Al Clark on the Mend After “Proper” Heart Attack

Al Clark on the Mend After “Proper” Heart Attack

Al Clark, very successful Northwest sailor and head coach for the Royal Van YC sailing team, is recovering after a heart attack while in Florida. Thanks to Seattle sailor Jay Winberg for bringing this to our attention.

Al says: “Yes I did have a proper heart attack, was in hospital in West Palm Beach because I was at the Florida masters midwinter regatta. They installed a pacemaker. Now I’m back in Vancouver resting, and it should be a few more weeks and then I’ll be back to work. All indications are that I should be able to be active going forward.”

Digging a little around the web, I found this quote from Laser sailor Andy Roy posted on

Good news update for everyone: Allan is improving nicely, although still in ICU. He has had a pretty sore chest from the CPR. Sharon (Ed-Al’s wife) had a long conversation with a Vancouver cardiologist who walked through everything that’s happened (she has been in contact with the Florida doctors). The doctor has an Olympic speed skater as a patient who has a heart arrhythmia condition similar to what has hit Al. The doctor thinks he’ll be ready for discharge by the weekend and be back to coaching and racing Lasers in about 8 weeks. Fabulous news!

A few months ago Clark won the Grand Master Standard Rig class at the Laser Master Worlds in Croatia. He even wrote about it here. We wish him well and look forward to seeing him on the water soon. At that time he can maybe teach us the distinction between a proper and improper heart attack. 


Star Fleet Loaner Program & Clinic

Star Fleet Loaner Program & Clinic
A start at the Star Worlds

The Puget Sound Star fleet is a wonderful anomaly. It boasts some of the finest skippers to ever touch a Star tiller in Bill and Carl Buchan, and is one of the more welcoming fleets around. When I came to Seattle nearly 30 years ago one of my first races was on a Star by invitation of Foss Miller. It’s clear Foss and the fleet are still eager to build the Star fleet and community, initiating a loaner boat program for the season.

Local sailors Derek DeCouteau and Jaimie Stewart working upwind. Local photos by Jan Anderson.

The Star itself is somewhat of an anomaly. Designed in 2011 by Francis Sweisguth, it’s an overcanvassed (by yesterday’s standards anyway) 22′ chined keelboat. Once upon a time it was identified with the Olympics, but it’s been in and out of that designation a couple of times (currently out). I’m not sure Star sailors care that much. Now they even have the professional Star Sailors League. The best sailors still look to this class as the ultimate proving ground for tweaking, tactics and teamwork. Stars glide along nicely in 5 knots of wind and can pound in relatively big seas and 20 knots. To sail them at their best in those conditions, size and strength matter. No, it doesn’t have a sprit (or spinnaker for that matter), and doesn’t reach at 20 knots, but it remains the premier puzzle for the elite of the sport. The relatively small keel rudder combination and the sail area configuration put a premium on getting everything juuuuuuussssst right.

Locally we have the Puget Sound fleet dry-sailed out of Shilshole and wet-sailed fleet of classic Stars in Budd Inlet (Olympia). (I’d like to know about other active fleets in the Northwest) The Budd Inlet Fleet has a great program of getting butts in boats as well.

So, it comes as no surprise that the Puget Sound fleet is reaching out to potential Star sailors with these programs.


Ever want to try sailing a Starboat but didn’t know where to start? Now you can!

The Star, an Olympic class boat for a century, has spawned some of the best sailors in the world. Many of them are right here in Puget Sound.


The Star is incredibly fun to sail, and the fleet is friendly and always ready to help a newcomer out.

The Puget Sound Starboat fleet currently has 3 Stars available for loaner use, and is hosting a Star training clinic as well. Details below:

  • Cost: Port of Seattle dry storage fee: $232.54/month.Insurance is covered.
  • Contact Info: Questions or set up, contact Foss Miller: (206) 999-9385,, or John Loendorf:
  • Recommendations: Some sailing experience is required for the helmsperson. Crew should be somewhat athletic.





Star Gold Medalist Olympians, Bill Buchan and Carl Buchan, are running a Star clinic in June!

Everyone with a loaner boat is welcome to participate in this special event.

It’s amazing to have a local learning opportunity with two people who, between them, have won two Olympic gold medals, and seven World championship titles!

Details TBA – Contact Foss Miller for more: (206) 999-9385,

Skeel and Storkman Honored by US Sailing

Skeel and Storkman Honored by US Sailing

It’s that time of the year when US Sailing hands out awards and honors. This time around, two of our own PNW sailors received acknowledgment from the governing body. Here’s US Sailing’s announcement and the specifics on the community sailing work done by these two!


Community Sailing and National One-Design Award Winners
Announced by US Sailing

BRISTOL, R.I. (January 29, 2018) – US Sailing is proud to announce the 2017 Community Sailing and National One-Design Award winners for their contributions to the sport of sailing in the United States. To celebrate the accomplishments of these individuals and organizations responsible for advancing sailing forward in their respective areas of focus and within their communities, US Sailing will recognize them on Thursday, February 1, 2018 at the Awards Celebration to be held at the Sailing Leadership Forum in St. Pete Beach, Florida, hosted by the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort.

US Sailing will issue a second announcement following the Awards Celebration for the award winners who will be recognized live at the awards celebration.

The following 2017 Community Sailing and One-Design Award winners are:

  • Andrew Alletag (Tewksbury, Mass.) of Community Boating, Inc. in Boston, Mass. received the Jim Kilroy Outstanding Outreach & Inclusion Award.
  • Erik Skeel (Woodinville, Wash.) of Sail Sand Point in Seattle, Wash. received the award for Excellence in Instruction.
  • Jamie Jones (Westerville, Ohio) of the Hoover Sailing Club received the award for Outstanding Organizational Leader.
  • Joan Storkman (Gig Harbor, Wash.) was named Volunteer of the Year for her ongoing dedication as a volunteer at Gig Harbor Junior Sail Program.
  • Wayzata Community Sailing Center (Wayzata, Minn.) received the award for More than Ten Years of Hallmark Performance for their continued commitment to community sailing.
  • Sail Nauticus (Norfolk, Va.) received the award for Creative Innovations in Programming.
  • Delavan Lake Yacht Club (Delavan, Wis.) received a the National One-Design Regatta Award for excellence in development, promotion and management of the year’s most outstanding one-design regatta.
  • Jon VanderMolen (Richland, Mich.) and Don Parfet (Richland, Mich.) received the National One-Design Creativity Award for their inaugural Vintage Gold Cup.
  • San Diego Yacht Club (Calif.) received the National One-Design Club Award recognizing administrative excellence, fleet growth, creative programming, regatta support and member contributions.



Erik Skeel (with Laura Smit) at the singlehanded college nationals.

Erik Skeel – Excellence in Instruction

Erik Skeel (Woodinville, Wash.) of Sail Sand Point in Seattle, Wash. has been recognized for his superb leadership and extraordinary instruction. Providing highly technical feedback to sailors, his greatest strength is his leadership in group settings.

As a sophomore member of the University of Washington Sailing Team, Skeel’s enthusiasm and knowledge, regardless of his role on the boat, has made a positive impact on his teammates. As a summer camp instructor, he shares his love of sailing and amicable personality with everyone around him.

He is a truly remarkable instructor and valued member of Sail Sand Point.

Joan Storkman – Volunteer of the Year

Joan Storkman (Gig Harbor, Wash.) is a tireless volunteer with the Gig Harbor Junior Sail Program in Washington. She has been there since its inception and, in less than 10 years, this program has grown from a very small all-volunteer operation, to a fully-fledged program employing seasonal staff, while operating eight months a year. This year, the Gig Harbor Yacht Club (GHYC) Junior Sail “Learn to Sail” summer program recorded its highest enrollment ever, with 160 local youth participating in their weekly sailing camps, thanks to Storkman’s hard work.

She recruited and leads the 12-member Board of Directors, and works countless hours to ensure that the GHYC Junior Sail a well-run, organized and high-morale community asset.

Storkman’s high-energy leadership, attention to detail, as well as her endless team motivation and expressions of gratitude to all the volunteers and instructors has positioned the GHYC Junior Sail to be a successful program with a fantastic future.

ORC Scoring/Informational Meeting Wrapup

ORC Scoring/Informational Meeting Wrapup

Last Saturday Seattle YC hosted an informational meeting on ORC scoring, led by Ian Lloyd of ORC-Canada. It’s great to see the racing community gathering and spreading information. First off there’s a summary by organizer Sue Weiss, who is a scorer with SYC. Then we have impressions from attendee William Bonner. While it appears this was fairy focused on scoring, this kind of meeting certainly expands the community’s familiarity with the system. Let’s keep the conversation going about how to get more butts in boats, whether it’s ORC, PHRF, one-design or just “hey, I’ll meet you on the water!” Send your thoughts, and we’ll try to get it posted. A reader is even undertaking the task of explaining in plain terms what ORC and PHRF are really about. Stay tuned!

Ian Lloyd is to the left of the TV screen in the background.

Summary from Sue Weiss to the attendees:

First – a huge thank you to Ian Lloyd for preparing a 16 page hand that will help us review major concepts. It was a lot of absorb in 2 hours and I hope participants review it in the following months. I appreciate everyone’s workshop comments.

My observations and takeaways – and everyone is encouraged to enter into the discussion, agree and/or disagree with them.

Sailwave is a favorite scoring program locally.  Racers are used to the one PHRF number and can easily figure out how they did in comparison to another boat.  

ORC has more ratings depending on what rating system the YC (aka Organizing Authority) has said they would use  – one rating or triple ratings.  The number and kind of ratings (TOT and/or TOD, Windward/Leeward or Coastal Long Distance) need to be explicitly stated in the NOR and SIs and that the wind speed decided by the Race Committee is not subject to redress. 

ORC Scorer does not have the sail number entry system that Sailwave has (great observation) (Sail Number Wizard), however time results could be entered by boat name, similar to a check in sheet.  

Racers can see potential result changes that different wind conditions and type of race would make with a simple ORC drop down menu change.  

ORC Ratings are also available online and can be updated online.  

Most Puget Sound boats have been getting their ORC certificates from Canada, but that will change as US Sailing is setting up its own ORC certificate system.

I want to thank 48 North, Kurt Hoehne and all the yacht clubs for publicizing this event.  Hoehne runs a sailing blog and I suspect he’d like to continue the conversation.

And this from William Bonner, who attended the meeting:

Thanks for the information in the Saturday seminar. I gained a huge amount of knowledge. 

Experience racing under PHRF and ORC in the past year left me seriously questioning ORC. 

What I really liked from this weekend was the discussion related to the methods of scoring used by race committee’s which will likely be the deciding factor on how much any handicapping system is used. 

I like the quantitative measurement rating of ORC. It’s use in buoy racing where conditions of a particular race are likely consistent makes plenty of sense to me. 

Its use in a longer coastal race with variable conditions, such as Swiftsure, VanIsle360, or Round the County are more problematic when the wind may vary from nothing to gale in a single segment.  While no handicapping system will work for every boat, the fact that racers can’t know the handicap variables till after the race, and knowing what the race committed decided to call the wind, makes things much less satisfying. 

The primary question I was asked was if there’s a larger push to move more boats to ORC from PHRF. I wasn’t able to confidently answer that, but based on the consensus that the sailflow interface is what people are familiar with and it doesn’t natively use ORC ratings, there will likely be more splits in the fleet through the next couple of years, with some boats competing under the ORC rating, and some competing under PHRF, and some switching between individual events. 

Is there a general movement one way or another?

(I’m just crew that’s interested in all of this for the geek factor)

ORC Interactive Workshop on Saturday at Seattle Yacht Club

ORC Interactive Workshop on Saturday at Seattle Yacht Club
Photo by Max Ranchi from the ORC World Championships.

As we all start digging out our foulies, finding the diver’s phone number and dragging the sails back onboard, race organizers are hard at work as well. With the growing interest in the ORC handicapping system, Seattle Yacht Club is hosting a scoring workshop on Saturday to help race organizers get their rudders in row. No doubt there will be a lot of basic information on the system as well, Everyone’s welcome. No matter your stand on handicap systems, it’s good to know the systems. Personally, I think there’s a future for a measurement-based system in the Pacific Northwest, particularly as an option for the more “serious” among us.

Here are the particulars:

Ian Lloyd of ORC Canada will lead a two-hour interactive workshop on ORC scoring and the ORC Scorer Software including:

  • Importing of boat’s performance files
  • Race set up
  • Scoring options including Time on Time, Time on Distance and Performance Curve scoring
  • Exporting results and scratch sheets.

 Who should attend? 

  • Race Officers
  • Boat Owners
  • Racers

Participants should download the ORC Scorer software to their (Windows X) laptop in advance of the workshop.

When? Saturday January 27, 2018 from 2 – 4 p.m.

Where? Seattle Yacht Club

To register call the Seattle Yacht Club (206-325-1000) or e-mail your registration to Include “ORC Workshop Registration” in the subject line and in the body include:

  • your name
  • your yacht club
  • whether you are a scorer, boatowner or racer)
  • email address


Sue Weiss, Event Chair

Cruising (and lecturing) Under Four Masts

Cruising (and lecturing) Under Four Masts

Northwest sailors Chris and Randy Shuman are putting another spin on cruising into retirement. They wrote the following from their trailer en route or in Mexico. It’s an appealing form of cruising for sure.

About a month ago, in one of their first post retirement adventures, Chris and Randy took to the high seas for two voyages in one of the Star Clippers Sailing tall ship fleet, first a 22-day transatlantic crossing and then a 6-day Caribbean passage. Far from having to climb the yardarms, they were the onboard honored academics. Randy is an oceanographer, and was asked to give some lectures along the way. Chris taught a potpourri of creative classes. Not bad work, especially since Randy’s enthusiasm for the waters haven’t waned since entering retirement.

So, for those who could do with a little learning, relaxation and warm waters , give it a read and close your eyes. And no worries about the yardarms. The furlers up there are push-button.

The Particulars

The ship: 4-masted barquentine Star Flyer

Built 1992,Belgium

Length: 366 ft

Beam: 50 ft

170 passengers, about 70 crew

She has a sister ship, the Star Clipper, and the company has a larger full rigged square rigger, the Royal Clipper and a new ship the Flyer Clipper that is under construction.

The Star Flyer and the Star Clipper are barquentines: square rigged on forward mast, fore aft rigged on other 3 masts. 5 jibs, 5 square sails on forward mast. Square sailed are set and struck by horizontal furlers in the yards, controlled from the deck by a push button remote. The two middle masts have a staysail and a fisherman, aft mast has a triangular jigger or spanker. These are controlled from the deck by hand by the sailing crew of about 8 sailors. There is a full time rigger/sailmaker who mends sails on deck with his machine. Sails are Dacron, many built by Doyle Sails. 

Life on Board

The ship almost always has sails up but also often has the main engine running. The ship needs to meet tight schedules at ports for the guests but also wants to sail for economy and pleasure of the passengers. Most of the passengers chose this ship to experience sailing on a big square rigger.

Passengers are often longtime sailers with many Americans, Germans, Brits.  French, English and German are the official ship languages and announcements and printed materials in all three. 

The food is generally upscale, served in one dining room in one sitting. Excellent table service for dinner, great breakfast and lunch buffets.

Activities: there are basic exercise classes, shore excursions when in port, talks by the captain, mast climbing, lots of book reading, cards, beer and cocktails, lying in the sun……  The ship has on board paddle boards, a small sailboat, snorkeling gear and inflatables to take passengers to isolated beaches for water activities and barbecues.

When the weather is good passengers are able to climb out on the bowsprit netting and go aloft on the forward mast. When you go aloft you have a climbing harness and are belayed by a crew member. 

Chris and Randy

We did two cruises. Our job was to provide entertainment on sea days when there are no port visits.

The first:  22 day TransAtlantic in November 2011, starting in Malaga Spain and ending in Barbados. There were 16 sea days, including 12 days on the crossing. Ports included Malaga, Tangier, Madeira, Cadiz, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Bridgetown. In the afternoons Randy taught oceanography and marine biology every sea day, topics such as waves, tides, currents, winds, birds, plankton, and plate tectonics.

Chris taught arts and crafts in the mornings, including drawing, paper bead making, card making and digital photography.

Second:  6 day Caribbean transit, Panama to Grand Cayman, December 2017. We were scheduled to stop at San Andres and Providencia, two Columbian island off the Nicaraguan coast. However strong wind and seas from the north slowed our progress making our course a dead beat and compromising the island anchorages. So we spent 4 days beating and finally reaching as the trades reestablished. 

On this trip Randy taught coral reef geology and ecology, waves and tides. These were relevant topics as many of the guests planned to snorkel on the trip, the large waves that we faced for days, and the contrast between the large tide range on the Pacific side of the Canal and the very small tide range on the Caribbean side.

From Chris…..

Chris at the helm.

On the transatlantic crossing the sails stabilized the ship but it still rolled a lot.  It generally was a comfortable motion and lulled us to sleep but at times we would be in the dining room and feel a big roll coming.  It was entertaining.  Everyone at the table would pick up their wine glass in one hand and water glass in another and wait until the roll subsided.  Conversation would hardly pause and then we would all put them back down.

People ask how we felt being so far from land in the middle of the Atlantic.  You don’t feel the vast space of the whole ocean because all that you can see is a 5-6 mile radius around the ship.

My favorite thing was being out on the bowsprit netting, 20 feet ahead of the ship, watching dolphins play in the bow wave. 

I also liked the early mornings when no one was on deck and as we neared the Caribbean, the occasional squalls.  We would sail into one, the wind would blow hard, the rigging would strain and the warm rain gave everything a fresh water rinse.

From Randy. . .

Randy roughing it on a square rigger.

I enjoyed being on deck and watching the crew handle the sails and rigging. Trimming the sails or setting a new sail took several crew between 5 and 20 minutes. The deck crew were mostly from the southern Indian state of Goa. I also enjoyed spending long stretches in the bowsprit netting, suspended over the waves and watching the whole ship charging ahead behind me.

One added benefit of being the lecturer was that most people knew who I was and were always stopping me with questions on deck and at meals about what they had seen on the ocean that day.


Fair winds in your land cruising, friends. We’ll have nice cold Puget Sound water waiting for you when you get back.  

Young Sailor of the Year is Uplifting Story

It’s not a Northwest story, or even a U.S. story, but I wish it were. The British-based Yachting Journalists Association just named its Yachtsman and Young Sailor of the Year Awards. Alex Thompson was named Yachtsman of the Year, and anyone who follows singlehanded round the world racing or pays attention to Hugo Boss advertising, is already familiar with the charismatic British sailor.

Lesser known is Montel Fagan-Jordan, Young Sailor of the Year. His story is truly impressive, and I hope that someday I get the opportunity to meet and interview him. He represents the Grieg City Academy, where 50 different “first languages” are spoken and 70% are considered “disadvantaged.” Fagan-Jordan gave around 50 talks to raise money for the purchase and outfitting of the old Frers-designed Scaramouche. He and his shipmates learned to sail that old IOR beast, and did it well enough to finish in the top half of the Fastnet Race. Along the way they had help from Whitbread Round the World Race veteran Lawrie Smith and the local marine industry pitched in with equipment. But Fagan-Jordan was the driving force.


Yachting Monthly (from which I borrowed some of these photos) did an excellent piece on Fagan-Jordan and the Grieg City Academy effort. If you want an uplifting story, read on. At this time particularly, when the U.S. president (and ostensibly 1/3rd of the country) revels in insulting the underprivileged in word and deed and insulating wealthy Americans from the poor, it’s good to see that in some parts of the world individuals like Fagan-Jordan can achieve great things in something like sailing, and that their communities are happy to rally around them. 

Following is the Yachting Journalist Association press release.

YJA Young Sailor of the Year, 2017

The 2017 YJA Young Sailor of the Year Award goes to 17-year-old Montel Fagan-Jordan from Tottenham, London in recognition of his leadership in first raising the money to restore the 1980s classic American Admiral’s Cup yacht Scaramouche, then leading a crew of fellow students from the Greig Academy in Tottenham to compete in last year’s 605 mile Fastnet Race.

Nominated by his school teacher, Jon Holt says of Montel: “This was unique yachting project in which a multi-cultural crew spent three years undertaking more than 50 fund-raising talks to buy and restore the famous Gérman Frers designed yacht.  Montel is able to helm almost any yacht. Not only was he the driving force behind Scaramouche — raising most of the money himself, but then developed as the helmsman, after receiving tuition from David Beford and Lawrie Smith. In 2017 he entered the Etchells 22 class Gertrude Cup and finished 4th overall before steering the Lloyds X55 class yacht Lutine during Cowes Week.  He steered Scaramouche for most of the Fastnet Race.

Given that Scaramaouche is an old yacht, which rolls madly, his ability to hold a course for four hours in the dark, surfing down wind without broaching was amazing. Scaramouche may have finished 142 out of 368, but as a school team in an old yacht, they more than proved their point.”



Growing the Middle – Youth Sailing in the Pacific Northwest

Growing the Middle – Youth Sailing in the Pacific Northwest

Andrew Nelson is one of many people truly committed to raising the level of youth sailing in the Pacific Northwest. This article first appeared on the US Sailing website, but I want to make sure the PNW sailing community at large is in touch with the youth programs in the area. It’s vibrant. Most importantly, it’s fun for the kids and provides the life-lessons we all value so much. And, by the way, the sailors these efforts are creating are having great success on the race course as well.

If you’re involved with an organization promoting youth sailing in the area, send any and all materials, reports etc. and I’ll help get the word out. Parents are planning their kids’ summer activities, and sailing should certainly be on the list!

Thanks to Andrew for all he does, and allowing us to share this piece.


By Andrew Nelson

In fall of 2014, I began managing the Northwest Youth Racing Circuit, which is a collection of seven summer regattas in Washington and Oregon. At that time, the NWYRC had just finished another underwhelming year. Many regattas were sparsely attended and fleet sizes were routinely in the single digits. This was true even among popular youth classes like the Opti.

It had gotten to the point that only two or three teams were regularly participating in the series. Before this decline, the NWYRC had produced talented sailors like U.S. Olympian Helena Scutt and U.S. Singlehanded Champions Hanne Weaver and Derick Vranizan, to name a few. After leaving our circuit, these sailors all went on to have success at the national and international level, but not without first doing time in the back half of their local fleet.

Since 2014, we’ve nearly doubled NWYRC regatta attendance. Our total size this summer was over 620 sailors, with 145 sailors participating in our summer series finale. That regatta included a talented 38 boat Laser Radial fleet, which had at least a dozen skippers who were capable of winning a race. Among those racing regularly in that fleet were three top-ten finishers from the Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championships, including Leiter Cup winner Abbie Carlson. There’s still plenty of work to do in our region, but I believe this turnaround was at least partly attributable to the following strategies.

Grow the Middle

If we really want to push the top sailors, we need to focus our efforts on coaching those mid-fleeters and getting them out to regattas regularly. It’s easy to get fixated on only working with the top sailors, but what those high-performers really need are more boats challenging them on the start line and making them pay for their mistakes on the race course. If we can elevate the caliber of the average sailor, then these local regattas will start to take on that “big regatta” feel. This better prepares our top sailors for success at the national level.

For this reason, I spend most of my time at regattas working with those mid-fleeters who come from smaller teams or who might not have a coach at all. It’s also very rewarding because their improvement is more rapid and more easily observable. These mid-fleeters improve a ton simply by sailing against those top skippers, so keeping the best sailors engaged with your local series is also part of the equation.

Remember to Have Fun

This is the essence of what sailboat racing is all about, right? Sure, we want races to be well-run and safe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Having an ice cream sundae bar during awards, giving out regatta pajamas instead of regatta t-shirts, providing on site camping, and letting competitors request a song for the regatta playlist (and then playing it on the water) are all examples of how hosts keep sailors (and parents) coming back.

Kids are pretty good at having fun and making friends. As adults, we sometimes need a reminder of what youth sports are all about. We’ve had exceptional hosts and volunteers at all of our regattas. A good host or volunteer understands the importance of a positive and welcoming regatta culture; a culture that allows for fun.

Work Together

One thing I’m very proud of is our region’s spirit of cooperation. We work hard to keep regatta costs down, share coaches and coach boats, and provide charters boats when at all possible. This is especially true for development fleets like Opti Green Fleet where hosts waived the charter fee and set the entry price at $20. For those novice racers, it’s literally as easy as showing up to the regatta with your PFD.

In the FJ fleet, there’s lots of sharing of sailors and boats in an effort to get as many on the water as possible. This all takes plenty of coordination between coaches, parents, and hosts, but with 300 miles between our two furthest regatta venues we have to work together. There’s no alternative. A self-serving attitude doesn’t help our sport, and it certainly won’t help increase participation or competitiveness.

About the Author:

Andrew Nelson

Youth Sailing Director
The Sailing Foundation


Bio from the Sailing Foundation website: 

Andrew has spent most of his life in the Northwest and on the water. He grew up racing locally on a Cal 40 with his dad and then got into dinghy sailing during his high school and college years. A career in sailing wasn’t on his radar when he graduated with an education endorsement from Western Washington University, but he knew he wanted to work with youth. After spending a couple of summers coaching in Southern California, he was hired as the Junior Sailing Director at Encinal Yacht Club in the Bay Area. Being a junior sailing director allowed him to combine his passion of sailing and working with youth. It also allowed him to be part of a very successful model, where youth and high school sailing is highly organized and competitive.


The Elephant in the Bathtub

The Elephant in the Bathtub
Playing the shore. Photo by Jan Anderson

OK, we’ve looked at action items to stave off the decline in PNW handicap racing. Now it’s time to look at the elephant in the bathtub, handicapping itself. Though a small part of the October 19 survey, handicapping itself probably generated the most direct, and certainly most vehement, comments.

I’m not going to argue whether or not PHRF offers accurate handicapping. That’s a black hole. Instead, I’m going to talk about how PHRF is perceived, what I feel its role should be and how ORC Club might fit into the picture.

For many in the PNW, PHRF = Handicapping. That’s the only system many, if not most, have sailed under. Assessing performance, rather than measuring boats, is appealing. It’s been the dominant handicapping system around here since the 1980s. When something else pops into the picture, e.g. IMS or IRC, problems are found, there’s no critical mass and they fade away amid the mantra of “PHRF may not be perfect but it’s the best thing going.” And then people hear horror stories about the IOR days when boats would be out-designed yearly, and resign themselves to PHRF.

Gaucho into the mark

Yet, according to the survey, more than half of the respondents feel that handicapping affects their participation at least a little. Twenty nine percent feel it’s a significant factor. The comments reveal some serious frustration, to put it mildly. So, a large percentage of PNW racers aren’t happy with PHRF. Some are downright ornery about it. And many others have just left the sport because of it.

At the national and international levels, US Sailing and World Sailing have abdicated their rightful roles on settling on one system. ORR in this country has not caught on and is expensive, and IRC and ORC are administered in England. So the solutions aren’t obvious and the unknown makes sailors twitchy.

And the idea that you can’t appeal your rating is scary to some. That’s interesting. To me the idea that my rating can be changed in some committee meeting is scary.

So we have PHRF. Its strengths are that it’s administered locally, and you can get your or your competitors’ rating changed if you lobby well enough. Those are also its greatest problems. There are dozens of local handicappers and arcane procedures to determine ratings. Consistency is a big problem, especially between PHRF-NW and PHRF-BC.

No matter what those ratings turn out to be, flexible numbers are going to be perceived by many as wrong, by either ignorance or politics. And the idea of being able to appeal your competitor’s ratings is just insane. No sailor I respect wants to appeal a competitor’s rating, no matter how wrong it is. The beer you’re sharing with another skipper just doesn’t taste as good when you’re wondering how he got that gift rating, or wondering if they’re going to drag you in front of some appeal committee in the future.

There is an apparent solution at hand. It’s the ORC measurement system which is being used successfully by the big boats in Puget Sound and in British Columbia, and in large numbers around the world. It’s cheaper than PHRF, professionally administered with the force of thousands of serious racers worldwide to keep it on track. ORC and IRC are now working together which bodes well for the future. Different wind conditions can be accommodated to help keep boats competitive in all conditions. For the first time in a long time, BC and WA big boat racers don’t have big crises over ratings when they want to race each other.

So here’s my solution. All the serious racers (of all sizes) shift to ORC. That’s where the racers who buy new sails often, train their crews and scrub their boat bottoms before each race, should race. If they want to optimize their rating, they can play with sail area or other factors, and it’s cut and dry. The yacht clubs and race organizers would have to adapt, but if they want racers, they would.

The folk who are new to racing, casual about it or have an oddball boat that doesn’t get a fair shake in ORC, can play the PHRF game. Without the pressure of the serious crowd, PHRF can streamline its processes and perhaps rethink how it’s administered. This is where the flexibility of PHRF could be really useful. A wide range of adjustments (many are already in pace) could be identified for cruising gear, old sails, novice skippers etc. Sure, there’s all sorts of room for controversy here, but remember the crowd is mainly out there to have fun and won’t get their foulies in a bundle if they don’t win. The foulies in a bundle crowd will be off sailing ORC.

What about those racers in between casual and serious? They would have to choose. Those who want to keep their boat in “casual” trim could opt for PHRF. Experienced sailors with old sails – well, they could race against the serious guys or go PHRF and just deal with the perceived inequities – their choice.

Let’s say you have a J/35, a boat that’s seen success under many handicapping systems. You still have the competitive spirit, but your sails are a bit tired and your crew isn’t trained up, and it’s tough to find enough rail meat to be truly competitive. It would still be fun to mix it up with the PHRF crowd, especially if you got some extra seconds per mile for your 1993 sails.

Let’s say you have so much fun doing that that you invest in some new sails and put a program together. You get an ORC rating, put your game face on, and play with that crowd.

The beautiful Swan 391 Oxomoxo. Photo by Michelle Neville.

Or use your old sails and novice crew for the casual races and your new sails and trained crew for the serious races. Right now the big boats have both ratings, one where there’s enough ORC boats for a class, one for when there’s not.

What about the sailor who hunts trophies in the PHRF fleet with new sails and a pro tactician? Who cares, let them embarrass themselves.

What about the boats that seem unduly penalized by ORC? I doubt there are many and they’ll get to choose.

It’s self-selection and it can work. As one of the survey respondents said, “Choose your poison.”

To start with, I’d suggest you get in touch with the folk you like to race against. Coordinate so you end up in the same fleet. Making those connections and decisions off the racecourse can only strengthen fleet morale and participation.

IMHO this would be better for all involved. PHRF could focus on the larger pools of new and casual racers while the more intense (but smaller) serious racing crowd could all focus on the racing instead of handicapping. Both systems could thrive. There would be some growing pains, and it may not work out. But it’s better than watching the sport fade.

Think about it. Weigh in on it here – I’ll be happy to post differing (but respectful) views. Or just go get your ORC rating and talk to your club.

And happy holidays to all.


Go to the Antarctic via Bellingham Tonight

Go to the Antarctic via Bellingham Tonight

Mike Powell, a professional photographer and damn fine big and small boat sailor, will be presenting UHURU 65 Degrees South or How I Learnt to Sail tonight at the Bellingham Yacht Club. It’s his tale of an epic cruise to the Antarctic. Powell’s also the BYC Youth Fleet Captain and suggests a $5 donation to the program. Mike is very entertaining, and an extremely talented photographer, so it would be a great way to spend a Wednesday evening. Here’s a description of the program:

In 2011 Mike Powell a landlubber with a camera went aboard his brothers boat UHURU, an Oyster 62, for two months and headed South from the Falkland Islands, across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic peninsula, around the Horn and up into Chilean Patagonia. During the trip the crew used all their toys, great sailing, scuba, ice climbing up mountains, skiing down them and fly fishing in Chile via horseback

This is the story that has been shown multiple times before, to multiple sailors and yacht clubs both in the USA and UK and featured on the cover of UK’s Yachting Magazine. If you missed it last time please come and watch it this time or come again.

Bellingham Yacht Club, Dec. 13th at 6.30pm. Suggested $5 donation at the door goes towards local youth sailing.