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Sailing Needs a Better Structure

Published on October 27th, 2018

by Paulo Pernão, Interesting Sailboats
The 606nm Rolex Middle Sea Race has a great winner, the JPK 11.80 skippered by Trentesaux Gery. They have made a fantastic race finishing on a 39ft cruiser-racer ahead of boats like Farr 45, Eliott 44 or XP44 and I mean also very well sailed boats.

However, I have not changed my opinion that it does not make any sense to have an overall winner on a race with several days because the weather and sea conditions are not the same for bigger and faster boats and smaller and slower ones.

Courrier Recommandé was racing in 28th position in IRC, on the North coast of Sicily, and I knew already that if they maintained the pace they were probably going to win. And if it was not them, it would be another small boat.

The strong wind along the West coast of Sicily and all the way till the finish (on the beam and downwind) would favor the smaller boats that would catch it. The big ones had already passed with medium winds and it would be the smaller boats that would get it.

Last year on the Sydney Hobart Race it happened the other way around. So, what sense have these arbitrary victories on handicap on several days’ races? Shouldn’t it make more sense to transform that stupid notion of line honors in overall winner of the race? And give full credit to each winner on different categories? They exist already but on the shade of that arbitrary notion of overall winner on handicap.

And what to say about the ridicule thing of having a IRC and ORC classification that, in some cases, give different winners? Everybody has already understood that, even if IRC is more widespread, ORC gives a better boat assessment in what regards performance under different circumstances.

There are talks about reuniting these two systems in a single one, for years, and notwithstanding, things remain the same. I don’t understand why World Sailing does not take a hard stance on this subject.

Or better, I think I understand why: even if races like Sydney Hobart, Middle Sea Race, Fastnet, and some others promote some of the best sailing on the planet, in what regards spectacle, boats and crews, they are almost ignored by World Sailing.

If you look at the World Sailing website and at the different sail race categories, these are Fleet Races and World Sailing says about them: “Fleet racing is the most common form of competitive sailing that involves boats racing around a course.”

So, if it is the more common it is clear that they should gather special attention. They are subdivided in two sub categories, ‘one-design’ and ‘handicap’. Regarding one design World Sailing has an incredible number of championships and some World titles.

But listed under handicap there is not a single championship, much less a World Championship and the races mentioned above are not mentioned, even if they are major sailing events and very popular for the public and sailors, they are treated by World Sailing like minor events.

The same happens in with regard to handicap rules, as if most races were not handicap races or if World Sailing should not be the authority in with regard to handicap system and rules. As if they had not the responsibility to provide a universal single comprehensive, fair and effective handicap rule.

To increase the confusion there is now an Offshore Sailing World Championship. It started to be an ORC championship but this year integrates IRC and ORC. I cannot find anything about it on the World Sailing website.

With this denomination we would think that it would be a major championship that would integrate all major handicap races, but it is not, it is a Championship realized each year in a different location, this year was Hague, with a relatively low number of boats racing and with a public and sailor attention much smaller than some individual big handicap races, like the Fastnet or the Sydney Hobart.

What a mess!

One of the objectives of World Sailing is: “To provide a professional and valued service to our members that enables the sport to grow in relevance and influence.” For a sport to grow it is necessary to provide a clear and comprehensive line of gradual sportive achievement that would allow to identify the best sailors in the world and of course a small number of world sailing championships for the best to race and to prove that they are really the best.

If we look at car racing and FIA we will see that they have only four world championships: F1, World Rally, Endurance, and Rally Cross.

There are plenty of other championships, some of world dimension (they call them World Cups) but it means that those four are the main ones on the sport and the ones where we will find the best pilots. And among those main championships, everybody knows that the best of the best are on F1 and WRC, being the other two championships supplied with pilots that are not any more competitive on the two first categories. Clear and effective.

Compare with World Sailing where they have a multitude of disciplines, mostly dinghy racing as World Championships plus a World Match Racing Championship and what they call the Sail Events, and Oceanic Major Events. Sydney Hobart, the Fastnet, Transpac or Middle Sea race are not considered among those events.

The World Sailing website is utterly confusing as it is unclear and impossible to determine any correlation between the different events and the world’s best sailors, unless we consider that all in each category and event are the best.

If we compare to car racing it was as if a Kart World Champion was at the same level as a World F1 Champion. Compared with other major sports, that are highly professionalized, sailing continues to have a Corinthian – very amateur – approach.

If we want sail as a sport to grow we need a professional approach, one that does not forget amateur sailing but also one that creates a very small number of top professional sail racing world championships for top professional sailors.

The professional racing sailors are already there, and they are many, some of them highly skilled but racing in many different events when they should be reunited around some few meaningful ones to compete to be the best of the best.

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