The not-so-great divide

Published on August 18th, 2021

For Australian boating magazine AFLOAT, David Salter ponders the development that has changed how we acknowledge performance in the sport of offshore racing.

There is a neat compound word in the German language – luftpause – meaning “a brief pause in which to take breath”. The regrettable cancellation of the 2020 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race provides us with just such a pause – an unhurried opportunity to reconsider a fundamental aspect of the event.

To my mind the most obvious issue to which the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia might give some immediate attention is the manner in which the annual fleet is now fractured into an ever-increasing multiplicity of divisions.

In what we now look back on as the golden era, when the great traditions of the event were forged, all yachts in the Sydney-Hobart raced as one fleet and under a common handicapping regime.

Sail GP

For the abandoned 2020 Hobart (and already announced on the official race website for 2021), these were the divisions: Line Honours, IRC, ORCi, PHS, 2-handed Line Honours, 2-handed IRC, 2-Handed ORCi, 2-Handed PHS, Corinthian IRC, Corinthian PHS and Sydney 38.

In addition to those eleven groupings, IRC is further divided into an overall prize and seven separate sub-divisions. The ORCi entrants race in five additional sub-divisions. PHS has an overall prize and two sub-divisions.

That’s approaching 25 distinct divisions, each presumably with recognition for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place – a total of around 75 trophies. Yet there were no more than 75 starters for the 2020 race.

There is solid logic to having a performance (PHS) division and measured (rated) division. Those are the two well-established approaches to handicapping. Within them, a reasonable level of sub-division also makes sense, to accommodate ‘race within a race’ competition between similar boats likely to be sailing in common weather conditions.

But 75 separate awards? Surely that’s overkill. – Full report


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