Fueling the Handicap Debate
Fueling the Handicap Debate
With too many rating systems in use, the sport cannot progress. The solution is out there, but it requires cooperation.
Moving forward, PHRF should remain as the rule for club racing. ORR and IRC continue as mid-level rules, each serving their constituency and event type. Mid-level rules should be measurement based, but should contain subjective factors. A new high-performance rule (HPR) makes most sense. Many owners enjoy building boats to a specific rule. For such owners, the design and building process is a challenging, but enjoyable, part of the game. We believe that the ideal elite, high-performance rule must be an open, published formula-based rule that is suitable for high-level international competition between custom boats.
While IOR was broadly used internationally, the rule rewarded slow features: Many of us still remember IOR boats that rolled wildly while sailing downwind. Designers spent considerable effort “slowing” boats with hull “bumps” or lead added in the bow to get rating credits. These adjustments hurt performance, and as a result, the boats were not fun to sail. A new HPR should focus on fixed-keel monohulls and should encourage boats that are strong and safe for long-distance offshore racing.
Custom raceboats are expensive, but there’s a modest market for this game that hasn’t been served over the past several years. The HPR would need to be stable for a fixed period of time, so new boats wouldn’t suffer from unexpected rule changes and become obsolete overnight. Locking the rule for fixed periods would curtail or prevent designers from using computing power to discover and exploit loopholes in the rule. This will give prospective owners the confidence to make substantial investments in their racing yachts. Accordingly, any rule calibrations must be gradual, deliberate, openly discussed, and have the objective of maintaining the desirable boat type. These boats should also use the universal measurement form, allowing them to easily race under any rule, anywhere in the world, without having to be re-measured.
We believe the HPR must not attempt to rate dual-purpose boats. Instead, this rule should only apply to high-performance raceboats. While necessary for the mid-level rules, the HPR must not credit slow features.
The intentional inclusion of slow features in new raceboats (e.g. bumps, tenderness, pinched-ends) helped kill IOR and IMS, and history will repeat itself in this regard. As an aside, this is why middle rules like IRC and ORR are secretive. Middle rules have to provide credit for slow features in order to fairly rate a wide variety of boats. So middle rules keep these credits secret to discourage designers from intentionally including slow features in new boats in order to get the rating advantage.
A high-performance rule is a bold undertaking, but exciting competition will attract more people to participate in sailing at all levels. Improving our current rating rules and supporting a new rule for high-performance boats will be a significant step forward.