Wet Wednesday – Olympic Classes Training

Wet Wednesday – Olympic Classes Training

World Cup Series Miami is happening this week, and it’s where all the Olympic hopefuls congregate to start racking up wins and gaining experience in all the relevant classes. I’ve gathered some training videos – a couple of them VERY short clips – of PNW women that are there competing. Looks challenging for 4 seconds. Imagine a whole day of racing. First up is Kate Shaner and Charlotte Mack doing some heavy air training in her 49erFX. Then comes a video of Helena Scutt (with skipper Bora Gulari) in a polished pr video sailing a Nacra 19 on foils. Finally, we have a few seconds of Hanne Weaver working the waves in her Laser Radial in some big wind. I’m hoping to get some first-hand accounts of how the series is going. And for the young sailors at home, here are some hometown heroes to root for and learn from!

Yesterday was the first day of racing, and I posted a little report earlier today.


First Day at World Series Cup Miami

First Day at World Series Cup Miami
Gulari and Scutt in the Nacra 17. Photo by Jesus Renedo.

Well, this is going to be an interesting class to watch as the World Cup Series in Miami evolves. Six Nacra 17s are within two points after three races! In that mix is “our” Helena Scutt, who with Bora Gulari, racked up a 2nd and 5th (and a 16 throwout) to reassert themselves on the international scene. They definitely have medal potential for the upcoming Olympics. I’ll try to get some insight from Helena. After a 17th and 10th Northwesterner Kate Shaner and crew Charlotte Mack are in 14th place in the 49erFX. The Laser Radials never got a race off so chances are Hanne Weaver’s chomping at the bit somewhere.

Here’s Stuart Streuli’s recap for World Sailing. 

The international regatta debut for Bora Gulari (Detroit, Mich.) and Helena Scutt (Kirkland, Wash.) came nearly a half-year after it was initially scheduled. Not surprisingly, the Nacra 17 duo (above) was chomping at the bit to get going on Day 1 of the 2018 World Cup Series Miami, USA, which is taking place on Florida’s Biscayne Bay through Sunday, January 28. The regatta is the second of four stops on World Sailing’s 2018 World Cup Series tour.

A lack of wind this morning made them wait just a little bit longer, but it eventually filled in enough for three light-air races. Of the 10 classes competing on Biscayne Bay in the 2018 World Cup Series Miami, USA, the Nacra 17 fleet was one of just two to get in the scheduled number of races, with four classes getting completely shut out.

Global Recap: Miami Breeze Plays Hide and Seek on Day 1

“Today was our first international regatta together ever, so we were very excited about that,” said Scutt, who finished 10th in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in the 49erFX class before switching the coed Nacra 17 catamaran. “We were postponed on shore for a while because it was very light, but it ended up getting sailable. I thought the committee did a great job of getting off three races with the conditions that we had.”

While the breeze never built into the double digits, it was enough for the catamarans to utilize their lifting foils—a new addition for this Olympic cycle—on the downwind legs, hitting speeds in the low to mid-teens. 

“It was definitely too light to foil upwind, and honestly sometimes we were just trying to even fly one hull,” said Scutt. “But except for the last race, we could foil downwind. These boats can get foiling downwind in very light air. Then it’s a game of looking for the puffs and just trying to stay on the foils as long as possible, which is not easy when it gets that light.”

A pair of Italian Radial sailors launching in Miami. Richard Langdon photo.

The difference in speed between a boat up on the foils and one still dragging a hull through the water is dramatic.

 “Downwind most people pop up [on the foils] at the same time, after the offset mark,” said Scutt. “The real game is coming out of a gybe—how good is your gybe, and how soon can you get back foiling because you can’t foil-to-foil gybe—so there’s definitely some focus demanded there.”

As for Gulari and Scutt’s overall results, it was a bit of a mixed bag: a second in Race 1, followed by a 16th in Race 2 and a fifth to close out the day. But that was the case for most of the fleet, with all but one of the 19 teams recording a double-digit result. With their lowest score dropped from the results, Gulari and Scutt currently sit sixth, two points off the lead.

“It was a fun day for us,” she said. “Our middle race was not great, but our other two were really solid. We’re happy and we’re excited for more.”

The highest-placed American after Day 1 is Laser sailor Charlie Buckingham (Newport Beach, Calif., at left), who started off strongly with a second in the first race and then had to grind out of the cheap seats in Race 2 to score a 21st. He is fifth in the 70-boat fleet, the largest of the regatta. 

Stu McNay (Providence, R.I.) and Graham Biehl (San Francisco, Calif.), who sailed in two Olympic Games together and have reunited for this event while McNay’s regular crew, David Hughes (Miami, Fla.) recovers from a knee injury, finished ninth in the single Men’s 470 Race.

In the Women’s 49erFX, Stephanie Roble (Easy Troy, Wis.) and Maggie Shea (Wilmiette, Ill.) are sixth after two solid races, while in the 49er class, Judge Ryan (San Diego, Calif.) and Alain Sign, who is substituting for Ryan’s normal crew Hans Henken (Coronado, Calif.), are 13th of 38.

A young group of U.S. women’s 470 teams struggled in today’s lone race, with Madeleine Rice and Laura Slovensky leading the way in 25th.

Ed. Note: A previous version mistakenly had Caroline Atwood as Kate Shaner’s crew, when in fact it is Charlotte Mack. I regret the error.



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 reception@seattleyachtclub.org. 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

VOR Race Director’s Statement on the Vestas Collision

Damage to Vestas 11th Hour Racing

The folks at the Volvo Ocean Race came up with an update, quoting Race Director Phil Lawrence a couple hours ago. There’s not a lot of new news there, but at least it’s something.

Vestas pulled the fisherman from the water who ultimately died. A commercial vessel pulled the other nine victims from the water. The Volvo Race organizers asked Akzonobel to stand by Vestas, but at that point there was nothing to be done. The fishing boat sank.

Chances are there will be tons of speculation but no real information to come out in the next few days as things get sorted out. If any sailish readers hear of any solid news, please share – I’ll post it.

Thanks to those who commented on yesterday’s post.

Here’s Volvo’s web site post:

Phil, what do we know about what happened on the night of Friday 19 January between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a Chinese fishing boat? 

First of all, we know a man lost his life, tragically, after an incident with one of our race boats. We offer our deepest condolences to his loved ones and family. We are relieved that the nine other mariners on board were rescued and initial reports have them in good condition.

In terms of what happened, we know a collision occurred shortly before 1723 UTC (which is when Race Control received the first message from Vestas 11th Hour Racing) between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a Chinese fishing vessel. The incident took place around 30 miles from the Leg 4 finish line in Hong Kong.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing immediately stopped racing, informed us at Race Control of the incident (at 1736 UTC), sent a Mayday distress signal on behalf of the other vessel and aided in the search and rescue mission.

What happened then?

Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre informed Race Control that a nearby commercial vessel had rescued nine of the crew from the other boat, and a tenth was taken to hospital by helicopter after he had been rescued from the water by the Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew. We’re deeply saddened to report that Hong Kong MRCC confirmed the death of that airlifted crewmember later on Saturday morning.

What happened to the Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew and boat?

All Vestas 11th Hour Racing crewmembers are safe and uninjured but the boat suffered some damage to its hull. After participating in the rescue, the team was able to return to port without assistance and under its own power despite the damage. At no time did Vestas 11th Hour Racing request assistance for themselves.

What caused the collision? Was the other boat showing navigation lights, or using the AIS (Automatic Identification System)?

Infrared image during rescue made available by Hong Kong authorities.

We don’t have answers to those questions yet but of course those are central question to the on-going investigation. Both Vestas 11th Hour Racing and the Volvo Ocean Race will cooperate with the relevant authorities to establish what happened.

Could Race Control have prevented this accident by informing Vestas 11th Hour Racing of an imminent collision?

No. While Race Control does monitor the position of the race boats for safety reasons, Race Control does not have access to the position of every other vessel at sea.

What do we know about the other vessel involved in the collision and its crew?

We are trying to find out more. We know the other boat was damaged significantly and understand that it sank as a result of the incident. We know that 10 crew were on board and that all 10 were recovered but tragically, one was later pronounced dead at the hospital. We at Volvo Ocean Race, along with Vestas 11th Hour Racing are working with the local authorities to learn more about the crew of the boat involved in the incident. In fact, that is our main priority.

Can you release the name of the casualty?

We are seeking confirmation of identity from authorities as well as the appropriate information to release as per local custom.

What happened with Dongfeng Race Team and team AkzoNobel in terms of them assisting with the rescue?

Dongfeng Race Team were the first race boat to be near the scene and they immediately offered to divert to assist. At 1821 UTC Vestas 11th Hour Racing confirmed by email to Dongfeng Race Team that additional assistance was not required, so Dongfeng Race Team continued on to the finish.

Later, when team AkzoNobel arrived near the area on its route to the finish line, Race Control requested they stand by to support Vestas 11th Hour Racing as a precaution. Neither Vestas 11th Hour Racing nor the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre requested this assistance and once it was clear they were not required, Race Control released team AkzoNobel to finish the leg.

How is the crew of Vestas 11th Hour Racing?

As you would imagine they are very shaken and deeply saddened by the incident. They are being supported by the rest of their team as well the Volvo Ocean Race organisation and have access to professional support should they request it.

What happens next?

Along with Vestas 11th Hour Racing, we are actively working with the Hong Kong Police and the Maritime Authority to support the on-going investigation.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing Collision Results in Fisherman Fatality

Vestas 11th Hour Racing Collision Results in Fisherman Fatality
Vestas 11th Hour Racing motoring into Hong Kong after the collision.

In a tragic sequence of events Friday, the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) entry Vestas 11th Hour Racing collided with a fishing boat about 30 miles from the finish in Hong Kong, east of Waglan Island. The fishermen were pulled from the water, apparently by the crew of Vestas. Nine fishermen were rescued and one died of his injuries.

Vestas skipper Charlie Enright was not onboard, handing the reigns over to his longtime sailing partner Mark Towill while he had some pressing issues ashore. 

Vestas was reaching along at about 20 knots at about 2 a.m. local time, in a strong second place for the leg. Details are unknown and will likely remain so as an investigation is conducted. Vestas motored in to Hong Kong with the boat heeled to starboard apparently to keep the holed port bow out of the water.

Little is known and not much is forthcoming from VOR headquarters. In fact, while the online sailing community scoured the world’s servers for information, the VOR media team virtually ignored the calamity on air while it was happening.

While explaining the situation to my favorite newbie sailor (my wife Abby) I heard myself saying that flying into crowded waters at 20 knots at night is just not seamanlike. It’s not. If a vessel is dimly or not lighted, there’s not much time to react at 20 knots. Radar cannot easily pick up some low-slung vessels and AIS is not universally used. When you think about it, for the unsuspecting fisherman even trying to avoid a Volvo 65 flying at 20 knots isn’t at all easy. Without a doubt, these Volvo crews are the world’s greatest offshore sailors. But they can’t be expected to be the most seamanlike when racing into crowded waters at night on a boat capable of those speeds and so much at stake.

One thing about our sport is that no matter how risky we make it, we’re generally only endangering ourselves. The fact that a mariner not competing in the sport died is simply tragic. I’m sure the crews of all the boats, and especially Vestas, are devastated.

Ironically, it was Vestas Wind (crewed by a completely different team) that ran up on the rocks Cargados Carajos Shoals near Mauritius in the last Volvo Race.

I’ll spend way too much time trying to figure out what went on out there, and present it here when significant new confirmed information becomes available.

The rest of the boats finished in this order: Scallywag, Dong Feng, Akzonobel, Mapfre, Team Brunel and Turn the Tide on Plastic.




Wet Wednesday Videos from the Volvo Race

Wet Wednesday Videos from the Volvo Race

It’s soooooo easy to get cool videos from the Volvo Round the World Race that it’s tempting to do it all the time. I’ll succumb this time, ’cause there are two particularly interesting ones.

First off, we have the man overboard recovery adventure onboard Scallywag en route to their taking the lead in the current leg. These things happen, but one would think the bowman should have at least a life jacket on. Even with the best sailors in the world. Thoughts?


The second video, also from the Volvo Race, shows just how far media coverage has come with drones. Thousands of miles from shore, we get these shots of Mapfre trying to get back into the hunt. Not much to be said, except wow. I expect we’ll be seeing more drone videos coming for our PNW races. Don’t forget to share them here!


Duwamish Head Race Delivers, Mist is Coming up to Speed

Duwamish Head Race Delivers, Mist is Coming up to Speed

It was an auspicious start to racing in 2018. Three Tree Point YC’s Duwamish Head Race, which has had it’s weather/finishing/shortened difficulties over the years came through with a fine day of racing last Saturday. It was a fast race, especially for the big boats, but there wasn’t a lot of a maneuvering and a limited number of tactical decisions to be made.

A strong current was pushing boats over the line, but soon the fleet was flying along the West Seattle waterfront beaches. The boats gave the Saturday morning walkers at Alki a bit of show as they headed to, and then from, the Duwamish Head Light. A medium air reach across Puget Sound was straightforward.

After rounding Blakely Rock, the larger boats that managed to stay west enjoyed a more westerly angle and came into the finish without tacking. Any of those that footed off found they needed to tack up around Three Tree Point Point. Many of the later, smaller boats had more of a beat.

The fast race combined with the time on distance scoring skewed some of the results, with the advantage going to the slower-rated boats. Keep reading to get a report from Image in the middle of the fleet. Results here.

Here are some of Jan Anderson’s photos. See more and buy them here.


The newest (and oldest) of the Northwest’s three-boat TP 52 “fleet” is Steve Johnson’s Mist (formerly Braveheart and Valkyrie). Johnson put many miles under his old White Cloud‘s keel, and wanted a new challenge. A TP 52 is certainly that.

The Duwamish Head race was part of that learning curve. Mist was over early at the start (“I’m not used to a boat jumping up to 12 knots that fast,” Johnson explained) and then had to chase Crossfire around the course the rest of the way. And the way the time on distance handicaps worked out both boats found themselves down in the standings.

At this point in the Mist program, that hardly matters. “Sooner or later we’ll learn how to sail it to its rating,” Johnson says. Right now he’s still adjusting to the TP52 speeds. One of the adjustments is the challenge for driving the beast – it demands laser-focus. As Johnson puts it, “there’s not a lot of forgiveness.” Another adjustment Johnson has to make is the flat out speed. “It changes your perception of how big Puget Sound is.” Indeed.

The team, basically the same White Cloud crew with some additions, is learning jib trim with the in-hauler set as close as 5° off center line, which is about 2 degrees less than White Cloud. The current crop of TPs on the Mediterranean are set at about 4.5 degrees.

One of the more interesting aspects of a TP52 program is access to sails. Johnson hopes to set up “a relationship” with a Med TP program to have access to their “old” sails that might have as little as a few short hours of use. Mist‘s inventory was already pretty good thanks to one of those relationships with Sled.

Mist is in relatively good condition, but there have been some annoying breakdowns including a broken outhaul in Round the County. Built as a late first-generation/early second-generation TP52 as Braveheart, the stout boat was built for ocean racing with ring frames and a sturdy rig. But as with any boat, there’s maintenance and modifications to be made. One of the first things on Johnson’s list is to set the galley up with a foot pump to fill water bottles from the water tank, as opposed to lugging aboard (and disposing of) water bottled in plastic. Environmentalism is in, folks.

Currently the long range plan is to do the usual Northwest races with an eye toward the Van Isle 360 in a year and a half.



Alert reader Marc-Andrea Klimaschewski chimed in with his own Duwamish Head Story, specifically PHRF-7. Sounds like the class had a close race and there was a happy crew aboard Image. Here’s Marc:

PHRF-7 had a fantastic race last weekend. Having 6 boats with similar ratings out gave the Image crew a really nice benchmark and allowed us get a good read on our boat speed.

After a port tack approach to the start line we held a position to windward of the fleet, reaching a little longer with the #3 jib up. We were the last boat to set our spinnaker which allowed the J/29s to pull away but we managed to stay close to Les Chevaux Blacs and Folie a Deux. Once we were certain we could lay Alki beach the kite came up and we had a nice reach down. About a third of the way to Alki, Absolutely and a bit later String Theory passed us to windward and we got a good look at Crossfire flying towards Alki. With the wind moving slightly more behind us, we moved the our A-kite from being bow tacked to the spinnaker pole and squared it back a little which required us to set up the reaching strut – that’s the fun of being the old school boat in the fleet. At Alki Pt, we were a tad late to jibe towards the Duwamish head mark (partially due to our pole magic) which cost us some precious boat lengths and moved us back to last place in the fleet.

After ducking the yellow trimaran Ruf Duck the broad reach towards the Duwamish head mark went without a hitch. We were a little late getting the #1 on deck and set up so we had to round the mark bald headed which got us stuck in dirty air. As soon as we noticed we would not be able to lay Blakely Rock, we did two tacks putting us to windward of the rear end of the fleet which really helped with boat speed. We reached Blakely Rock together with Folie a Deux, tacked to starboard right with them and a 20 minute drag race ensued. We managed to sail slightly higher and slightly faster than them, eventually passing them and forcing them to foot toward the middle of the course to find clear air. Shortly after this, we had a prime spot for watching the orca pod (ed. note – how cool is that?!) that was moving north.

We needed to put in two additional tacks before the finish line, probably due to the wind dying down temporarily but spirits were high, especially when we sighted Les Chevaux Blancs and Folie a Deux behind us.

All in all, the entire crew of Image enjoyed the race a whole lot. After spending more than two years building crew and skills as well as slowly converting the boat from a full on cruising boat (featuring her original 1982 sails) it seemed like to work was paying off and we got some good boat on boat action.

It’s absolutely great that readers chime in from all parts of the fleet, in particular from older boats that are enjoying the racing every bit as much as the boats with 5-degree sheeting angles! Keep sending your stories, videos and photos and I’ll keep posting them.  

Bruce’s Brief for January 6-7 and Duwamish Head Race

Bruce’s Brief for January 6-7 and Duwamish Head Race

And the word of the week is bombogenesis!, which is what happened to the East Coast this week resulting in hurricane force winds, lots of snow, all to be followed by record-setting cold temperatures. So what is bombogenesis? Very simply, this is a rapidly intensifying low-pressure system where the pressure drops at least 24mb over 24 hours. This system easily met the definition by dropping 59mb in 24 hours! I guess even though our weather is a little wet, we’ll take it compared to what they will have endured on the East Coast.

So how wet was it this last year? The record for rainfall in a year, as recorded at SeaTac since 1945, was 55.14 inches in 1950. In 1996 we had 50.67 inches and this year we had a measly 47.87 inches compared to a yearly average of 37.49 inches. What is interesting is that this last summer we also set a new record of 55 consecutive days without rain. This makes four consecutive years of over 44 inches of rain per year which I think we would prefer to the situation Cape Town finds itself in as it approaches “Day Zero” sometime this May. “Day Zero” is the day the taps go dry in Cape Town, the city simply runs out of water. Climate change? And Trump wants to cut funding to the National Weather Service? Kurt is kicking me to get back to my assignment for the day. (Ed. note, NO, he’s not. However, I see Trump’s reasoning: “If I fund the National Weather Service, all they’re going to do is come up with research and facts. I hate those things!”)

As we used to say at North U, one of the reasons why we enjoy sailboat racing is that no two races are ever the same. Except as I look back on last year, this is pretty damn close. Basically, there will be wind for the start and the run up to Duwamish, however, the wind will drop as you go north and then the Sound will glass off sometime around mid-afternoon. Last year Crossfire made it through the light air at Blakely Rock and Blake Island and got back into some wind and slammed the door on the fleet. The same thing could happen this year as there will be wind off the water and Crossfire has the rig to grab what there is up there.

As you can see from today’s surface analysis and from the GOES West Water Vapor picture, we have a dissipating low-pressure system moving through the area today. Pressure is already starting to rise and the wind is starting to clock around to the SW, a classic post-frontal pattern. Then you look at the Surface Forecast Chart for tomorrow and you see the problem, a huge gap in the gradient over the Pacific Northwest. Not all the models agree on this with some showing a nice south-southwesterly (8-10 knots) over the race course for the entire day. I’m not that optimistic. I think it is more likely that by the north end of Vashon things will start to get squirrely with big shifts and puffs from the SW. It will be important to sail the rhumb line from Three Tree to Alki and not sail too many extra miles chasing puffs. By Alki, have the drifter ready and don’t get too close to the beach. Remember also that with max ebb at 1300 hours and the fact that there will be lots of water coming out of the Duwamish, there could be a strong set to the west at the Duwamish mark. With the combination of very light air and anti-water at the mark, rounding could be challenging. The first boat around will have a huge advantage until they run out of wind again at Blakely Rock. From there to the finish will be a shifty bit of drag racing from hole to hole. The other bad news is that there will be no flood tide until early Sunday morning at 0512 hrs. Yes, the ebb will run from 0842 Saturday until 0512 Sunday.

Remember, the big Seattle Boat Show starts Friday, Jan 26th at CenturyLink Field. I’ll be working at the Information Booth both Friday and Saturday evening the first weekend, Sunday the 28th from 1000-1400, Monday the 29th from 1500-2000hrs, Tuesday the 30th from 1000-1500hrs, and Friday, Feb 2nd from 1600-2100hrs, so if you’re at the show please stop by and say hello.


Wet Wednesday Videos from Down Under

Wet Wednesday Videos from Down Under

While we were all digesting our figgy pudding, the boys Down Under were, as usual, spending their Boxing Day racing from Sydney to Hobart. There are plenty of accounts and footage of the race. The biggest “moment” in the race came after the start. The video below should open at that moment (but you can start the video at an earlier spot if you want to watch the whole start). Here Wild Oats (aka WOXI) is on port and Comanche is on starboard. The ensuing protest saw WOXI penalized an hour and her line honors passed to Comanche.

Fewer of you may have seen the following footage taken onboard Comanche on day 2. It shows boatspeed (yawn-30 knots) and course. Be sure to go full screen with this video and use your cursor to pan around. It’s not quite reality but it’s the closest thing a lot of us are going to get to 30 knots on Comanche.

NOTE: Bruce Hedrick will put on his swami hat and gaze into his crystal weather ball on Friday with a post for the Duwamish Head race! I’m really hoping one or more of you alert readers comes up with a Wet Wednesday video from an exciting Duwamish race. (Hopefully it’s wet from below and not above) If you’ve got something, just email me.

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.