Supporting the IRC Shift

"IRC handicapping produces a single-number rating that doesn't try to be perfect-it tries to be useable."

The IRC rating rule for racer/cruisers is co-produced in Britain and France and has been adopted all over the world-nearly 6,000 certificates in 31 countries. For years, U.S. race organizers resisted the idea of using this single-number rating rule because PHRF was cheaper and locally administered, and because for more serious racing our rulemakers have been pursuing the Holy Grail-computerized boat measurements plugged into velocity prediction programs to score races on any course in any windstrength. But VPP rules favor certain types of boats, are thus far too complex for users, and although advocates are forging ahead to use VPP rules for several major races, most big races have been using the simpler, but often-flawed PHRF. At last, like a fast-arriving frontal system, the shift is on to use IRC. St. Francis YC took the plunge first at the 2004 Big Boat Series, and now Storm Trysail Club, New York YC, Annapolis YC, and others have joined them. IRC is a simple, secret, formula-based rule with subjective factors that rule administrators can modify to rein in boats that appear to be beating the rule. IRC produces a single-number rating for all wind strengths and courses, and doesn't try to be perfect; it tries to be useable. Sailors can easily figure out how they're doing in a race, and race committees can't make a mistake by using the wrong rating or other factor. IRC gives credit for some low-tech configurations, such as aluminum, double-spreader rigs, which helps production boats somewhat, but importantly, it doesn't measure stability, nor does it give credit for slow design features, so designers are encouraged to produce fast, stiff boats rather than slow ones the rule thinks are even slower. It's one thing to send out a press release saying you're going to use IRC in 2005; it's another to put a fleet of boats on the starting line with valid ratings obtained from the RORC office in England via US SAILING's Offshore office.There are two types of IRC ratings-unendorsed and endorsed. The former is for club-level events, and as with PHRF, owners simply declare their measurements and receive a rating without being measured. But for major events, endorsed ratings will be required, which means unless your boat is a tightly controlled one-design, it'll need to be weighed and measured by an accredited measurer (more info at and ). To help facilitate this and to work with all the measurers, boatyards, race organizers, and owners, NYYC and Storm Trysail have hired former boatbuilder Barry Carroll as the executive director of the U.S. IRC Management Group. This is a vital move because USIRC can provide both education and promotion for IRC racing. At press time in early November 2004, the group had already measured several boats in Florida and New York, and scheduled a major seminar later in November for measurers, owners, and industry pros. Although it may seem secondary at the moment, USIRC must also focus on supporting a grand-prix big-boat rule, too; without it, heavy design optimization will rapidly expose IRC's weaknesses despite its defenses of having a secret formula and the option to adjust subjective factors. All this IRC activity has galvanized another group-advocates of VPP-based rules. Among others, the Chicago and Transpac YCs, which use Americap (or variations of it) for the Mackinac and Transpac races, still feel they're on the right track using a science-based rule. Ultimately, with simpler scoring and useability, the VPP approach may be better, but the scientific approach has had the upper hand for two decades and hasn't maintained critical mass among racer/cruisers. It's time to see if the simpler mousetrap of IRC can get more racers racing, more happily.