head, but regattas need to be better noticed and managed. The Rules should maybe address where a yacht race can and cannot take place. A yacht race that encroaches on a waterway’s channel seems, at least by the light of my current candle, to be setting up a bad situation.
Let the Libertarians get their licks in having read my small thoughts on how we might better regulate things, but a shared commons doesn’t run on altruism. It requires some rules so all of us can enjoy its full width and breadth.
There was period of time when civil aviation and I gave it a go. It was a relationship fraught with spats, a cockpit fire and a general sense that the plane was always ahead of me. I quit flying like maybe how you quit a person or substance or both. It’d been fun, for sure, but it was a ride that wasn’t ever going to end well. That’s a lesson that some of these weekend warriors might consider before getting back aboard their twin-hulled sailing sleds. In the meantime, seeing how those 1972 COLREGS are about as old as I am, maybe it’s time for a refresher.
Underway and making way. ■
This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.