Harken Derm

Fairness is not what keeps us in the sport

Published on February 28th, 2019

When it was suggested that a new way of looking at handicap races could take luck out of the equation, and allow offshore competitors to have an equal opportunity for the Overall title, the line formed to buy what they were selling.

But as some saw technical brilliance in the concept, England’s David Evans saw snake oil. Here’s his view:


Having raced for 60 years in conventionally handicapped long races (in Europe it is almost exclusively time on time based systems), the issue in diverse fleet is usually that bigger boats most often gain undeservedly.

They get around a mark on a favorable tide, whereas smaller boats often get hours of foul tide, or, as often happens regularly, bigger boats finish in wind, after which the wind dies and the slower boats gain hours of slopping around.

I remember during the 1985 RORC Channel Race, we were in Class 5, in a Half Tonner, and after two days of racing we had the race utterly and completely nailed, approaching the finish at the Nab Tower (in the Solent).

But when we were a mile from the finish, the wind dropped to virtually zero, the tide turned, we slopped about for four hours, and not only was our lead destroyed, but we missed the finish time limit by five minutes.

This is what happens all day every day in handicap races. There is of course no answer, as boats of differing performance are going to be at different places and consequently get differing conditions, but it always seems that the biggest fastest boats are typically rewarded by changing conditions. The reverse happens sometimes, but it seems to me, however, very rarely.

The only real answer is one design racing, but that can be an even bigger “arms race”, as the reduced variables heighten their value. For those who can afford the best crew and new sails for every major event, and are happy to pay boat yards for scrubs and bottom sanding every other week, tend to win. Take a look at Dragons or Etchells if you don’t believe this!

So this is the nature of our sport, those of us who compete really tend to race against ourselves. Was the sail handing perfect, did we get the shifts right, did we get out of the tide/into the tide as best as possible, did we sail as few yards as possible etc?

If the answer is yes, then we go home happy, and if not, we work at getting it right for the next time. This is why competing is all and winning is only a very minor part of it.

Which is why, with over 60 years of competitive racing under my belt, I am spending all winter, stripping my bottom – working over my head with a long board (and at my age this in a non-trivial activity), determined to get that last tenth of a knot out of my boat for the upcoming season!

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