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The State of Match Racing in North America

Published on April 11th, 2011

Dave Perry

daveI am pleased to give this report on the state of match racing in the U.S. and surrounding North American region (including Canada, Bermuda and the U.S. Virgin Islands). There are literally thousands of people involved in match racing as competitors, umpires, race officials and event organizers in the North American region, and those numbers are set to grow exponentially in the next few years.

Match racing events are graded 1-5 by ISAF, Grade 5 being the local level match race events and Grade 1 being the most professional with cash prizes and the most prestige. National championships and events with a wide geographic range of competitors are Grade 3, and Grade 2 events are international events with some of the top ranked skippers, and often with cash prizes and/or automatic entry into Grade 1 or the World Match Racing Tour events.

Number of Graded events doubled…
One indication of the growth in match racing in this region is that from 2007 to 2010 the number of graded match racing events nearly doubled, from 34 to 65 events! In 2011, there will be three Open Grade 1 events and five Women’s Grade 1 events; seven Open Grade 2 events, and over 25 Open and Women’s Grade 3 events. To learn more about the events in 2011, go to the US SAILING Calendar at

Women’s match racing…
Another indication of the growth is the level of interest in Women’s match racing. Women’s match racing is an event in the Summer Olympic Games in 2012 for the first time. There were ten teams signed up for the 2011 January Qualifier Event to make the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics, and more teams have formed since then. There are many women’s match racing events, including clinics, in the region. A great source of information on women’s match racing, including a very comprehensive Calendar, is the Women’s International Match Racing Association (WIMRA) at For a detailed pathway for women wanting to get involved and quickly raise their game in match racing in 2011, I have put together a program called the Road to Rio. You can view it at the US SAILING match racing website:

Youth match racing…
Also there is much activity in Youth match racing, led significantly by the Balboa Yacht Club in southern California, which annually hosts the prestigious Governor’s Cup, an international youth match racing championship. In 2011, there will be Youth match racing Clinegattas (a clinic and regatta combined into one event) in all four points of the U.S. In addition, three southern California clubs have formed a league to introduce youth sailors to match racing, called S.O.D.A. Finally, there is much discussion about a National Youth Match Racing championship in the not-so-distant future, as well as discussion at ISAF about a world youth match racing championship. For information on Youth match racing clinics and regattas in the region, go to the US SAILING match racing website:

Intercollegiate match racing…
Finally, in 2010 the Intercollegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) brought match racing into the collegiate sailing program with its inaugural Match Racing National Championship, which in 2011 will be competed for on San Francisco Bay. This is probably the most significant growth development, as over the years the college program will introduce thousands of sailors to match racing, will give them the opportunity to develop their skills to a high level, and will form the bridge from youth to adult match racing. Check out the intercollegiate match racing website at

National Championships…
The United States has a National Match Racing Championship for Open sailors (both genders) and Women sailors. The Open championship can be qualified for through local events (Quarter-finals), then regional events (Semi-finals). There are also a couple of “discretionary” slots each year for which sailors can apply and receive invitations. For the Women’s championship, sailors apply and are invited, but there are also several qualifying regattas each year as well. For full information on these excellent championships, go to the US SAILING Match Racing website at

Clubs and Centers supporting match racing…
This growth in activity is supported by over 25 clubs and match racing centers around the region that are actively running match racing events. This is the backbone of our program, and we appreciate all they do. Anyone interested in getting involved in match racing should find the clubs or centers nearest them and contact them to see how to get involved. A complete listing of all these clubs and centers, with contact information, is on the US SAILING Match Racing website at You can also check out their websites.

Pinnacle events in North America other than the ISAF Graded events…
The World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) is a separate entity from the ISAF Graded events, and is the pinnacle of one-design match racing, with the skippers being the very best in the sport. The WMRT offers an annual prize purse of over $1,000,000. I envision a WMRT event in the region in the near future. Also separate entities are the prestigious America’s Cup, Canada’s Cup, Little America’s Cup and the Nations Cup. The America’s Cup, sailing’s longest-running sailing competition, was last won by the Golden Gate Yacht Club which is located in San Francisco, and will be defended there in 2013. We are excited to welcome the America’s Cup back to North America, where it was last raced for in 1995. The Canada’s Cup is a premier match racing event on the Great Lakes, won in 2010 by the Chicago Match Race Center. The Little America’s Cup is raced in solid-winged multihulls, and was successfully defended by the Canadians in 2010. The Nations Cup, ISAF’s premier match racing event, will be hosted this year by the US Sailing Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, September 13-18.

ISAF Ranking List…
ISAF maintains a Ranking List for Open and Women’s match racing skippers. Ranking points are earned by competing in, and placing well in, ISAF graded events. As of the March 30, 2011, ranking, North American region sailors totaled 11 in the top 100 in the Open rankings with none in the top ten; and 15 in the top 100 of the Women’s rankings with 3 in the top ten. Clearly North America can boast some of the very best match racers in the world (Ed Baird, Paul Cayard, Kevin Hall, Peter Holmberg, Terry Hutchinson, Peter Isler, John Kostecki, etc.), but these sailors do not appear on the Ranking List due to their involvement with the America’s Cup as opposed to the ISAF graded events. The current rankings can be seen at

Two North American Match Racing Series…
The primary way to rise in the rankings is to compete in ISAF graded events. Because traveling abroad to events is costly in terms of money and time, work has been done to install as many graded events as possible in the North American region. And because it is difficult to get invitations to the Grade 1 and 2 events without a high ranking, many of the events in the region are set up as direct qualifiers for higher graded events, including events on the WMRT! This will help many more sailors rise in the rankings more quickly. And once sailors near the top ten in the rankings, they can turn their sights on getting a card on the WMRT.

To this end, two series of regattas have been formed in North America. One is a series of four Open Grade 2 events called the GRAND SLAM, that runs on four consecutive weekends in August and into September (Chicago Match Cup, Detroit Cup, Knickerbocker Cup and Oakcliff International), designed to attract many of the top international teams to our shores. Some of the events are qualifiers for other Grade 1 events and WMRT events, and some have cash purses. The winner of the Series gets an invitation to the 2012 Grade 1 Congressional Cup. The other series is the California Dreamin’ Series. This is a series of three events in California, with the winner receiving an invitation to the Grade 2 Ficker Cup, which in turn is a qualifier for the Grade 1 Congressional Cup. Information on these events can be seen on the US SAILING Calendar at

US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics…
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games will include a women’s match racing event for the first time. Men had match racing in the Olympics from 1992-2000 in the Soling, but that was discontinued when the Soling was removed from the Olympics for the 2004 Games. The U.S. women’s match race team is one of the strongest in the world, having all three members placed in the top ten of the ISAF Ranking List. The U.S. women have medaled at every World Cup event they have competed in since September 2009, and recently won both the Silver and the Bronze Medal at the 2011 Miami Olympic Classes Regatta. Women’s match racing is done in the Elliott 6m, a new class for all the women, and we are fortunate to have Elliotts in which our North American women can train in Sheboygan, Chicago, Miami and Toronto.

The key to the growth of the numbers and skill level of match racers and umpires in the region is providing as much education as possible. We want to minimize the amount of time people spend reinventing wheels, and maximize the amount of times they cross the finish line first. First off, many of the events in the region are “clinegattas” (events which combine a clinic with a regatta during which the clinic coach continues to coach). This way sailors are learning *how* to do it correctly before trying it in actual races; and then getting immediate feedback after each race on their performance during the racing phase. Check out the US SAILING Calendar, and other calendars such as the WIMRA (, CleverPig ( and intercollegiate ( calendars for clinics in your area.

Much useful information can be found on the US SAILING Match Racing website. You can view for free the DVD I created with North U. to explain how to match race called Welcome to Match Racing. You can also receive the DVD free of charge (other than shipping and handling) from North U. (see below). Also on the site is a basic PowerPoint covering all aspects of match racing from tactics to umpiring to race administration, as well as an excellent paper on hosting a quality match racing event.

In addition, Bill Gladstone of North U. has fully embraced Match Racing education, and has gathered a collection of very useful materials on the North U. website (, and will have more there as time goes by, including the North U. Match Racing Playbook that I have written in collaboration with North U. Currently available is a very good CD with video clips called Match Racing by Henry Menin and John Cutler.

What makes match racing unique, and allows sailors to have such intense close boat-on-boat battles, is that the sport is umpired, with umpires making on-the-spot calls just as in most other sports. Umpires are essential to the growth of match racing, and umpires need to continue to raise their game as the players do. There are approximately 50 certified umpires in the U.S. of which approximately 12 are international umpires (IU’s). The US SAILING Umpire Committee is updating its seminar programs and has established a four year goal of having at least 8 new certified umpires each year, which would effectively double the number of umpires in the region in that time. As a means of helping umpires with expenses, the Umpire Committee has established the TUNA FUND to help provide a source of funds to pay for umpire travel expenses as best it can. For more information on umpiring, go to the US SAILING match racing website at

As you can see, there is much activity in match racing in the North American region, but with a lot of potential for huge growth over the next five years.

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