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No matter what Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta organisers did it was never going to be easy to get a quart into a pint pot. Tomorrow's first race will now see 33% of all competing IRC boats in class one. It's the creation of a 'super class' for the biennial regatta, a sign of the popularity of this size of boat.

It will be the test of the season as class one boats gather from across Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales for the VDLR 'Cruisers One' crown. Ironically, the only boats missing – in a who's who line-up of talent – are the winners of May's Scottish Series (J109, Storm, Pat Kelly) and last month's Sovereign's Cup (A35, Fools Gold, Rob McConnell). Read the full IRC one entry list below.

Just how to manage the class breaks in such an impressive but diverse IRC fleet has been occupying the minds of the VDLR committee and its Director of Racing, Con Murphy, an Olympic Games Race Officer from Rio, for some time.

Last week Afloat.ie stuck its neck out on the thorny subject and gave some predictions on class splits and prospective winners. You can read those predictions here.

Afloat.ie pointed to the possibility of moving boats from the very big class one line-up into class zero as a means of dealing with a class double the size of the other IRC classes.

An amendment to the Notice of Race (NOR) published on Monday, however, shows the regatta has instead introduced a sixth IRC class.

'We've ended up with six distinct groups that are of similar speed, rather than six evenly sized fleets', Murphy told Afloat.ie who admits that it has been a vexed question.

It's a move that at first glance seems unnecessary because 88 IRC boats should fit into five classes but it has come about largely as a consequence of the popularity of boats in and around 33–36 feet length and a desire on the part of the J109 fleet to race under IRC rather than as a one design class.

rockabill icraDublin Bay's own Rockabill VI, the JPK10.80 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race winner will race in class one Photo: Bob Bateman

The net result is VDLR 2017 will set sail with a 'super class' by combining 15 mainly race orientated, well sailed and crewed various designs (JPK 10.80, Corby 33's, Archambault 35's, XP33s, Ker and Mills custom yachts) and then adding to it an uber–competitive 14 x J109 fleet.

VDLR had bowed to the agm–wishes of a 14-strong Dublin Bay J109 fleet as far back as January to allow them race in IRC class one as opposed to a separate class as they had done previously in 2015.

It's been no easy job striking the balance and Murphy has consulted far and wide in trying to reach an equitable solution.

RC35 Scottish seriesIrish boats racing in the RC35 fleet at the Scottish Series in May. The Scottish class says that having a restricted handicap of 1.015 to 1.040 has encourage tight, competitive racing. Scottish boats will be racing in Dun Laoghaire Photo: Marc Turner

Among the lobbyists, Scottish entries argued against some of their boats being moved into class zero. At May's Scottish Series this 'RC35' group had its own class with four boats from Ireland (including an Irish J109 winner) and the racing was tight and competitive. Having a restricted handicap of 1.015 to 1.040 has encouraged tight, competitive racing and has seen four new owners buy boats to fit into this banding.

If there is a split at VDLR, the new Scottish class argued, it will 'dilute our class and our campaign to encourage its development.'

In correspondence seen by Afloat.ie, other skippers argued, however, that class one's higher rated yachts (of 1.045) will make racing 'grossly unfair' as such boats will get 'clear air off the start line while the balance of the relatively level rated fleet will fight for clear air throughout the race and arrive at marks in unison. Meanwhile, the faster boats 'get richer', one Dublin Bay skipper pointed out.

The problem for Murphy is that the bottom of class one fleet is all J109s so there is 'nobody left to move down to class two'. There is a big gap between 1.045 and class zero so moving such boats into class zero would give them 'poor racing'.

If VDLR did move to split class one, it would leave the J109s racing with just one other class one type yacht.

To say the least, the question has put the organisers between a rock and a hard place.

In one sense, of course, it's a good problem to have because so many other regattas these days have been scratching around looking for entries.

As an additional consideration for organisers, this year's VDLR programme will also feature more racing, up to three races per day, so there is a big onus on VDLR to keep fleets together in order to turn races around quickly.

The net result is VDLR 2017 will now have 29 of the 88 boats in class one, that's 33% of all competing IRC boats.

Start lines

It's an imbalance that admittedly could have unintended consequences for class zero, one and two racing that are racing on the same courses.

For example, how do you set proper lines when class zero will start with five boats and, on the same line, class one will start with 29?

Do they make the line too small for the big class? Or if they make it the right length for the larger class, it will be huge (estimated at 400 metres) for the small class, thus allowing boats that don't start well, the chance to get great starts. It's something Murphy acknowledges and as a means of dealing with the issue he will be using pin end committee boats instead of a buoy to facilitate the setting of the suitably long line for the big class one.

'We plan to set appropriately long start lines and 1.5 mile or longer first beats for the fleet to help reduce bunching at marks' 

Equally, Murphy is also investigating the possibility of tying to put in a shorter line for the smaller zero fleet but that will be a tricky thing to achieve within the starting sequence timeframe.

Boat of the Regatta

Another consequence might be its affect on one of the great VDLR traditions and that is its popular 'overall yacht of the week' prize. It's a prestigious award, especially this year when drawn from a total fleet of a near record entry of 473 entries.

How can someone be expected to dominate such a competitive class as class one when it is likely another eight or nine boat classes may produce a dominating boat? It's a factor for organisers to consider because the status of the regatta is diminished if IRC classes are not in the running for this top prize.

Class two and three

Moving down the bands, there are now 17 boats in class two yet only nine in class three. It is, perhaps, a reasonable question to ask why these two classes cannot be combined to make it a 26–boat fleet? If VDLR did this, the spread between the fastest boat and slowest boat would be 57 points. In class one, as they have it now, the spread between fastest and slowest is 50 points.

The answer, says Murphy, after extensive consultation, is that class three is largely made up of vintage –yet modified – Half–Tonners and it is 'unfair to put them with modern class two yachts' because of potential speed differentials.

Racing gets under way tomorrow afternoon.

Cruiser Class One – The Entries

Animal Royal Northern and Clyde YC GBR3627L First 36.7 1.021 Kevin Aitken

Banshee Clyde Cruising Club GBR9470R Corby 33 1.040 Charlie Frize

Bon Exemple Royal Irish Yacht Club GBR8933R X-Yachts 1.017 Colin Byrne

Carmen II Helensburgh Sailing Club IRL1666 First 36.7 1.019 Alan Jeffrey

Ruth National Yacht Club IRL1383 J109 1.015 Shanahan Family

Something Else National Yacht Club IRL29213 J109 1.011 John Hall

Chimaera Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL2160 J109 1.015 Andrew Craig

Jalapeno National Yacht Club IRL5109 J109 1.014 Paul Barrington

Jigamaree Royal Irish Yacht Club IR7991 J109 1.011 Ronan Harris

Joker 2 Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL1206 J109 1.013 John Maybury

Juggerknot Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL3660 J109 1.017 Andrew Algeo

Jump The Gun Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL1129 J109 1.012 John Kelly

Indecision Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL9898 J109 TBA Declan Hayes

Powder Monkey 2 National Yacht Club IRL28898 J109 1.009 Christopher Moore

D-Tox Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL13500 X 35 1.043 Patrick McSwiney

Gringo National Yacht Club Irl 7778 A 35 1.023 Anthony Fox

Impostor South Caernarvonshire YC GBR7377 Corby 33 1.035 Richard Fildes

Jacob VII Port Edgar IRL3307 Corby 33 1.039 John Stamp

Now or Never 3 Fairlie Yacht Club GBR7667R MAT 1010 1.032 Neill Sandford

Prima Luce Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL3504 First 35 1.017 Patrick Burke

Raptor Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL811 Mills 30CR 1.013 Denis Hewitt

Rockabill VI Royal Irish Yacht Club IRL10800 JPK 10.80 1.048 Paul O’Higgins

Thalia National Yacht Club IRL733 Sigma 400 1.035 Aubrey Leggett

Triple Elf Clyde Cruising Club FRA37296 Beneteau First 35 1.020 Christine Murray

Valkerie Liverpool Yacht Club GBR7031T Ker 31 1.027 Austin Harbison

White Mischief Royal Irish YC/National YC GBR1242R J109 1.010 Richard Goodbody

Wavetrain Greystones Sailing Club IRL 1477 Channel 32 1.014 Frank Whelan

Published in Volvo Regatta

With a near perfect scoreline, Giovanni Belgrano's 1939 classic yacht Whooper was crowned 2017 champion at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's IRC Nationals. Today, two windward-leeward races were held on the Solent in similar brisk southwesterlies to the first two days. This year's event may not have been an 'all-round test' weather-wise, but has been extremely challenging in terms of preparation and boat handling.

During the event Whooper, a classic Laurent Giles sloop that was previously IRC National Champion in 2004, scored six bullets, a fourth and a discardable DNF in the final race.

Whooper is no rating demon. She is optimised with modern sails and Belgrano has an experienced crew who do 60-70 races/year.

Elsewhere, the racing was extremely close. In the FAST 40+, Johnny Vincent's Pace fended off charges from Peter Morton's brand new Carkeek 40 Mk3, Girls on Film to win by a slender two points. Today Pace scored a 1-3 to Girls on Film's 2-1.

IRC One concluded with a dog fight for the lead between the Ker 46 Lady Mariposa and Ker 40 Keronimo. The larger boat held a two point lead going into the final race in which they suffered a major blow, being over the start line early.

Finally they managed to shake Keronimo off and were able to get up to speed until they had to make a last minute change to their lighter spinnaker, despite the wind building to above 20 knots. "We were praying that it would hold to the finish," recalled Hardy. Ultimately finishing fourth to Keronimo's second left them tied on points, claiming IRC One on countback.

In IRC Two there was a leader change with Ed Fishwick's Sun Fast 3600 Redshift Reloaded, leader all weekend, finally trounced by Adam Gosling's JPK 1080+ Yes! who came very close to successfully defending their IRC Nationals title.

As to relinquishing the IRC National title to Whooper, Gosling said: "Giovanni sails really well. He's campaigned Whooper for a long time. It is nice to see an old boat win."

Results are here

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With the southwesterly piping up to 30 knots in the final race, the RORC IRC Nationals got off to a brisk start on the Solent today with two windward-leewards followed by a round the cans race.

Appropriately, given this is an annual championship for Royal Ocean Racing Club's rating rule, it is a mix of both the newest boats and the very oldest, that lead at the conclusion of day one.

Star performer was Ed Fishwick's Redshift Reloaded which scored straight bullets in IRC Two and now lead reigning IRC National Champion, Adam Gosling on the JPK 1080+ Yes! by five points.

Fishwick typically races his new Sun Fast 3600 doublehanded offshore, but has a full crew for this event. "Today it was mainly about getting good starts and staying upright," he explained. "We are one of the lower rated boats in IRC Two, so it was critical to get good starts and we got them, which meant we were in touch all the way up the first beat. It was very shifty and we had to do an unusual amount of tacking on shifts, but we got it right."

While their competitors were broaching around them, Redshift Reloaded's broad beam and twin rudders helped the crew keep her on her feet as the wind reached 28 knots, although even they suffered one wipe out.

The attrition rate was highest in the FAST40+ class where only four of the nine entries completed the third race. At the end of the race two, Johnny Vincent's Ker 40+ Pace was tied on points with Girls on Film, the brand new Carkeek 40 Mk3 of 2016 FAST 40+ champion, Peter Morton. However, this was not to continue for Morton, who recounted: "The problem was that our bilge pumps weren't working and we were slowly filling up with water which we couldn't get rid of. In the third race we were going down. We had about 2.5 tonnes of water on board and couldn't finish the race."

Nonetheless Morton was pleased with their performance up until then on his brand new boat. "The first time we pulled a spinnaker up was at the weather mark, but the boat feels really good. We are fast upwind and downwind. It's just not designed to carry two tonnes of water..."

The previous Girls on Film, now Bastiaan Voogd's Hitchhiker holds second, tied on points with Mark Rijkse's 42°South, with Pace leading by six points.

In IRC One, Andy Williams's Keronimo is also leading on six points after scoring a consistent 2-2-1 today - a fine performance, this being the Plymouth-based Ker 40's first major outing of the year.

"We had an up and down day - it was quite busy and bumpy and windy, but we really enjoyed it," recounted Williams. However it nearly all unravelled in the breezy final race. "We managed to drop the A4 in the water on the hoist and shredded it with the whole race ahead. But we worked very hard and what got us the race was the last leg - it was a tight reach and we flew an A0 fractional. We were underwater doing 17-18 knots all the way down and we literally made all our time with everyone hanging out the side, properly submerged."

In the first two races Keronimo was playing second fiddle to her bigger, newer brother, the Ker 46 Lady Mariposa. She is fastest boat in IRC One, but had to retire from race three with broken battens.

Swuzzlebubble Half TonnerRacing in IRC Three, Philip Plumtree's Halftonner, Swuzzlebubble Photo: Paul Wyeth

In IRC Three, Mike Bridges' Elan 37 Elaine won race one, but in the second and third it was the turn of renowned structural engineer Giovanni Belgrano and his Laurent Giles classic shoal-draught centreboard sloop, Whooper, winning both races to take the lead overall. A 1939 vintage, Whooper is the oldest boat competing and won the IRC Nationals back in 2004 when Belgrano says conditions were similar to today.

"It was a battle for everyone," said Belgrano of racing today. "But we do well against the modern boats in these conditions." Whooper was progressively reefed during the day, having started off on too generous a jib.

"She has a good hull shape, she was ahead of her time," added Belgrano of his steed. With a displacement of 7.2 tonnes, Whooper has great stability, but even she came a cropper in the lumpy wind-against-tide seas. "We were doing 11-12 knots. We did what may have been our first nosedive and we had green water on the foredeck. We came out of a gybe and we were probably 70° on our side," concluded Belgrano.

Tonight many teams are licking their wounds with much boat work to complete before another full day of racing tomorrow.

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Racing gets under way this Friday on the Solent for the cream of the British keelboat fleet at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's IRC Nationals writes James Boyd.

The rating rule will create a level playing field between the 53 boats entered ranging from the fastest, the Ker 46 Lady Mariposa, to the slowest, the two Quarter Tonners. In between it must cope with planing machines such as the eight FAST40s or Jamie Rankin's Farr 280, Pandemonium, to the Quarter and Half Tonners originally designed to the IOR rule to Giovanni Belgrano's 1939 Laurent Giles classic, Whooper.

Three 46 footers are competing. In addition to Lady Mariposa is Colin Campbell's Azuree 46 Eclectic, theoretically slowest of the trio. In between is the Marc Lombard-designed Pata Negra, chartered for the summer by the Dutch de Graaf family, who previously campaigned the Ker 40, Baraka GP.

In IRC One they will also face their old foe, Andy Williams' Ker 40 Keronimo, and Tor McLaren's MAT 1180, Gallivanter. There will also be a trio of J/111s, Simon Bamford's Kestrel, Paul Griffiths' Jagerbomb and Cornel Riklin's Jitterbug.

Adam gosling Yes Adam Gosling's JPK 1080 Yes! is back to defend their title as joint winners last year with Irish crew James Hynes (third from left) and Nicholas O'Leary (right) Photo: Rick Tomlinson

A favourite for this year's title is former RORC Commodore Mike Greville and his trusty Ker 39, Erivale, having come so close to winning last year.

Among the eight FAST 40+s all eyes will be on the latest generation Carkeek design, Girls on Film of 2016 class winner Peter Morton. With a modified cockpit layout compared to her predecessor (now Bastiaan Voogd's Hitchhiker), the IRC Nationals will be her first competitive outing having freshly arrived from her builder in Dubai.

IRC Two will see a dust up between five First 40s, including La Reponse of RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine, who memorably scored three straight bullets on the final day of the IRC Nationals. On that occasion he was beaten to the class win by Adam Gosling's JPK 1080+ Yes!, ultimately crowned joint IRC National Champion. Yes! will return to defend her title.

IRC Three includes regular campaigners such as Harry Heijst's S&S 41 classic, Winsome, Mike Moxley's HOD35 Malice and Mike Bridges' Elan 37 Elaine.

Alongside Quarter Tonners, Berry Aarts' Wings and Tom Hill's Belinda, Phil Plumtree's Half Tonner, Swuzzlebubble, and Whooper, one of the lowest rated is the Poole-based MG 346, MS Amlin Enigma of Ian Braham.

Racing at the RORC IRC Nationals takes place over 23-25th June with a first warning signal each day at 1050

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The Lymington (UK) based Rating Office, headquarters of the world's most popular rating system IRC, is to be managed by Dr Jason Smithwick. Following on from academia, roles in the research industry and sailing's international federation Smithwick will take up his post at the head of a team of four full-time staff and several external consultants on 3rd July this year.

Established in 1974 the Rating Office has been coordinating the measurement of sailing boats and the issuing of rating certificates for over 43 years. Regarded by many as 'the centre of excellence for yacht measurement' it is one of very few mythical buildings in the world of sailing. The work that has been done inside its four walls over the years, producing ratings and handicaps for sailing boats of all shapes and sizes so as to race equitably over long and short courses, is the foundation piece of a huge multi-billion pound international sport and its associated industry. Over the years the Rating Office staff have been coordinating the measurement and rating of everything from IOR boats in the '70s and 80's, IMS in the early '90s and CHS in the '80s and '90s which evolved into IRC in use today.

In addition to calculating ratings the office is involved in the management, measurement and in some cases, the creation of class rules for fleets such as the Whitbread 60, the current VOR 65, the new Club Swan 50, Swan 45 class, Mumm 30 and Mumm 36 classes, Nautor Swans, Wallys, Maxi 72 and countless other sub-groupings that use the IRC Rule today. The Rating Office is also actively involved in international safety standards for yacht racing and has key roles in RYA and World Sailing working groups and committees.

Dr Jason Smithwick (45) graduated from Southampton University in 1994 continuing in the world of academia for another 10 years gaining his doctorate and eventually ending up as Principal Engineer & Software Manager at the world renowned Wolfson Unit. The next stage in his career was in the role of Technical and Offshore Director at sailing's international federation, known today as World Sailing.

"The role of Director of Rating is something that completely fits my experience and passion. Racing yachts, numbers and the greater racing community is what gets me out of bed in the morning. This is a dream job and I am honoured to follow in a long line of individuals that have handled this foundation piece of the sport of yacht racing and continue the important work that has been done by my predecessors and their colleagues," said Dr. Smithwick.

With rating rule stability in a dynamic technological age owners, clubs, sponsors and the marine industry at large can continue to invest with real confidence in the sport of sailing.

"I'm really pleased to find someone of Jason's experience and technical knowledge to head up the Rating Office in Lymington. The importance of the role played by the Rating Office staff over the years cannot be overstated. By calculating ratings and issuing rating certificates the foundation for equitable racing between disparate boats is established. This in turn enables many thousands of sailing boats to populate regatta and club race courses the world over. Jason's appointment will give IRC especially, and the sport in general, stability and real confidence for the future," said Eddie Warden Owen, RORC Chief Executive and Interim Rating Office Director

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There will be no crew number limitations or crew weight limitations at this year's Irish Cruiser Racer (ICRA) Nationals at Royal Cork Yacht Club.

The rule had been 'under review' following discussion at March's ICRA Conference in Limerick where it was shown different regattas deal with crew weight limits in different ways.

Yesterday, ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney confirmed to Afloat.ie, 'There is no change to point five of the Notice of Race for this year's Championships'.  

Point five says: Crew Limitations IRC Rule 22.4 is deleted. There is no crew number limitations. There is no crew weight limitations.

IRC Rule 22.4 says: “The Crew Number printed on each boat’s certificate shall not be exceeded or the crew weight shall not exceed 85kg multiplied by the Crew Number printed on the certificate.”

The decision brings clarity to a situation six weeks after a healthy debate on the issue at the national conference and six weeks before the championships is set to sail in Cork Harbour

It means competing skippers are now free to invite as many crew as they wish and book accommodation at Crosshaven accordingly.

The focus of conversation at the conference, under guest speaker Mike Urwin of the RORC, was the disposal of crew limits at events such as the ICRA National Championships.

As the rule does not apply at the ICRAs, boats had an option to take less crew on a light wind day and stack the rail in breeze.

Traditionally, fun regattas like Calves Week, did not have crew limits, so that late crew members could be recruited from the quayside and children could also be accommodated as required.

The move to delete the limit rule followed significant consultation with sailors and ICRA surveys found overwhelming support for its withdrawal.

However, the meeting heard that for 'serious regattas', such as a national championships, not having a crew limit can lead to advantages to those who bring a large crew pool to an event, thus upping overall costs of participation.

Some delegates believed championships should stick to the IRC certificate crew limit or maybe the 'cert plus one'. Others thought a stipulation in the Sailing Instructions requiring the same crew numbers in every race would be helpful.

An Afloat.ie reader poll following the conference (running from March 9 to April 25) recorded answers from eight countries, with 45% of respondents from Ireland.

The poll asked: 'Should there be a crew limit at ICRA 2017?' Answer options: No – Let them all race! or Yes – Reinstate IRC Rule 22.4. There was a strong result (73%) for the reinstatement of IRC Rule 22.4.

Results are below: 

crew weight limit

 

Published in ICRA

The International Rating Certificate (IRC) global rating rule is used for hundreds of events in 40 countries. In UK waters IRC competition is fierce both for the National Championship, organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and for regional championships which range from Scotland to the Channel Islands.

Two new IRC Championships have been added for 2017: an Inland Championship on Lake Windermere and an Autumn Championship organised by Hamble River SC – both add an extra challenge to an existing winter series. In addition to regional events there are championships for Small Boats and Double Handed crews.

Winners of each Championship will also win a special prize package from IRC sponsors Spinlock.

The 2017 GBR IRC Championships are:

Solent (May-October)
Scottish (May)
Sussex (June)
Channel Islands (June)
National (June)
East Coast (July)
Welsh National (August)
South West (August)
Southern (September)
Small Boat (September)
Double Handed (September)
Autumn (September)
Inland (November-March)

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The significance of the RORC decision to merge the Commodore's Cup with the IRC Europeans in 2018 has extra meaning for Ireland given at least half of the Irish fleet will not be eligible to race due to a ratings band change. 

RORC has set a lower rating limit of 1.000 so that means, for example, first and second overall at the 2016 Europeans (Irish boats, Anchor Challenge and Harmony) will not be able to compete in 2018.

It is a vastly different situation to that which existed for the inaugural Euros at Cork Week 2016 and also this year's event in Marseilles. The 2017 event has a minimum limit of .900 allowing them this year.

Details of the 2018 event were published by Afloat.ie yesterday here.

Ireland's fleet has a lot of sub 1.000 boats, but particularly the growing Quarter and Half Ton classes.

Two of the strongest classes at the ICRA championships are class 2 and class 3 and effectively IRC organisers (UNCL and RORC) are not giving them a place at their own European championships.

No doubt this is something that will be addressed tomorrow at the ICRA conference in Limerick where RORC will be in attendance and can give an explanation.

'It appears RORC are trying to resurrect the dying Commodores Cup by attaching it to the IRC Europeans, and in so doing is telling smaller, often less wealthy owners, that they are now not interested in them, a leading Irish IRC racer told Afloat.ie'.

A change to a lower limit that at least includes the Half tonners would be to Ireland's advantage.

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June 2018 will see the cream of the IRC fleet gather in the Solent for an exciting 12-race multi-disciplinary team and individual regatta. The Commodores' Cup, a team-based keelboat event, has been running every other year since 1992 and has seen incredible competition amongst amateur-sailed IRC rated offshore keelboats representing various countries and geographical regions.

One of the main reasons for its success has been the way the racing has incorporated a variety of different courses ranging from short windward-leeward sprints through round the buoys and long day races in the always challenging Solent, along with one serious offshore race sailed around the central Channel. Demand for this successful multi-disciplinary event has stretched beyond the team format and amateur based event only and so for 2018 the event organiser, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, has responded by offering the same event to a wider audience.

The most active and competitive IRC racing boats fall into the rating band 1.00 to 1.27. This fleet has had its own European Championship held at various racing venues. In 2016 it was held in Cork, Ireland and in July 2017 it will be held in Marseille and in 2018 the IRC European Championship will take place in Cowes, and incorporate the Commodores' Cup. It is expected to attract up to 100 individual entries over the nine-day period (8-16 June 2018).

The European Championship will be an Open event, meaning that amateurs and professionals will race each other and the presence of professional sailors on board the entries is unrestricted. However ,to compete for the Commodores' Cup within the championship, each three-boat team will be restricted to just one World Sailing Category 3 sailor per boat.

"It is very exciting to see the Commodores' Cup format used for individual competition. The challenge of inshore racing, coastal racing and offshore racing has been popular with the boats that have competed in the regatta in the past, and now being able to produce an individual champion has the potential to be hugely attractive," declared Nick Elliott, RORC Racing Manager.

Whether you are preparing for the Keelboat World Championship, looking to have fun with amateurs only, wanting to represent your country on the water or just keen on the challenges represented by serious competition in the Solent and waters of the English Channel, this will be a really attractive event and may well turn out to be the most competitive IRC keelboat regatta in 2018.

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The Irish Cruiser Racing Associaton (ICRA) has called for debate about the future direction of Irish cruiser–racing at Saturday's national conference in Limerick. Here, Brian Turvey makes his contribution by describing how IRC and ECHO rating systems work in Ireland and why there is concern over the availability of free handicapping software. The former Howth Yacht Club Commodore asks how ICRA can capture all cruiser-racing boats and add value to the sport because, he says, the future of cruiser-racing relies on ICRA starting to think more creatively.

Most racing sports appear relatively straightforward to the uninitiated and only reveal new layers of complexity as you become more involved and enthused to watch or participate. Consider Formula One racing, it seems straightforward - scream around the course faster than anyone else and you win. Horse racing in Britain now boasts that more than 60% of their sport is now categorised as handicapped, a departure from the principle of 'first past the post' by adding weights in a calculated effort to reinforce what is considered to be a sport of chance and potentially allow any horse and consequently any punter to win.

Then consider the sport of yacht racing, commonly recognised to be the most complicated sport to learn and there is little dispute that it is the most complicated of all to follow. Most sailors have attempted a well-intentioned explanation of the sport to a non-sailor, but very few are gifted with the skill to articulate it and fewer manage to retain the attention and interest of even the most fervent of enquirers.

But explaining the concept of yacht racing is only the first layer. Now add the much-used rating handicap systems. The goal of trying to narrow and equalise the finishing time of all competitors in a race is common to lots of sports and based on a measurement calculation, the first version was standardised in yacht racing during the 19th century. There have been many variants and evolution of the original formula and rule, with the dinghy-measurement version 'Portsmouth Yardstick' (PY) being the winner for longevity.

Mixed dinghiesMixed dinghies race under a Portsmouth Yardstick rule

Endorsed by ICRA and the Irish Sailing Association (ISA), the system currently preferred by more than 7000 boats worldwide including most Irish and British yachts is the RORC's 'IRC Rating.' Closely monitored by yacht designers and engineer-types, it is essentially a formula that uses various boat measurements to calculate a rating number. When each rating is applied to every boat in a race and all other factors being equal, the factor-adjusted elapsed time should have every boat finish equal, or so the concept should work. And it does, for the most part. The theory and practice would be that those crews who best optimise their performance during the race, will win.

But as the designers get smarter and yesterday's yacht tumbles in value (unlike racehorse ownership, this is not a speculative investor's arena), the rule-masters in the RORC have to stay alert and agile to keep pace and keep relevant for their broad range of customers. However, they will always be 'followers', at best reacting a-season-too-late to those design enhancements that would otherwise render older racing designs obsolete much faster than their owners would stand for.

One-design sailors tend not to understand the attraction and complexity of IRC racing, by preferring to gravitate towards a class that offers localised 'critical mass' that might promise solid investment in relative terms and suggest many years sailing in a vibrant and competitive class. Which is all fine and dandy, but the leading edge of design development will more often be tested and refined in 'mixed-design' racing. Designers such as Mills and Corby revel in the challenge of one-off racing yachts, while the production-line manufacturers like Jeanneau and X-Yachts have to stay sharp with their designs, because producing anything less than competitively-rated racing boats from a production line would be calamitous.

So buying a well-rated IRC cruiser-racer is a bit like committing to the latest gadget, it will be out-performed in no time by the next best thing, albeit with some notable exceptions. What then for the enthusiastic racing owner of an older or lesser-rated design? Giving 5 minutes per hour to boats that frequently cross the line ahead of them will wear the enthusiasm for the sport from owner and crew in no time. There is a safety net and it is in the form of the next layer of complexity in cruiser-racing: Performance-Rated Handicapping.

Built under the guidance of the then ISA President Paddy O’Neill, ECHO (East Coast Handicap Organisation) was created by a team of Irish amateur sailors including Ernest Gouding, Hal Silk, Billy Lacy, Chris Bruen, Arthur Barker, John Deane and Chick Brown who all brilliantly blended their interest in sailing with their maths skills. The system has grown to be the main performance-based cruiser racing handicap system in Ireland and has in recent years been adopted and adapted internationally alongside measurement rating systems such as IRC and ORC.

With help from the Dublin Bay Sailing Club’s Brian Barry, it was integrated into a unique database-structured sailing results system built by Colin McMullen for DBSC and Howth Yacht Club. Colin had the distinction of being the only professional computer programmer in the world who was a sailor. ECHO, which was known in certain circles as as ‘Earnest, Chris Hal and Others’, is best compared to handicapping in horseracing, but by adjusting the elapsed time instead of saddlebag weight.

Calculated by and based on previous performance history, the formula calculates a rating for every boat that should have all boats finish on equal time. Whilst this desired end-point is similar to that of the measurement-based rating, it has a very different rationale. ECHO is designed to reward crews that out-perform their recent average results. The theory being that any boat can win, relative to their own performance history. The actual specification and design of boats is irrelevant and in theory, the slower and obsolete designs now have every chance of winning under ECHO. The ‘lower end’ of the fleet have something to race for, encouraging crew on the lesser competitive boats, eliminating the ‘what's the point’ factor, whilst maintaining and encouraging participation. Everyone's a winner, well perhaps not quite...

For ECHO to work optimally as per the concept, it relies on 'consistency' and all the possible variables need to be removed, or minimised at worst.

• The same boats and same number of boats must be continually racing against each other in each race. Every deviation in numbers competing and/or infrequent entries will alter all boats handicaps accordingly. This makes it at best very difficult, but normally impossible to assign initial handicaps to a mixed fleet of boats that haven’t recently nor regularly raced together. In these circumstances a ‘link’ boat is used where there is found to be a record of it racing against the other boats before, but it rarely works, because ECHO works best with local fleets.
• ECHO's focus is on the relative difference in performance of a boat (particularly the crew), so a change in personnel will often alter performance and therefore another variable is introduced. It should be noted that there is an obligation on boats racing under ECHO to declare substantive changes to crew, but in practice, most changes go 'under the radar' and rarely get declared.
• Any variation from the average/normal in weather conditions will affect the mean calculations. For example, lighter than average winds might favour the lighter displacement boats.
• Any alteration in the type of course (from the average) will introduce another variable. Different boat designs will vary in performance on specific up wind, downwind and reaching legs.
• There is also the issue of 'sandbagging' or deliberately underperforming in order to reduce ECHO rating and use this in the next or later race to advantage. This is very difficult to prove in competitive fleets, because a boat can lose places very easily and in genuine circumstances.

The ECHO administrators allow direct manual intervention to address anomalies such as these, but a results system that affords interpretive adjustments could be seen to be subjective and potentially ambiguous. Single race regattas are the most problematic, where new boats are added without previous integration in that fleet. Interestingly, it seems to work in the potentially controversial sport of horse racing without complaint.

ECHO is often erroneously compared to a golf handicap, but has little in common other than being performance-related. Golf handicaps are not derived from team performance, it is one person versus the course and the other competitors have neither influence on nor an ability to intentionally affect an opponent's score. Golf is not a race. Performance-rated yacht racing is almost always a team-sport, where with certain probability, every race will mean a change in performance by at least one boat, necessitating handicap revisions to all.

The step towards ‘progressive’ maintenance of ECHO handicaps was a welcome one for racing sailors that embrace the performance handicap, because it readjusts after every race. (ECHO used to only adjust periodically, often causing consternation in fleets by huge changes happening at one time.) However, as a consequence of this, it is almost impossible for an experienced and ECHO–savvy competitor to determine their actual standing during a race – what must it be like for the newbie or spectator? Whatever the difficulty with deducing the standings during an IRC race, performance handicap races are absolutely not spectator events.

But to be stressed out about the accuracies and anomalies of this system is futile. It will raise the passions of many a sailor, particularly when a calculation seems to produce an unfair result. Like measurement ratings, ECHO handicapping is not a pure science, but with the probability of so many variables, sailors need to know that it is always imperfect.

With the development of relatively simple sailing results software and the adoption of ECHO-type systems by sailing clubs and classes across the world, it is now possible to use this software for most sailing events and club racing. Lots of one-design classes have effortlessly added performance handicap prizes to their traditional ‘scratch’ races and events. Club volunteers who are using software packages such as Sail 100, SailWave and Top Yacht can now set up performance handicapping for dinghies, one-design keelboats and for cruiser racing in addition to providing results for Scratch, PY and IRC. This is now an attractive proposition for many clubs, because performance handicapping works best for local fleets where the same boats and sailors race together frequently.

cruiser racing irelandA wide range of different cruiser and sportboat types combine for all-in club racing. Photo: Bob Bateman

So how might this affect the future for ECHO in Ireland? The ‘elephant in the room’ and big consideration for the ISA and ICRA is that ECHO-type software programmes are now freely available and ideal for local club racing. Why then might a regional club or class need to use or pay for ECHO? It will naturally be conditional that the major regattas such as Volvo Dun Laoghaire and the ICRA Nationals insist on IRC and ECHO affiliation, but what for the local regattas when dinghies, powerboats and all sorts can use this software freely?

The current handicap registration process for cruiser racers in Ireland sees ICRA ‘pass the ball’ to the Irish Sailing Association to oversee the administration of IRC, ECHO and consequently the management of ICRA membership. With over 450 registered ‘member’ boats, ICRA really needs to take control of its own destiny. Their funding comes from an agreement with the ISA, who return a ‘slice’ of the revenues collected for racing certs (IRC and ECHO), after an administrative fee is deducted. A recent straw poll of the racing classes in Ireland would suggest that the average annual subscription for the various keelboat classes wanders between €50 and €100. One might imagine that a class that boasts about having thousands of participants should at the very least be able to raise €50-€100,000 of its own funds each year. But if there is danger in tagging their subscriptions through the ISA to an ECHO system that could now freely transfer to clubs and classes, and an IRC certification system that is already wary of international trends and new local interest towards ORC, then it’s time to think more creatively.

How might ICRA capture all cruiser-racing boats and add value where the ‘what’s-the-pointers’ need to be encouraged to participate in a national racing organisation? For instance, it’s possible that moves towards the national licensing and registering of vessels could provide an opportunistic inlet, although it would mean that the ISA would need to partly relinquish what would be its national governance – perhaps unlikely.

Taking control of a database-built results system might also afford ICRA (and other classes) to take responsibility for their members and racing administration – it would certainly help with sharing of performance handicap data and add value for clubs, classes and sailors. However, it has been suggested that the set-up cost would be prohibitive.

To survive as an organisation, ICRA must be an organisation – taking control of its own finances and of its own management of the Association.

The ICRA National Conference is being held in Castletroy, Limerick on Saturday and is themed ‘We must talk about cruiser racing’ and it’s certain that there will be lots of lively talk.

Brian Turvey

Published in ICRA
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