A Brief Look at 6 Different Approaches to Handicapping today’s US Fleet
July 16, 2013 ~ A Brief Look at 6 Different Approaches to Handicapping today’s U.S. Fleet
HPR (High Performance Rule)
The HPR is a recently introduced rule that intentionally and aggressively type-forms towards very light displacement, high performance designs. It can be thought of a sliding box rule in two ways. First for boats 26 thru 72 feet, and second because unlike a box rule, it allows limited trading of the variables. HPR was initially focused on boats of this type around 40 feet in overall length and is currently intended to rate boats between 26 and 72 feet. HPR might be best described as a ‘bowl’ type rule, that identifies target characteristics and parameters that are located in the middle of various mathematical ‘bowls’. It imposes increasingly stiff rating disincentives to straying very far up the sides of the bowl, and away from the intended parameter targets at the center. The HPR formulae are simple and published, so that owners and designers can engage in ‘what if’ optimizations to the rule as they wish. The HPR is intended to suit a very thin, but presumably growing, slice of boats at the very top of the performance (and participation) pyramid. It has been taken under the umbrella of the Offshore Racing Association (ORA) as a counterpoint to ORR, the group’s more general purpose rule that is intended to suit a much larger group of owners further down that same pyramid. It is hoped that the HPR will take root internationally. So far, there are 10 boats with HPR certificates, all in the U.S.
IRC (Formerly Channel Handicap System)
The Channel Handicap System (CHS) was developed cooperatively by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and the French Club the Union National pour la Course au Large (UNCL) in the mid 1980’s. It was developed to suit cruiser/racers that were seen as disenfranchised by the flat out IOR racers that had come to dominate racing in the UK and France. CHS was re-launched in 1999 re-named as ‘IRC’ for club racing and a new rule, IRM, for Grand Prix racing. Since it’s inception as CHS, IRC has been jointly owned by Seahorse Rating (the RORC’s Rating Office) and UNCL. Seahorse Rating is recognized by the UK taxation authorities as ‘non-profit making for the purposes of sport.’ To further help defray costs to owners, IRC has achieved regular commercial sponsorship. Several East Coast race organizers have chosen to consolidate big boat racing under one rule, and in 2005 they mandated the use of IRC in their races, to the exclusion of other rules, above an arbitrary boat size.
IRC ratings are calculated via a combination of mathematical formulae with some very limited human intervention. IRC is under continual development by an Anglo-French technical team, with changes to its calculation of ratings on hard science and on informed observation of real world performance. Basic hull and rig details, including displacement (weight), may be either owner declared or officially measured, while some hull and appendage shape details that are troublesome to define by measurement are categorized by reference to type options, and related factors are used as modifiers to the base formulae. IRC is an unpublished ‘black box’ rule, so only its developers know the precise workings of the rule mitigating against rapid design obsolescence and over aggressive optimization. While such as Stability, wetted area, and beam at the waterline are not directly measured by IRC, it is public knowledge that IRC incorporates surrogate parametric alternatives. Inevitably, IRC has been subject to heavy pressure from focused racers seeking competitive advantage, and over time some perceived ‘typeforms’ have been identified. IRC is however designed and managed to fairly rate a very wide range of ages, types etc of well prepared, well-sailed boats. Race results regularly feature a wide range of design types. IRC certificates worldwide number 7000 each year. In the US they numbered in the 600’s early on, but they have since declined to about 350. IRC is used worldwide inshore and offshore including for such events as Cowes Week and the Fastnet and Sydney to Hobart Races.
ORR (Offshore Rating Rule)
In 2004, both because of decline in ‘big boat’ fleet sizes and the also need for a measurement rule that was capable of rating a wider range of types, the Chicago Yacht Club, the Cruising Club of America, and the Transpacific Yacht Club collaborated to form the Offshore Racing Association (ORA). This organization is responsible for ORR and is convinced that a sophisticated (if not ‘simple’) VPP-driven handicapping system that is based on comprehensive physical measurement is the best way to reliably and accurately handicap a diverse fleet. The ORA believes this rule is the best way of scientifically handicapping the US offshore fleet. The ORR is used by sailors who want to be able to race boats of the type that they themselves prefer to sail, rather than a boat type that is favored by a rating rule. An ORR objective is not to favor any single design characteristic over another and changes to the rule are made as needed if trends indicate specific boat characteristics are being favored. The Offshore Rating Rule (ORR) was first used in 2006.
ORR is maintained in an unpublished ‘black box’ form in an effort to reduce aggressive optimization by those seeking competitive advantage. ORR’s lineage goes all the way back to the Pratt Project VPP, developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1970’s, and it is a direct descendant of US Sailing’s ‘Americap’ Rule. ORR is under continual development by a US-based technical team, with changes to its VPP based both on hard science (e.g. test tank, wind tunnel, and CFD studies) and on informed observation of real world performance. ORR performance predictions are based on direct measurement of rig and sails, and integrated values for wetted area, stability, beam at the waterline, effective sailing length, and sailing displacement, all based on full hull and appendage shape definition. ORR is best known for its use in open water events such as the Newport Bermuda, Chicago/Mackinac and Transpac races; its popularity in windward/leeward and short course racing has seen growth. A recent count showed about 600 boats with active ORR certificates, all in the US. ORR is designed and managed to fairly rate a very wide range of ages, types etc. of well prepared, well-sailed boats.
ORR offers regional championships for the East Coast, Midwest and Southern California.
PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet)
PHRF yacht handicaps are established by individuals or committees, whose intent is to base them on the observed performance of existing boats, and on the anticipated performance of new boats. PHRF handicaps are expressed directly in terms of seconds per mile (for Time-on-Distance racing) or using a Time Correction Factor (TCF, for Time-on-Time racing). This places all PHRF boats in a single numerical hierarchy based on relative speed. Like all single-number rules, PHRF works best when boats are grouped by type (heavy displacement, light displacement, sportboats) and raced against competitors relatively close in speed.
Less sophisticated fleets use a “golf” handicapping system where ratings may be adjusted following each race or at the end of the season based on the observed performance. This type of PHRF handicapping is typically used for casual week night or charity races and has no need for any formulae, as observed performance handicaps imply time allowances directly.
Typically after a minimum of 5 or 10 closed course races have been sailed, any needed correction may be performed by observation and statistical reduction of the boat’s performance relative to its competition. This type of handicapping is in use by many of the larger fleets as well as Key West Race Week and other National level regattas.
PHRF racing offers simplicity, relatively low cost, and elements of local control. However, it may rely on owner input of basic hull and rig measurements, and depending on the amount of analysis the local handicapping board is willing to undertake, can depend heavily on the sophistication and experience of its handicappers. These handicappers are in essence ‘umpires’, and like umpires they get many of their calls right, but inevitably some wrong. The quality of ratings is also very dependent on the level of racing occurring since the local area must decide whether to “golf” handicap the fleet (used typically where old sails, wet sailed boats, and non “Group 3” crew are involved.
PHRF is said to be based loosely on the ‘Arbitrary Fleet’ started on the West Coast in the late 1940’s, and it has been in common use since the 1980’s. PHRF has possibly 25,000 ‘end users’, almost all of them sailing in US waters.
The Yardstick is a widely used method of rating boats of different classes sailing the same courses and is used by clubs and fleets across the country and the world. It is a time-on-time handicapping system and is derived from actual records of classes of boats with thoroughly documented ratings. Portsmouth Numbers are defined as the length of time boats would take to sail a common but unspecified distance. There are 2896 classes in the Portsmouth database and no count of the number of boats actually using it.
Annual changes in ratings are modest. The elapsed time for each boat in a race is measured against the primary and secondary yardstick classes in the race and a handicap calculated for each boat. These are stored in the database by Beaufort number. When there is new data, the previous ratings are adjusted by 25% of the difference between the old ratings and new history.
Assumptions made in generating Portsmouth Yardsticks (D-PN) include:
* That each boat placing first in each class was sailed to its true potential by a perfect crew according to flawless strategy;
* That all boats sailed the same course, experienced the same wind/water conditions and degree of interference of clear air;
* That all one-design boats conform to class specifications and rules, and use sails specified by the class; and
* That boats with multiple sail inventories (genoas, spinnakers, etc.) utilize the proper sails for the wind conditions and legs of the course.
Portsmouth Yardstick is mostly used in the US for smaller boats without accommodations including catamarans.
TP52 (Formerly Transpac 52)
The TP52 is a class that is defined by a classic ‘box’ rule. A ‘box’ rule is one that manages a class of intentionally very similar boats by establishing quite narrow limits on critical performance parameters. If a boat’s characteristics fall within these limits, she fits inside the ‘box’ and she can race level, without handicaps, with other boats in the class. This ‘box’ rule approach is quite different from a measurement rule concept, that uses a more comprehensive set of measurements from each boat as inputs to mathematical formulae, which in turn generate the time allowances that allow a variety of design types to race together via handicaps. The TP 52 box rule approach can be attractive because it is simple, it imposes few restrictions on design, and it can provide close racing among like boats on a non-handicap ‘first to finish wins’ basis. This approach can also lead to very rapid design development and obsolescence in a new class, and it is prone to condition specific designs; boats optimized for light air and big breeze can both fit into the same class ‘box’, which can pre-ordain race results in some conditions and at some venues. The TP52 class was first established on the US West Coast by Transpacific Yacht Club in 2000. Its center of activity quickly shifted to the Mediterranean, where it flourished at an unabashedly grand prix, fully professional level for a number of years. There are currently about 15 boats holding TP52 class certificates worldwide, with 4 of those based in the US.