Luna Rossa won their match race against Emirates Team New Zealand in Naples after a crash at the windward gate. Bad news for ETNZ, and a good opportunity to see how penalties work. If you read my earlier article explaining the protest button and flashing lights on each boat, you’ll understand the signals on board the boats.
In the first picture, they are on the upwind leg. As they approach the gate from opposite sides of the course, NZL has right of way, as the starboard tack boat. They will reach the gate in about a minute – plenty of time for tactical decisions. At the gate, they must sail between the marks and then round either one.
Here they have reached the three boat length zone around the marks, where special rules apply: if the boats are overlapped (which they are), when the first boat reaches the zone, the outside boat must give the inside boat “mark room” to round the mark. NZL has right of way, but must give room to Luna Rossa. It does not matter who has right of way. It does not matter who gets to the circle first. If there is an overlap, as soon as either of the boats enters the zone, the inside boat acquires mark room rights. You’ll find an explanation of the rule in my Video Briefing Room.
NZL did not leave room. Luna Rossa tried to go inside. CRASH!
The impact left Luna Rossa stopped, while NZL continued their rounding, still on starboard tack.
Both boats hit their protest button, signaling the umpires of the protest, and turning on the red protest light on their boat.
While the umpires make their ruling, NZL unfurls their gennaker and heads downwind. Luna Rossa gets going again and rounds the mark.
The blue light comes on for NZL signaling they were penalized. The umpire software mistakenly gave a “VMG penalty” instead of a “boat on boat penalty.” For a VMG penalty the penalized boat must slow down the equivalent of losing two boat lengths. As soon as the umpires saw the mistake, they cancelled the VMG penalty and signalled a boat on boat penalty: When one boat fouls another while they are on the same leg, the penalized boat must let the fouled boat get two boat lengths ahead. (See Rule 44.2a and 44.2c). The LiveLine system calculates the penalty and keeps the blue light flashing until the penalty is paid off.
If a penalized boat makes a tack or a gybe while they are paying off a penalty, the penalty is increased by two boat lengths. Why? A boat slows down when turning in a tack or a gybe so a penalized boat could offload their penalty by making a turn they planned to make anyway. Look at NZL’s sails and their track in the next photo – you can see that they have gybed onto port.
NZL carried on down the leg on port, with Luna Rossa still at least four boat lengths behind.
With the penalty light still on, NZL gybed again, shown in the next photo.
Luna Rossa then gybed, too, getting ahead of NZL, but still not two boat lengths ahead.
The penalty light on NZL went off momentarily when Luna Rossa got two boat lengths ahead.
And then the penalty light came back on, to signal the additional two boat lengths of penalty for making the second gybe.
NZL now did what they should have done earlier – they slowed enough to pay off the penalty.
By the time NZL paid off the penalty, Luna Rossa had a 75m lead. With only about 300m to the final turning mark before the finish, NZL had no chance to catch up. It’s not clear why they took so long to pay off the penalty, and why they chose to gybe twice, increasing the penalty. But now it should be clear to you how penalties work. Any questions? Ask Jack!