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Time to Choose Your Next Rule

November 14, 2001
Joe Comeau

If you’re serious about handicap racing, you’re probably frustrated. You may have faired your foils, bought good sails, upgraded your hardware and lines, and recruited a great crew; but where can you find a good fleet in which to race?

Unfortunately for you, the PHRF system can’t adequately handicap diverse racing fleets with its single-number handicaps–and sometimes your skills get rated along with your boat. Some fleets are using additional handicaps for point-to-point races or in different winds, but they’re the exception. The alternative, the International Measurement System, doesn’t help unless your boat was designed to the rule and you’re willing to travel to find a few of the other 253 U.S. boats with IMS certificates.

In this country, top-level handicap racing consists of a very active IMS 40 class in the Northeast, some bigger IMS boats on the East Coast, and a Sled class on the Lakes. There’s also the fledgling Transpac 52 rule, which, like the Volvo Ocean 60 and America’s Cup class rules, has certain measurement parameters within which sailors and designers can play a flat-out development game. But that’s about it.

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To allow PHRF to continue doing a great job of providing easy access to competition for most of its nearly 20,000 weeknight and weekend recreational racers, one of two existing rules needs to be embraced. There’s US SAILING’s Americap, which we wrote about in the July/August issue. The other is a European import, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s IRC (International Rule Club). If you’re a serious amateur, you should help make the choice.

Both IRC and Americap differentiate themselves from IMS and other measurement rules by keeping the basis for their handicaps secret, which makes it more difficult to design a boat to take advantage of the rule. Both are also revised annually with the explicit intent of keeping existing boats competitive with newer designs.

The two rules have substantial differences, however. IRC ratings are relatively easy to get because they’re based on owner-supplied measurements. Because Americap is VPP-based, you need an expensive hull measurement unless a standard set of hull lines is available. IRC is easier to score because it assigns your boat a single time-correction factor and uses the time-on-time scoring method. Americap assigns not one handicap number, but two–one of which is multiplied by a race’s distance (addressing the boat’s overall speed potential) and the other by a race’s elapsed time (figuring in a boat’s light or heavy-air capability). Scoring is slightly more complicated, but the result should be more accurate.

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IRC, which the RORC co-manages with UNCL, the offshore group in France, has a proven track record and now handicaps close to 5,000 boats. Americap has been used in distance races but is untested in a major inshore regatta. St. Francis YC plans to use it in the 2002 Big Boat Series (as they planned to do last September).

At press time, a symposium on these rules was being planned at Key West. If you can’t attend, stay tuned for progress reports here and at sailingworld.com. Let race organizers and US SAILING know what you want. I think there’s a market for one of these rules, but it’s up to you to decide.

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