Golden Rule

One final reflection about recent events in the A Class, before resuming normal programming.
Future posts will focus on hopefully interesting technical commentary, and updates on our projects…

Flourishing

The last couple of years gave us extraordinary advances in the capabilities of inshore racing sailboats.
Arguably the root cause is development in the America’s Cup, where big foiling multihull ‘daysailers’ benefited from the focused study, and substantial R&D budgets, of professional teams in a high-stakes arena.

This work furthered our understanding of how to make such boats faster and safer.
It also helped popularise a kind of fast sailing that previously existed on the fringes of a sport not necessarily known by the layman as particularly dynamic.

We have seen multihulls ‘go mainstream’. Preconceptions about poor maneuverability, and unsuitability for close racing were dispelled.
Once full foiling became possible, a new dimension of speed, technical challenge, and spectacle became reality.
Basic insights, tools, and technology were quickly applied to ‘accessible’ craft, including one-design classes, and even fast cruisers.

The top tier of the sport was rejuvenated, and the appeal of sailing broadened.
This did not detract from ‘mature’ disciplines (the monohull scene is still thriving. Only now there is more on offer).
Keelboats, foiling Moths, and foiling multihulls, all benefit from a broadening of the base. Lessons learned in one specialty advance the others.

Origin

Reflecting with some fellow sailors, an important realisation dawned on us:
ALL of the above flowed from the literal interpretation of a rule specifically designed to prevent foiling.
Think about it: The AC72 Rules had provisions intended to limit foil volume (and hence foil area) to a value insufficient for full foiling.
Clever designers in Emirates Team New Zealand spotted that the wording of the rule allowed a literal interpretation completely contrary to intent.
Yet once written, the rules had to be applied as worded.
Consistency dictated that the plain meaning must be upheld.
Though this gave an initial advantage to the discoverers of the ‘loophole’, it also opened the door for others to follow. Even to improve on the original idea.

Sports, architecture, and law, are littered with examples of ‘rule cheats’ that either opened the door to progress, or exposed the absurdity of outdated regulations.
Normally regulators react by permitting such solutions until rules can be properly changed, usually after a season or cycle has concluded, then everyone can start again afresh.

Some interesting examples for the curious (links to external articles):
Due to sloppy rule drafting the class rules could be literally interpreted to read
Committee had exceeded its jurisdiction in issuing an interpretation that changed a Class Rule
The F-duct was so smart that the FIA used it in creating what’s known as DRS today
Brawn’s double diffuser in 2009
One of many unintended consequences of tax policy
Slicing part of the rocker overcomes the prohibition against hollows in the hull with an ‘appendage’ not as it was intended
The judicial is separate from the legislative precisely to objectively interpret law
– ‘Contrary to the spirit of the law’, exposed as a ludicrous question

Lesson

Rule administrators have a duty to be impartial when issuing interpretations.
They must look at the wording with fresh eyes, and read the rule as written. They must ask themselves: “What would this mean to someone reading it with no preconceptions, coming from a different background, unburdened by the baggage of what was in the inscrutable mind of the writer?”

Saying that we should “not [be] spending our time looking for loopholes” is disingenuous.
It is doing a disservice to the Class and the sport.

Those charged with issuing interpretations have a duty to objectively apply the rules.
Attempting to enforce an arbitrary view of preferred outcome is ineffective and unfair.
Ineffective because it invariably fails to achieve the intended outcome, rather fostering elaborate workarounds that divert energy from genuine development. Unfair because it makes it impossible for participants to reliably know what will be deemed acceptable by the whim of the arbiter.

Once loopholes have been found, acknowledged, and exploited, then the discussion can begin to either tighten or get rid of defeated rules.
This is finally happening in the A Class, thanks to the persistence of those who take to heart the history and ethos of a unique and exhilarating development category.

“The golden rule is that the words of a statute must prima facie be given their ordinary meaning.”
Viscount Simon, in Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries, [1940] A.C. 1014, at p. 1022.

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