Getting Handicap Racing On Par

A post from Sailing World by Ken Read on rating the boat and the crew rather than just the boat.

Another day on the greens gives the author time to ponder the subject of handicapping the PHRF stalwarts. Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race

Another day on the greens gives the author time to ponder the subject of handicapping the PHRF stalwarts. Photo by IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race

Handicap racing needs a jolt. We’ve got systems like ORR and IRC and even the new High Performance Rule, which rate the boats, but when boats are rated by complex formulas that can be exploited by clever designers, an arms race is unavoidable. New sails, pro crew, and constant tweaking of the boats will always serve as a way to gain an advantage. It can be fun for those with deep pockets and the people they employ, but frustrating for those who can’t afford to play such a high level. And then we have PHRF, which tries to equalize all shapes and sizes of boats, allowing them to race against each other fairly in all sorts of conditions.

It’s time to take handicapping a step forward, and PHRF is the perfect rule to tweak and revolutionize. It’s time to consider handicapping the sailors. Where I sail on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay there’s a lot of racing happening at the local level, but I’m amazed to see the overall numbers are down quite a bit, and that many of the teams doing the racing are the same programs I saw 25 years ago. There’s little growth and even fewer new faces. It’s great to see the longevity of sailors and their passion for local events, but there’s cronyism in the clubs. The same people routinely win the trophies.

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