Support Your Man, Dan

Not long ago, a mild-mannered rocket scientist left San Diego for Portsmouth, R.I., to become US SAILING’s offshore director. After a defense industry career as an expert on creating precise explosions, and with an offshore sailing resumé that includes several Transpacs, Dan Nowlan was well prepared to work with both the science and the practicalities of measurement rating rules and other offshore issues.

Among Nowlan’s responsibilities when he arrived in 1999, one that didn’t figure to be too big was the management of Americap, a measurement rule that had been on life support since its birth in 1995. But as this issue’s Tech Review story explains, Americap will be used extensively this season.

Nowlan saw potential in Americap for big-boat racers who want an objective rating system a step below the grand-prix-IMS level. He first had to produce an upgraded version, Americap II, in which he began to eliminate what he calls the “sweet spots” of Americap’s secret velocity prediction program. He also had to travel around the country to describe to sailors and organizers what the system offers. But Nowlan’s done his homework and made his case, and now he seems to be gaining people’s trust. In great part, that’s probably because he’s not making guarantees about what he’s selling.


Nowlan’s boss at US SAILING, Terry Harper, says, “People are drawn to him because there are no histrionics, no politics, no grandstanding. He thinks about a problem and then quietly says things like, “If we did this, it might be better for our portion of the sport.”

While on the road, Nowlan has also been talking to PHRF sailors and handicappers (he was a PHRF handicapper in San Diego before moving east), and he’s led an effort to find ways US SAILING can help improve PHRF racing, too. One example is PHRF Plus, a new service available to handicappers who want to adjust a group of ratings for a specific course configuration, such as a distance race.

On another front, the offshore director is pursuing a means of upgrading IMS and Americap measurement technology. He’s been testing a machine called the SMX Laser Tracker, which can measure hulls so accurately it will indicate where the boat name’s been applied


On his own time, Nowlan’s also begun working on race committees as an IMS scorer to gain hands-on experience with the process and create a system whereby results can be quickly broadcast to the fleet after each finish. He’s committed to several more events this season.

If you’re interested in handicap racing gaining a surer place in the racing cosmos, it would seem you have a good man working for you in Portsmouth. He understands the science, he’s persistent, he’s realistic, and he has a touch of zen about him. He’s careful not to promise miracles because he knows the handicap game is a minefield, yet he’s picking his way across it slowly but surely.


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