I've always been a one-design guy myself. I've raced Lasers against Lasers, and Sunfish against Sunfish mainly. First boat across the line wins.
But in many yacht clubs where they have a variety of classes they have some kind of handicap racing. Someone works out a conversion factor for every boat and they do some mathematical jiggery pokery to convert all the times it takes every boat to sail around the course to some common base. The bigger faster boats cross the line first but some guy in a slow boat at the back of the fleet might win on corrected time if he is a better sailor than the guys with the big boats.
The Portsmouth Yardstick is one of these handicapping systems. The tables in the link are calculated from elapsed times of actual races sent in by yacht clubs all over the country to US Sailing. So the handicaps are based on the performance of real boats of each class raced by real people in real races.
Of course no system is perfect. And if you are always being beaten by the same boat it is natural to believe that the fault lies in the handicapping system. Today I received this email from one of my readers...
I own a Choate Cf 27. The Yacht club where I race the boat uses the Portsmouth Rating system. I have to race an E Scow. In the Portsmouth system my boat is rated 75.3 and the E Scow is rated 75. Where did Portsmouth get these numbers? There is no way this right. I have written Portsmouth to try to get the rating changed and the say they have the number to prove the rating is right.
Hmmm. I don't know why he thinks I can help him. As I mentioned before I'm more of a one-design kind of guy. I have done some handicap racing and even won my old club's multi-class championship in a regatta scored using the Portsmouth Yardstick system.
Why is it a "yardstick" by the way? I've no idea.
Anyway I did do a bit of googling around about Choate Cf 27 and handicapping methods, and discovered an interesting story about a Cf 27. Apparently back in 1996 some guy bought a rather tired, 18-year-old Cf 27, slapped on a coat of paint, and picked up a few new sails. He entered it in a 116 boat handicap regatta in San Diego and on a 7 mile course won his class by over 9 minutes.
So don't blame the boat, my friend. Don't blame the handicap system. Prepare the boat well and you may well do as well as the San Diego guy. The full story is at Dennis's Menace.
Oh yeah, I forget to mention, the skipper of the Cf 27 in the San Diego race was Dennis Conner.
Any comments, observations or advice from readers who are into handicap racing?