ORC: Steady As She Goes

Published on January 27th, 2016

In the February issue of Seahorse magazine, Dobbs Davis provides an update on the ORC handicap rule, the most popular measurement based rating system in the world, which just recently was used at Key West Race Week

ORC enters 2016 in a good position with net growth in live certificates looking like 6-7% year on year and over 100 certificates now issued to the ORC Superyacht rule, which was being continually refined through 2015 and will make its ‘official’ debut in at Superyacht Challenge Antigua 2016 on January 28-31.

The process of responding to constituents in their requests for improvements to the rule system has also been working well, and at the 2015 AGM there were many requests analyzed and approved by the International Technical Committee (ITC), and in turn by the Congress. This feedback loop is vital, as it results in not only a more accurate VPP, but a more user-friendly system.

More good news is that the changes to the VPP for 2016 have been minor, including some revisions to the aero model in downwind sail coefficients and upwind jib depowering. The end result across the test fleet of 2,000 ORCi certificates has been a very slight speeding-up of the fleet in general, but with 95% of the boats having their General Purpose Handicap (GPH) change by less than 0.5%.

There are therefore no clear winners or losers in boat types, just a refinement to make the racing closer than before. The general philosophy to ‘not break what is not broken’ seems to be working.

More recently at the Yacht Racing Forum in Geneva there was also an upbeat mood about the way the rule system is finding a balance between giving existing boat types a chance while also encouraging new designs. Presenters at the forum included ITC members Jason Ker and Shaun Carkeek (who did admit to a vested interest in wanting the ORC rule system to succeed, appearing as it does to suit his preferred lighter displacement designs.)

On the technical level, both Carkeek and Ker thought the current VPP was achieving good accuracy. “The latest VPP predicts accurately, especially in the sensitive areas; certainly we’re seeing closer competition between different yacht types,” said Carkeek. “Some of the major changes introduced last year were involved new residuary resistance models based upon a CFD base boat with various multipliers,” a program that Ker had a strong participation with in 2013.

When asked about working with a VPP-based system, Carkeek said “Most designers view working with a VPP rule as a natural compliment to their own VPP work. The ORCi database and VPP enables designers to compare multiple candidates efficiently as well as against the competition. I must underline the 2016 VPP is in a very different place compared to the IMS days – which is good news for everyone involved.”

The issue of rule stability to promote development also resonated in the discussions in Geneva, and Ker and Carkeek both felt this was vitally important. “It’s now more than three years since there were last big ORCi handicap changes,” said Carkeek. “Some of us may remember the IMS days when every year there was a significant re-shuffling of the feet. Annual rating changes are now significantly reduced and more consistent, giving owners the confidence to purchase or build an ORC yacht with competitive longevity.”

But the bottom line is will this stability generate new orders? Aside from some designs from Maurizio Cossutti, for Baltic-based clients, and some recent production designs from Matteo Polli, it has to be said that the ORC system has inspired very little new design work.

However Carkeek and Ker both disagree, with Carkeek saying, “We should start to see a lot more new ORCi boats being built as people find renewed confidence in the rule being able to support modern stable, fast and fun boats,” he says. “This healthy development combined with the latest technology bodes well for continued growth and some exciting new builds.”

Indeed, one of Carkeek’s own new designs is getting interest, which is perhaps a glimpse of some positive progress. “The latest VPP changes only came into affect recently, but already we’re seeing race boat enquiries and our new ORCi 450 was created to address this interest.

“The brief for the 450 is an optimized inshore/offshore race boat with the ability to also compete under IRC. The boat is similar in many ways to the successful C40s, C47 and C54 that we’ve raced predominantly under IRC and HPR – however we’ve also won races under ORCi. The success of these new designs prompted many new orders and there is no reason we can’t now do the same under ORCi.”

But can these boats find traction in a market where production designs have dominated? Carkeek thinks so, and cites the new 450 as an example of a new generation of series-built speedster. “We work hard on our production design engineering to help lower cost and increase accuracy and consistency, but without compromise to overall performance.

“The boat’s structures do include pre-preg carbon and Nomex, but a hybrid style of construction is employed that also includes infused laminates and foam. We’re always looking at ways to improve our product and there are many exciting new materials and application processes which will soon become the norm on race boat builds.”

With current class splits, a boat like this may indeed be a competitive new Class A entry in ORC championship competitions, such as the 2016 Worlds in Copenhagen (July 15-23) and 2016 Europeans in Porto Carras in Greece (July 3-10).
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