RRS 44.2 Explained, by Lance Burger.
The RCYC Sailing Instructions (SI 1.5) replaces the Two-Turns Penalty with a One-Turn Penalty for breaking a rule of Part 2 of the RRS.
The question comes up how long do you have to do your penalty turn(s). Rule 44.2 states:
44.2 One-Turn and Two-Turns Penalties
After getting well clear of other boats as soon after the incident as possible, a boat takes a One-Turn or Two-Turns Penalty by promptly making the required number of turns in the same direction, each turn including one tack and one gybe. When a boat takes the penalty at or near the finishing line, her hull shall be completely on the course side of the line before she finishes.
This rule mentions time limitations in two places: “… as soon … as possible…” to get clear, and “promptly” for making the turns. “As soon … as possible…” means exactly that, as soon as you can you sail clear and do your turn(s).
You cannot wait until it you will lose less time and distance. You cannot wait until you drop your spinnaker just before the next mark, because you will lose too much distance in dropping your spinnaker, doing the turns and then hoisting the spinnaker again. You cannot wait until you are on a beat, because you will lose out less on the beat doing your turns than on a downwind leg of the course.
To take an example from the 2016 Olympics: A port tack boat (a medalist in the previous Olympics) about three boat from the weather mark did not keep clear of a starboard tack boat laying the weather mark, which caused the starboard tack boat to bear away slightly to avoid a contact. The port tack boat tacked onto starboard, sailed around the weather mark, then the offset mark, then did her Two-Turns Penalty. The International Jury found that it was too late. The port tack boat could simply have carried on on port tack until she was “well clear” of other boats, then do her Two-Turn Penalty. She was disqualified as she did not take the penalty according to rule 44.2.
The words “… as soon … as possible…” is when you have to start sailing clear. The second part is to do your penalty turns “promptly”. After sailing clear you cannot delay doing the turn(s). You must do them “promptly”, you cannot delay taking the gybe (or the tack) until it is convenient. The only exception is that the word “promptly” has been interpreted that, if another boat changes course after you start your turns, and as a result you are no longer “well clear” of other boats, than you can interrupt doing the penalty turn(s) to keep clear of that other boat.
So, know your rules, and if you are in the wrong, do your penalty immediately. Doing a penalty is a lot easier and pleasant that a protest hearing and almost always the penalty is less than the risk of being disqualified. The best sailors in the world avoid protests like the plague, as they are always risky. Knowing that there is the possibility of a protest hearing also distracts one from concentrating on the job at hand, which is to sail the boat as fast as possible.
In short hand: Take the unpleasant medicine as quickly as you can. In the end it is good for you.