Assessing the Changes to the World Match Racing Tour

Published on March 7th, 2016

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
The 2016 World Match Racing Tour season was launched in Australia on March 2-7, marking the beginning of the tour’s switch from monohulls to the M32 catamaran.

The switch to catamarans came as a result of Swedish company Aston Harald AB buying the tour in July 2015 to use it as a platform to promote the M32 which they also own.

Twenty teams competed in World Match Racing Tour Fremantle, with most of the match racing specialists eventually cast aside by the two multihull specialists – Yann Guichard and Hans Wallén – advancing to the Semi Finals.

And while order was reestablished when reigning Match Racing World Champion Ian Williams beat Wallén in the Finals 3-0, Williams was taking little credit for it.

“There’s always a lot of focus on the skipper, but this really is a team sport,” said Williams. “It’s pretty obvious which way to point a fast boat like an M32 so my job is relatively easy, it’s what the guys do in front of me that really counts.”

Much like the America’s Cup, the tour hopes the high speed catamarans will appeal to a broadcast audience. Ken Sutton, who watched the live online show, is not so sure…

“The thriller in Fremantle is over, thank God! I watched the event in its entirety as I have done in years past, and in my opinion this was not match racing. This event proves that match racing has to be done in a monohull.

“The cats are fast, exciting on the reaches doing their nose dives and wheelies, however, it ends there. No dial ups or downs, fake tacks, stalls at the weather mark, or any of the other moves that make match racing what it is. The cats are not maneuverable, which is what is missing.

“The most-anticipated starting procedure consists of the entry and one weak dial up and then a drag race to the line. I do not think that there was one start where a competitor tried to force the other boat away from the start. I wonder why that was.

“A monohull, no matter how fast or slow, can accomplish all of the maneuvers that make a true match race what it is supposed to be. I also enjoyed seeing different boat used at the various venues. There is probably a gag order on the competitors, however, some day we may find out just what they really think.”

I suspect the sailors like this just fine. The boats are fast and fun, and the new tour owner has increased the prize money. What matters most, when the sport changes itself to maximize broadcast interest, is what the spectators think.

Additionally, it will be of some interest to follow the actions of World Sailing, as they continue to use the tour to award the Match Racing World Champion trophy. With the tour’s new format, which now includes fleet racing, defining what it takes to be a ‘match racing world champion’ may soon be on the docket for the sport’s world governing body.

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