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Stop Blaming the Rule

Published on March 27th, 2017

Co-managed by offices in England (RORC) and France (UNCL), IRC is a rating rule to handicap different designs of keelboats to allow them to race together. Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checks in with James Dadd, Director at the RORC Rating Office, for this update.

What is the state of IRC?
IRC numbers worldwide seem to have stabilized. We are still seeing a slight drop in actual boat numbers, but an increase in size which suggests that we have a very stable number of sailors (around 68,000) worldwide sailing under the system. We are seeing expansion in Asia and a very healthy fleet in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Australia and the USA.

Numbers in the USA may be down, but in reality they are where we would expect a rating rule to sit. In the USA, we see that PHRF should be the place where growth in the sport appears.

Local racing and getting bitten by the bug is the place of a handicap system. A rating rule is for those who have already got bitten and want to travel as well as move away from simply being credited for improving, to being credited for simply being a better sailor.

What has impacted growth in USA?
Promotion. Simple as that. In the beginning Barry Carroll did a very active PR campaign and that disappeared when US-IRC went inside US Sailing, as they are neutral. I also think the initial view that only endorsed certificates should be used was an error.

A standard IRC certificate is not an owner declared certificate, but one that is audited by US Sailing and our office. It is often based on measured data and some standard data. We see this area as one that should be adopted more in the USA as a simple step from PHRF up to IRC racing.

The US has a lot of rating rules. Do they need them all?
No one needs lots of rating rules. Racing should be about getting out there, enjoying yourself and chatting at the bar about what you got right or wrong, not about the rule. All rules are trying to do the same thing. Keep it simple and get out there racing and stop blaming the rule, but enjoy racing.

What is the advantage of being an international rule?
People can race anywhere in the world without needing to change rules. IRC is the widest spread rating rule recognized by World Sailing with 51 offices around the world. With the World Sailing recognition, sailors can be confident we are acting in their best interests at all times.

Does IRC shine brighter as an inshore rule or an offshore rule?
Looking at the results we see around the world I would suggest it works in both. It is the principle system used in every offshore race around the World outside of the USA. It is used for a very wide range of boat types (just look at the 2016 Rolex Middle Sea Race for an example).

No rule is perfect. What are the pros and cons to IRC?
Some say that old boats are unbeatable, and some say that you need a new boat in IRC. I see that as a big advantage. I also think that the confidential nature of the rule prevents designers exploiting loopholes. We have seen that they always do this if they get a chance, so the IRC model works as they have not yet done this in 34 years. The IRC boat has developed and evolved over the years and I think that the current IRC cruiser/racer is a very nice boat compared to what we saw 20 years ago.

What are the tools used by IRC?
We use whatever tools seem to work best. We are not tied to a single VPP. We tend to discuss with industry the best approach and then work from there. The RORC Technical Committee are very useful in pointing us in the right direction.

What are the costs to boat owners?
To start you just need to check if we have standard data for your boat design and apply for a standard certificate. This normally costs about the same amount as a spare jib sheet. We do not require measurement. But if you do get measured that is relatively cheap. We don’t need inclining test or hull scans, so weighing the boat is normally the only complex item on the list. But in reality, get started with a Standard IRC Certificate and see how you get on.

World Sailing has approved for IRC to have its inaugural World Championship in 2018. How will this impact IRC?
It sets us on a level playing field. We are now the same as ORCi and the recognized classes in terms of what we can offer sailors. The sailors have asked for this, and we think it is important to offer what they ask for. Whether it increases numbers or not, I don’t know, but as long as the racing is good, that is the priority.

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