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March 27, 2020

Reconsidering Red, Right, Returning

It is a maxim that many of us learned before we knew how to tack, jibe, or even raise our sails. It is a mnemonic that, once known, is impossible to forget. It is the simple expression of an important navigational concept: Red, right, returning.

And it is likely the exception, and not the rule.

New Zealand, land of spectacularity and slight, nearly imperceptible variations to the “norm.”
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Entering the Hatea River to get to the cruisers’ hub of Whangarei, New Zealand, I noticed that the buoys were, well . . . wrong. Just wrong. They were on what I understood to be the ‘opposite’ side of the bay. At first, this raised a larger existential question: Is everything in New Zealand the same, but slightly different? Does the Coriolis effect make all things go backward?

Not really. It’s the US that tends to be the outlier, a fact that’s easy to forget when you’ve grown up on inches, gallons and Big Gulps. “Green right returning is in most of the world except North America,” wrote Tim Dick on our Instagram page. “It’s like that pretty much everywhere except for the US,” chimed in Latitude freelancer Ronnie Simpson.

Entering the Hatea River in Whangarei.
© 2020 Elana Connor

The question, now, is why? Is this another weird American idiosyncrasy?

“During the American Revolution, Americans decided to reverse all the navigational buoys to confuse the British warships,” Tim Dick continued. “It worked — many British warships went aground.” Many online forums mention this story, but from our limited research, we can’t find any official historic accounts, only similar anecdotal references.

How many navigational buoys were there in American ports in the 1700s? In his book Ships and Seamen of the American Revolution, Jack Coggins wrote, “There was some slight knowledge of currents and tides, and the more traveled parts of the known world’s coasts were fairly accurately charted. Lighthouses and buoys existed, but were few in number, especially in the New World.” Coggins made no mention — as far as we can tell — about the British Navy’s being tricked into running aground.

Here’s another sliver of RRR history:

“‘Red, right, return’ was drilled into my head early on, and for all the years I sailed in North America, it proved true,” wrote Michael Robertson in a 2017 Cruising World article. “Then I went cruising across the Pacific. One of the first things I learned is that the rest of the world doesn’t echo the same navigational mnemonic.” Robertson traced the origins of this discrepancy to the 1970s, after a series of terrible accidents in the English Channel, where several ships ran aground.

Green, right, returning just doesn’t have any kind of ring to it.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

“. . . At the time of these tragedies, there were 30 different buoyage systems in use throughout the world,” Robertson continued. “The disparity was cited as a contributing factor to the disasters and prompted the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) to implement a standard: the Maritime Buoyage System. This system, ratified in 1982, consolidated the 30 systems into two. These two systems are what we have today.

“With regard to buoyage used to mark harbor entrances, the systems are pretty similar. In all cases, markers to port (when entering a harbor from sea) shall be square or have a flat top. Markers to starboard shall be conical or have a triangular shape or pointed top. In all cases, markers shall be green or red.”

The spectacular, volcanic landscape of Whangarei almost distracted from the odd buoy situation.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

“But whether they are green to port and red to starboard or the opposite depends entirely upon what region of the world you are navigating. The IALA established two regions: Region A and Region B.”

We’re wondering what experiences you’ve had with red . . . some direction . . . returning. Did it cause you any degree of confusion? Are there any historians out there who can clarify the Revolutionary War anecdote?

Please comment below, or email us here.

The Latest from the YRA and More

An Update from the YRA

“The YRA had a meeting with clubs on Sunday. The main topic of discussion was how to ease back into some sort of a racing season once the shelter-in-home orders are lifted,” writes Laura Muñoz, executive director of the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay. “The YRA is putting together a document with some procedural options, with input from the clubs, that we can use to ensure racing is safe for participants and race committees, and will satisfy the Coast Guard. As far as the Coast Guard is concerned, as long as there are active shelter-in-home orders in place, marine event permits are nullified.”

Check for schedule changes from the YRA at

Island Girl with red spinnaker
The Islander 36 Island Girl flies a kite soon after starting Sausalito YC’s Jaws pursuit race last March. Sailing in the opposite direction is Willow, a Wauquiez Centurion 40s, waiting her turn to start. Jaws is among the races canceled for tomorrow. SYC plans to reschedule it.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Board Opening at YRA

“On a strictly-YRA note,” continues Laura, “our secretary position is open. If anyone is interested in getting involved with the YRA, they can contact the YRA for more information on the position. Here’s the basic job description we sent out to everyone on Sunday’s call: ‘The Secretary’s main job is help keep track of all YRA-related meetings, proceedings and actions of the board and assist with notification of meetings. They do not need to take minutes at meetings; this is handled by the Executive Director. The secretary also handles any changes or amendments to the Bylaws and serves as Vice Chair of the Board, in the absence or incapacity of the Chair. The Secretary is officially elected by the Board of Directors.”

Find more information about the YRA Board, plus contact information, on page 10 of the Northern California Sailing Calendar.


Vic-Maui’s trustees and committee chairs have canceled due to the pandemic. Hosted by the Royal Vancouver and Lahaina Yacht Clubs, the 2,308-mile biennial race starts off Victoria, BC, and finishes near Lahaina, Maui. The race was to have started on July 13-16. Qualifier races had been canceled last week.

Postponed or Pending

The board of the Singlehanded Sailing Society met on Tuesday to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on club activities. “Because of the Governor of California’s Executive Order to ‘stay at home’ until further notice, the Round the Rocks race that was scheduled for April 11, and associated meetings, have been postponed,” writes the board. “The SSS board is evaluating whether it will be possible to run the race later in the season, and will keep you informed.

“The board is actively monitoring the public health situation in order to assess whether the Singlehanded Farallones race can continue, as planned, on May 16. A decision will be made inside the next few weeks and notice published.

“The running of the 2020 SHTP [Singlehanded Transpacific Yacht Race] is still under review and a decision will be made in the coming weeks. The board is concerned with the safety of SSS members, as well as other members of the boating community including USCG, fire and rescue, and marina personnel. These are unprecedented times and we extend our thoughts to anyone who has been directly affected by the illness. Keep well and keep flattening the curve.”

The board of the C. Thomas Clagett Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta has postponed the 18th Clagett Regatta June 16-21 to September 1-6, 2020. Held in Newport, RI, the Clagett draws disabled sailors from all over the country.

2.4mR fleet start
The 2.4mR class starts the 2019 Clagett.
© 2020 Ro Fernandez / Andes Visual

Standing Pat (for Now)

The Cascade Gorge Racing Association, RS Aero Class and RS Sailing are, so far, sticking to the plan to run the fourth RS Aero World Championship on July 31-August 7. “We have made the decision to extend the early bird entry fee discount to 30th April, with an update to the NoR confirming the details,” says the event website. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and expect to be able to make a more definitive statement in the next couple of weeks. You may anticipate a further announcement on or before Friday 17th April. At that time, if the decision is made to cancel the event, CGRA will fully refund all entry fees to those who have entered, and RS Sailing will refund charter fees. In the meantime competitors are advised not to incur any non-refundable expenses (travel, accommodation, etc.).”

The CGRA’s season doesn’t open until June 27. “We are taking a ‘wait and see’ position before determining if events will be deferred or canceled. This affects all clinics, regattas and community sailing sessions.”

Another Weekend Immersed in Sailing

As kids, we traveled far while cloistered in our bedrooms with books like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, or Dove by Robin Lee Graham. All these years later we feel like we’re right back where we started — though as a kid we were often forced indoors by snowy, cold winters.

While we’d rather be sailing, we’re looking forward to cracking open some of our old favorites — no foul weather gear needed.

Sailing in Place
This weekend, while traveling in our dreams, we’ll be sailing in place.
© 2020 Reluctantly Leslie Arndt

Sailing is rich with appropriate language for the times as we sail into uncharted waters, reef down for the gathering storm, or seek safe harbor. We’ll do our best to shelter in place while finding a way to escape until we have clear sailing ahead.

It appears that Punxsutawney Phil, in the KKMI ad on the back page of the current issue, didn’t see his shadow after all and is suggesting we all hibernate a little further into the spring sailing season.

So while we do ‘shelter in place’ we wonder what you’ll be reading. We hope you already have your March issue in hand. If not, the March issue is available online here and the April issue will be coming on April 1. Beyond that, what’s on the bedside table? As we shelter we have some reading from Dave and Dave: Dave Perry’s Winning in One Designs is nearby, as are some back issues of Dave Dellenbaugh’s Speed & Smarts newsletter. We have Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer close at hand and many other favorites ready for a read. What do you recommend?  Email us here or add to the comments below.

Avoiding the Crowds
Unlike the traffic jams on the highways leading to beaches over the weekend, San Francisco Bay was remarkably uncrowded. Social distancing? No problem out here!
Schedule Changes Continue
"The IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021."
Latitude 38 Delivered First-Class
Now offering a Shelter-in-Place special. Three months is just a ‘sip’ of Latitude 38. You can read at home while you sip on whatever you like.