Good While It Lasted

Published on February 17th, 2016

When competing against dissimilar boats, there are prominent rating systems that seek to equalize the fleet by taking the boats characteristics and performance enhancing parameters out of the equation, leaving the only variables to be the crew’s skill and their race preparation.

However, there are also examples of handicapping solutions that seek to equalize the skill of the sailor. David Smyth provides this historical report on an example that worked until it didn’t…


Huntington Harbour was a residential property development in Southern California, with the majority of homes built in the 1960’s to late 1970’s. The developer supported a club facility for socialization, with a bar and restaurant, a pool, tennis courts, and a small marina of guest slips so residents could travel by their personal boats from their homes to the club.

The club offered social teams for swimming and tennis, with coaches. Every new property owner got a free year of membership in the club, and most families continued their membership thereafter. This socialization network quickly expanded outside of the club into several resident organized groups. The group germane to this discussion was the Huntington Harbour Handicap Racing Fleet (HHHRF).

This fleet used a golf handicap scoring system, wherein a good sailor with a Cal 20 might give a minute a mile to a new sailor in a Cal 20. Races were every Thursday evening all year, followed by a BYOB/Pot Luck party at the house of some competitor. The parties rotated every week.

The handicaps would be adjusted every series, with perhaps 4 races per series. Racers would embrace the ratting changes as indications they were getting better.

The racing was very tight. The channels in Huntington Harbour are narrow and lined by boats moored at docks, the downwind legs were short, and spinnakers were allowed and used by most. Hence crew work became very good!

Good sailors developed quickly out of this fleet: the Smyths, including Randy and me; the Weegers, Risvolds, Vogels, and the family that now owns Stan Millers, the Buettners.

Handicaps were adjusted for “ringers” so really good sailors could sail with, instruct, and coach the slower sailors without permanently screwing up ratings and without guaranteeing a win for some backmarker who has attracted a “ringer” to sail with them for a while.

Handicap adjustment was a fun and social time after races and late in the BYOB party mood. It was never a closed door thing, so rating changes were never met with “look what they did to me.”In my opinion, HHHRF was the best racing organization I have ever experienced.

HHHRF fell apart in the early 80s, when the price of Huntington Harbour Real Estate escalated to the point that the properties became ego trophies, rather than the Harbour simply being a great place to enjoy all the activities of living on the water, in Southern California.

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