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Is Tracking Reliable Enough for Use in Protest Hearings?

11th October 2021
RL Sailing finishes at Cherbourg to record a five hour win in the Figaro 3 Two-Handed Division in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021
RL Sailing finishes at Cherbourg to record a five hour win in the Figaro 3 Two-Handed Division in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021

Afloat reported in August that the Irish duo of Kenny Rumball and Pamela Lee aboard RL Sailing had been denied a podium position in the Fastnet Race despite crossing the finishing line ahead of her class rivals.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) race jury later found that RL Sailing had unintentionally entered a commercial shipping TSS (prohibited zones under race rules) and awarded them a 10% penalty dropping them to last place.

Despite the team's protest and redress requests, the jury apparently relied on the screenshot of the Yellowbrick tracker that showed RL Sailing inside the RSS.

However, an Afloat investigation identified several other vessels that the Yellowbrick tracker put inside the TSS that were not penalised by the race jury.

Furthermore, screenshots from the tracking app appear to show boats missing out on rounding the Fastnet.

The yacht in this picture is clearly in TSS, but recorded as a legitimate finisher in 162nd place.

A screenshot from the tracker apparently showing Challenger II inside TSSA screenshot from the tracker apparently showing a yacht inside the TSS (displayed in a red tint) 

In the screenshot below the yacht, Horus seems to not only be in the TSS but her track suggests she failed to round the Fastnet. Results show her as a genuine finisher in 118th place.

A screenshot from the tracker apparently showing Hourus in TSS, not rounding the Fastnet RockA screenshot from the tracker apparently showing Hourus in TSS, not rounding the Fastnet Rock

The J/125 Magic Wind was recorded finishing in 76th place, but the tracking screenshot suggests that she too missed the Fastnet and entered the TSS.

 A screenshot from the tracker apparently showing Magic Wind in TSS, not rounding Fastnet A screenshot from the tracker apparently showing Magic Wind in TSS, not rounding Fastnet

Afloat is not suggesting that there was any wrongdoing by these vessels, but rather that the source of evidence relied on in the protest room - the Yellowbrick tracker - is questionable.

If this evidence was available to RL Sailing in the protest room, would the outcome have been different?

RORC did not respond when Afloat put these questions to them.

UPDATE: October 16 2021: RORC Racing Director Chris Stone responded as follows:

1. Was any action taken against these boats for what appears to be infringements of the SIs?

No further action was taking with regards Magic Wind, Horus & Challenger I (not Challenger II as you had referenced). Race Committee (RC) had concluded that none of the boats in question crossed into a TSS zone. For your information both Magic Wind & Horus had tracker failures (water ingress after a heavy couple of days) prior crossing the Celtic Sea and were put on AIS transmission. Both boats had received positions outside the TSS zone (clearly closer to land) and were then reported further down the course south of the Isles of Scilly and again when in AIS range closer to France. Both boats appear to have cut the course due to the dead reckoning between actual AIS positions. In the case of Challenger I on the western side of the Fastnet TSS, a failed satellite report and variations in boat speed meant that dead reckoning place them within the TSS zone while actually being outside. In cases where the RC cannot find evidence to prove a boat was outside the TSS zone, boats are scored with the standard penalty and asked to provide proof of their course, speed and heading to the international jury at the event, should they wish to.

2. If so was it a DSQ and reinstatement on the basis of evidence supplied?

None of the 3 boats identified were given a penalty because the RC had already determined they hadn’t breached the obstruction.

3. If not, was this because of any malfunction by the tracking system?

As noted above two boats had failed trackers and we were using AIS positioning as a safety precaution (which as we all know has very limited range). The third boat had a failed satellite transmission.

4. If the tracker malfunctioned on these three occasions, would it not be appropriate for those boats that were disqualified to request reinstatement?

No – individual tracking units failing or a failed satellite transmission doesn’t represent a failure or malfunctioning tracking system. In all cases, boats who have an issue with their penalty have the right of reply through an international jury. The jury is onsite at the event and open for this very reason (and other protest matters as well). In all cases where competitors wish to take the matter to the International Jury, they are asked to provide satisfactory evidence that they weren’t in the TSS zone (which is easy enough to do with ALL modern navigation technology) or alternatively show evidence that through no fault of their own they breach the TSS zone. For your information, all competitors are also made aware that taking a matter to an International Jury gives them no right of appeal after the decision of the international jury, as laid out in the Racing Rule of Sailing.

Some other points that may help in publishing further facts in relation to the matter around RL Sailing;

  • Satellite tracking is extremely accurate. YB trackers report multiple GPS fixes in a single satellite transmission, meaning that in one transmission (which is every 15 minutes at that point of the race) they can have up to 90 GPS fixes, if requested to do so.
  • The YB tracking system is set up specifically for Rolex Fastnet and the TSS zones are set up within the system as ‘poly-fences’. Any time a boat comes close to a poly-fence the YB tracking unit automatically requests higher frequency GPS reporting to monitor its approach into the TSS zone.
  • The RC also use a two box theory to identify boats within a TSS zone. 1 - being the outer box that is the actual TSS coordinates and then 2 - an inner box set some distance inside the outer box to allow for a higher degree of accuracy for a breach. Any boat with multiple GPS fixes inside box 2 will receive a standard penalty.
  • All penalties and protests for all boats can be found here . Hearing 8 is the matter in relation to RL Sailing.
  • For your information there were only 4 boats in the Figaro III class, RL Sailing came 3rd after the penalty.
  • RORC and the RC made every effort to help RL Sailing after receiving a penalty, including allowing Pamela Lee to review the RC data about the breach and distances involved, and specifically identifying information required that would be useful in pleading her case with an International Jury.
  • From the hearing decision, RL Sailing appear to be unable to provide sufficient evidence that they did not cross into the TSS zone or provide evidence that any breach was through no fault of their own.

RORC ‘s ongoing position remains the same, as it has done for more than a decade, the club elects for the purpose of safety and prudent seamanship, in what can be busy commercial shipping areas, to have TSS zones as obstructions within its sailing instructions. Those obstruction breaches receive a standard penalty and allow the RC to enforce any breach of an obstruction when there is suitable proof to do so. RORC regularly reminds competitors of the need to take a wide berth of areas of obstruction and allow for clearance when rounding marks or corners of any obstruction. These penalties and obstructions are clearly identified in ALL RORC race sailing instructions.

Additionally, Chris Stone emphasises RORC 'feels strongly' in representing the following facts;

  • For RORC this is a broad safety issue. The sailing instructions clearly state that TSS infringements will be penalised! This has been the case for a number of years and prior to 2020 the penalty was 20%.
  • YB Tracking (satellite tracking) is extremely reliable and the information is suitable any number of purposes, including determining breaches. As we are aware YB tracking is the industry standard for almost all major events (Vendee, Middle Sea, Hobart, Route du Rhum) and they all use YB tracking for similar purposes including identifying penalties.
  • The 3 boats raised in your email (and there were others) were all reviewed and identified as having sailed the course without entering an obstruction zone.
  • RL Sailing was NOT the only boat who received a 10% standard penalty for TSS infringement. There were several other boats across the entire fleet who received the same penalty.
  • RL Sailing did attend a hearing with the international jury and the jury found RL Sailing was unable to provide sufficient evidence that they did not cross into the TSS zone or provide evidence that any breach was through no fault of their own.
  • There was no failure or malfunction of the tracking system that had adversely affected RL Sailing’s position in relation to a TSS zone. There were individual tracker failures which highlighted areas of further investigation which were reviewed by the RC.

The RORC are aware that this is an extremely disappointing penalty for RL Sailing however RORC operates fairly and without bias for all competitors in relation to the rules within the sailing instruction and we feel in the case of TSS infringements we have conducted ourselves appropriately.

Published in RORC, Fastnet Team

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  • Established in 1925, The Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) became famous for the biennial Fastnet Race and the international team event, the Admiral's Cup. It organises an annual series of domestic offshore races from its base in Cowes as well as inshore regattas including the RORC Easter Challenge and the IRC European Championship (includes the Commodores' Cup) in the Solent
  • The RORC works with other yacht clubs to promote their offshore races and provides marketing and organisational support. The RORC Caribbean 600, based in Antigua and the first offshore race in the Caribbean, has been an instant success. The 10th edition took place in February 2018. The RORC extended its organisational expertise by creating the RORC Transatlantic Race from Lanzarote to Grenada, the first of which was in November 2014
  • The club is based in St James' Place, London, but after a merger with The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club in Cowes now boasts a superb clubhouse facility at the entrance to Cowes Harbour and a membership of over 4,000