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Sailors to run into new set of racing rules on April 1

Both novices and "old salts" _ those experienced sailors who have been racing around the buoys since water was invented _ will need to get their hands on a copy of the new "simplified" racing rules for sailors.

The Racing Rules of Sailing, 1997-2000

will go into effect April 1 worldwide with many changes _ some obvious, some not-so-obvious even to the most experienced racers.

U.S. Sailing is the sanctioning body for competitive racing in the United States, and it has published the 139-page rule book "written in plain language and simple form," U.S. Sailing president David Irish said. If size alone is a basis for measurement, the new book is some 26 pages shorter, with larger type and a helpful index, which was lacking in the earlier book.

To help sort out the changes, a rules forum _ led by Ann Newton of Ozona, a highly regarded and internationally certified sailing official _ was held at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club last week. She was joined by a panel of champion racers _ Ed Baird, Mark Mendleblatt, Mark Ploch and Jeff Linton _ who addressed questions regarding the changes.

The forum highlighted the more significant differences, but it also raised concerns, which suggested that the rules might need to be refined.

Terminology is key to the changes. "Mast abeam" is no longer a relevant term; a race boat is either on port or starboard tack at all times with no transition period when a boat is "on a tack"; and the on-the-water protest hailings between boats now must include the word "protest," along with the timely display of a red protest flag.

Questions regarding the lack of a definition of "close-hauled" were raised by Allan Broadribb of the Laser Class Association and by panelist Mendleblatt. Pat Seidenspinner and several other bay area racing officials will attend the spring meeting of U.S. Sailing on Thursday through Sunday in Houston for an overview on the new rules and clarification of unresolved questions posed at the forum.

Describing the emphasis of the new rules, Newton said, "You need to get your head out of the boat to avoid situations which might result in protests and possible collisions on the race course."

Sailors accustomed to the low-point scoring system where three-quarters of a point was awarded for a first-place finish will now find a win doesn't carry that slight advantage any longer, and wins will be scored as one point.

Regattas that issued their notice of rules before April 1 may still use the old rule book and scoring system.

While a consensus of sailors nationwide has suggested the new rules _ formerly called the "X-Rules" or "experimental rules" _ are a major improvement, the actual application and interpretation of them while racing might still be difficult for some racers to understand.

America's Cup sailor Dave Dellenbaugh publishes a monthly newsletter, Speed and Smarts, that is covering the rule changes with text and graphic explanations. Subscriptions are $44 per year. Call (800) 356-2200.

Members of U.S. Sailing receive a copy of the rule book as a part of the membership fees. To contact the organization, write to U.S. Sailing, P.O. Box 1260, Portsmouth, RI 02871, or call (401) 683-0800.

BOAT OF THE YEAR: NEC Suncoast Raceweek will be the deciding event for Suncoast Boat of the Year honors in the non-spinnaker class as the top three boats _ Midnight Sun, Vagabond

and Sloop de Ville _ still have a chance for the series trophy with less than a four-point spread between first and third place.

Wild Blue

leads the spinnaker class by a safe margin, but three boats _ Fever, Desperado

and Endangered Species _ can grab the second spot at the final regatta.

NEC Suncoast Raceweek sails April 11-13 with mixed courses.

YARD SALE: The Eckerd College Waterfront Program will host a marine yard sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the campus waterfront facility.

Items for sale include powerboats and sailboats, motors, accessories and electronics. Proceeds from the sale go to support the Eckerd College Search and Rescue Team, which provides free assistance to stranded boaters in the area. For details, call 864-8555.