Tuesday, September 18, 2007

98.6° ?

Am I the only guy in the room who thinks, between IRC and PHRF, we live in the golden age of rating rules, and we just don't know what to do about it?

You're on your own to review the simple-minded failures of 19th-century rules that measured length only or length-and-sail only. Think what you will of the way that a going concern, the CCA rule, was traded in for the theoretically-better IOR nearly 40 long years ago (I can't imagine that the CCA rule would still be a going concern, even if it did produce Bolero).

I had a sit-down with Gavin Brady at the Rolex Big Boat Series last week, and one line of conversation rang bells with the part of me that remembers how the golden-oldie IOR did real harm with its measurement points that encouraged designers to create stupid boats to beat the system. Stupid in the sense of hulls shaped like pumpkin seeds that did not want to go in a straight line. The great metaphor for the whole shebang was the way that sailmakers countered by offering a fractional spinnaker to fly opposite the spinnaker, to balance the forces (supposedly), and they gave it the most honest name in the history of sports promotion.

They called it, the Blooper.

(And while we're laying stuff out, yes, once again there were people asking where is the "big" in a Big Boat Series that includes a division of Melges 32s racing one design. But, people, the series didn't change; the world changed around it. Once upon a time, San Francisco Bay was the only place in the world where globe-trotting Maxis raced around the buoys, every three years or so, whenever they came to town. Nowadays in the Med they build Maxis for the sake of buoys racing, and some of them never leave the Med. Originally, the BBS was created because we had the likes of Bolero and Baruna on the bay, and our Southern California friends wanted to come up and play. This has always been a defining regional event, and with time it developed an international overlay, and it was the long-distance sailors who gave the name Big Boat Series to what the annual program called the St. Francis Yacht Club Perpetual Trophy Regatta. Now the program calls it the Rolex Big Boat Series, and I'm reminded of what Stokely Carmichael said—I could pose this as a trivia question but why set you up for failure—when he and H. Rap Brown grabbed control of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Mr. Carmichael said: We are not students. We are not nonviolent. We're sure as hell not coordinated, and we ain't no committee. But that's our name and we're sticking to it.)

Heh. Bet you weren't expecting that.

So there we were, Gavin and me, and he was talking about IRC, the only international rule operating in the USA, and his fears about how that could go wrong. But how wrong could it go? Not as wrong as the IOR, in his mind.

"It would be a shame," Brady said, "to see owners building pure-race boats for IRC with two heads and teak decks—to weigh the boat down, slow it down, help the rating—when what we need is a separation between pure racers and cruiser-racers."

So teak decks are the threat, not hull distortion?

Save the rain forest!

"What's tough on the grand prix side is how to rate a wide range of boats," Brady said. "Hopefully, what we're seeing here with the IRC is the future of the sport. San Francisco Bay and Key West are two places you can go with fast, planing boats and really open them up, and here, people don't want to weigh the boats down because you have to have a light boat to get downwind. They've done the right kind of job at the Big Boat Series of separating the planing boats from the cruiser-racers.

"The thing is, conditions have a massive effect. You can't rate Rosebud against a Beneteau, but you can rate her against other raceboats. We're out there sailing against Rosebud [Roger Sturgeon's STP 65, versus the chartered Reichel-Pugh 45, Sjambok, where Brady was crewing for Larry Ellison] and they're both race boats, and Rosebud is finishing maybe 17 minutes ahead of us and they're beating us by maybe 17 seconds."

Here's the 65-foot Rosebud . . .

Daniel Forster/Rolex

And here is the 45-foot Sjambok . . .

Daniel Forster/Rolex

"No matter what happens with the America's Cup, we're going to have new boats," Brady said, "and they're going to be more like these boats, planing boats, so there are lots of pros out there right now getting experience. You're going to be seeing them in Melges 32s, and when we get into the new America's Cup boats, the gains downwind will be massive. There will be times when the wind changes two knots and you wish you had a different sail, but still, you're not going to peel."

Golden Age or Gold Plated?

Lest you think I have no memory, of course I recall the divisiveness of the 2007 PH-IRC split in Western Long Island Sound (requiring boats faster than PH 90 to race IRC with no PH option) and I'm not sure that's been resolved. I've heard growls about entry levels being down in some key events. But this was not a confrontation with the forces of evil. The rating-rule requirement was an attempt to improve the quality of racing by not fragmenting the fleet. If it's not working, I'd expect it to be re-assessed. And the debate is about how to employ the rating rules, not about the rules themselves.

Being a member of the Transpacific Yacht Club, I'm keenly aware that ORR (son of Americap) suffered an embarrassment in application to the upper size ranges in '07, but I'm not the guy to cure that. What I know is that Transpac has long used adapted ratings to compensate for the downwind bias of the racecourse between Los Angeles and Honolulu, and we'll have to try again in '09. For the rest of the fleet, ORR was fine in '07. The point of the rule is to allow the race committee to go beyond a single-number rating system, to compensate for a course with a history.

But we now have a viable IRC fleet in Northern California, and that is a huge transition. For years, in our wanderings in the desert, post-IOR--and given the failure of IMS and the failure-to-launch of Americap--St. Francis YC was forced to create in-house PH ratings for the Big Boat Series. But then, if you came down from Seattle and gave the boys your Seattle PH number, and they gave you a new number and you had a bad series, how would you feel about that?

The club wanted out of the ratings business and how. After IMS, after Americap, after St. Francis PH, IRC came along, and St. Francis blazed the trail for it in the USA. Now IRC is here, and it's going to stick. Here's a Daniel Forster shot of Sy Kleinman on his Schumacher-designed Swiftsure, still at the game after all these years, and the game he's playing, I do believe, is getting better. Gosh, I hope so. I once beat the drum for Americap, and I did what a mere journo could to get it a place in the sun, only to discover that it couldn't take the heat.

I think this is different. Dockside I ran into the club's former race manager, Matt Jones, and he was comparing 2007 to 2006. The reaction of boat owners, he said, exhibited a sense of "rule security."

Yeah, rule security. At last. Resonates, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, on the Chesapeake, Brady says, "We're having the IRC East Coast Championship in November, and it's probably going to be the biggest yet in the Chesapeake. November is the best time to sail there; we've got the breeze and flat water, and lots of boats are on their way to Florida after a summer in New England."

The Storm Trysail Club/Chesapeake Station says it intends to limit the fleet to 45 boats for those races, Nov. 2-4; entry deadline is Oct. 17. The championship is also the wrapup of the Gulf Stream Series.

Quote Unquote John Mendez
Executive Director, US-IRC

We've been recommending to everybody in the US that IRC should be used as a self-measurement rule. Just try it. That's our message. The constituents have to try it, and if they like it, you're on. But they also ought to understand that, fully measured, they might come out with a better rating.

In 2007 we're revitalized the US-IRC web site, expanded our mailing list, and looked for every way we could find to communicate better with people who are interested in IRC.

Quote Unquote Rich DuMoulin
Chairman, US-IRC Owners Association

To be successful in marketing a rating rule in the US--and nobody had ever really marketed a rule here--you have to take care of the existing boats, and you have to take care of new boats. You can die from either end. IRC lets people build boats that have desirable characteristics. There are features you might get charged for, but not hammered. There's a constant tension there that has to be managed, and that's why the Owners Association is so important.

PH is the fundamental building block of racing in the U.S., but PH can't handle high-end programs, and that is where IRC comes in. We may have gone too far with requiring endorsed certificates, so we're going to allow people to sail with unendorsed certificates in anything except major championships."

Breaker Breaker

Thanks, guys.

Whew! Once you start talking rating rules, there's no end to it, is there. You just have to pick a point and stop. Usually I take a deep breath and say a little prayer before I even begin to talk rating rules. This time, I forgot, so I'll give the bottom line to
Tiny Tim:
"God bless us one and all."

P.S. To J/105 BBS sailors from Leucadia. Yes, it's possible, after you've fouled out as a contender and you don't have anything more to lose, to try to make a point by going back and really fouling the hell out of the boat that protested you in the first place. But before you make this a way of life, read the first sentence of Rule 2, Fair Sailing, very carefully. And consider that famous quote by Paul Elvstrom. If you don't know the one I mean, maybe that's part of the problem—Kimball