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Editor’s Letter: Here We Go Again

Rule administrators of the world are working towards a transparent, single-authority system that can provide stability for owners and regatta organizers. Editor's Letter from the March 2013 issue of Sailing World.

March 28, 2013
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During a recent meeting of owners, designers, and builders of grand-prix raceboats I wrote in my notepad, “. . .first time ever to have a certificate from one worldwide authority.” I underlined “ever.” This was “big, breaking news,” the emcee proclaimed, news that bodes well for the future of handicap racing—especially at the top of the pyramid. The implications of the announcement are still unclear, but I did get a sense that afternoon that there was cooperation between once disparate rule administrators, and a new openness among design firms willing to share data in the interest of developing faster, more exciting boats.

I struggle to get my head around handicap rules: the international fiefdoms, the acronyms, the design speak, and measurement systems that require advanced degrees to decipher. It doesn’t help that our rating systems are always changing behind closed doors. So hopefully the announcement is progress toward a truly transparent, single-authority system that can provide stability for owners and regatta organizers.

The meeting also confirmed that a subset of the handicap-racing community has been restless for a rule that encourages no-compromise planing boats, the result of which is the latest offering, the High Performance Rule. The HPR movement has been quietly organizing its house for two years, and makes its official debut this year. Development was spearheaded by stakeholders at the New York YC, but now encompasses a cadre of designers and technical wizards working in collaboration to develop “modern, high-performance racing yachts.”

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Under HPR there will be no “credits” for slow features, for which IRC has long been criticized. Modern is defined as wide, ultra-light boats with bowsprits, robust asymmetric spinnakers, fractional rigs, and square-top mainsails. It’s the return of “Fast Is Fun,” and yes, Bill Lee, the designer who coined the famous phrase, is involved, too.

With three 40-foot HPR boats launched and racing last year, interest in the “performance-oriented, type-forming, continuum box rule” is on the rise—albeit slowly. The rule’s greatest strength, say its founders, is that its algorithm is fixed until 2017 and published at the Offshore Racing Congress’s website, www.orc.org, allowing yacht designers, sailmakers, and owners to run trials as they wish. There are no secret components, and at the heart of it (this is where the single worldwide authority comes in) is what’s called the Universal Measurement Form. All the major players sitting at the table—US Sailing, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and the ORC—are jointly developing the form, which includes all measurements currently required by IRC, ORR, ORC, HPR, and PHRF. So, yes, a boat must still be physically measured, but once done so, its rating can be calculated under any participating rule.

The stated goal of the HPR is to get more exciting and modern boats out racing. The intent is not to replace PHRF or IRC, for example, which happily accommodate dual-purpose boats, but rather to jump-start custom boatbuilding. The trickle-down faucet the America’s Cup no longer feeds would, theoretically, be turned on once again. The HPR boats now sailing are turning heads, but as it is with any planing design, the beat is always longer than the run. Let’s hope that’s not the case with this latest rule.

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Click here to read more from editor Dave Reed.

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