HANDICAPPING: Need to support our existing rules

Published on July 15th, 2013

The op-ed by Tim Dick titled HANDICAPPING: A history of failure. A solution to consider. has received little praise since it was published.

Here is a response from Bill Lee, who left an indelible mark in yacht design when he launched the ‘fast is fun’ era in the 1970s. Nowadays, Lee is entrenched in handicapping the sport as chairman of both the US Sailing Offshore Big Boat Management Committee and the ORA HPR Committee, and was chairman of the Transpac Technical Committee that wrote the original Transpac 52 Box Rule…

The writer’s article misses some important points.

The current rules are doing a good job of supporting a wide range racing, and the vast majority of the criticism in the article is both inaccurate and unhelpful. Some rules may be experiencing some shrinkage, but you never know when they might gain favor again. Some may morph into a later version or split into branches as there are only so many basic approaches to handicapping.

It is easy to say the rule makers should be doing a better job but it is a tough game because of each owner’s desire to have his or her “Fair Advantage.” Of course the rulemaker’s job is to equalize those “Fair Advantages” by any number of mechanisms depending on the rule structure and objectives.

Owners who are dissatisfied have choices, either one design or a different rule, and fortunately the UMS (Universal Measurement System), which is currently under development, will make it easier for owners to test their performance under different rules.

The largest group of owners supported by the current rules has boats they already own, often cruiser/racers, and have little interest in extensive experimentation. For those who like experimentation some rules treat it differently than others.

HPR is a “Build a boat to the rule” type whereas ORR is not. IRC does a very good job for some. PHRF is the largest handicap system in the world and can rate the widest range of types. A box rule with almost no restrictions, as the writer proposes, often leads to boats which are so unequal that meaningful racing is impossible.

Let’s support our existing rules and help them work better.

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