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The Great Debate: Handicapping the CSA Rule

Handicapping proved the great debate earlier this year when
a group of Puerto Rican sailors opted to run their island’s largest regatta
under the Performance Handicap Rating Factor (PHRF), while a group of fellow
islanders organized their own event on Culebra under the Caribbean Sailing
Association (CSA) Rule.

This division
lends itself to a closer look at the CSA rule, how it developed and where it
stands today as an effective handicap.

According to Jeffrey Chen, CSA Chief Measurer, “the CSA rule
began in Trinidad about 30 years ago. It was developed by Hal Rapier and was
then known as the West Indian Yachting Association Rule or WIYAR. As such, it
was a derivative of the IYRU (International Yacht Racing Union) rule. The WIYAR
was prevalent in the southern Caribbean and migrated up as far as Antigua
before going into a slump in the late 1980s.”

The reason for the
slump, Chen explains, was the rule’s tendency to type-form, meaning that it
favored one type of boat over another.

By this time, the
rule had evolved into the Caribbean Yachting Association (CYA) rule. Since the
rule didn’t keep current with newer yacht designs, dissatisfied sailors and
regatta organizers on islands such as Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands
experimented with the use of the PHRF handicap.

“The drawback was
that each club assigned a PHRF number to a boat,” Chen explains. “Therefore, at
a big regatta where boats from many islands attended, there were many arguments
about what handicapping number to use and this created dissatisfaction.
Caribbean sailors like to modify their boats and PHRF doesn’t deal with this
well.”

In the late 1980s
and early 1990s, Chen continues, “David DeVries from St. Maarten put a lot of
effort into getting the rule back where it should be. This took math,
statistical analysis, education so that all islands used it correctly, and a
bit of politicking to sell the rule. David also instigated regatta measurers,
independent of the event, who could sort out rating disputes before they became
protests. The goal or mandate of the CSA rule is to accommodate the
competition.”

Defined, CSA is a
measurement rule. Its core is made up of key physical parameters that are
measured on each boat. Then, quantitative estimates are used to evaluate
subjective qualities. There is also a “secret” aspect of the formula.

The CSA rule and
the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s IRC (International Rule Club) rule – a newer
measurement-based handicap system that’s been adopted by prestigious events
like the Annapolis-Newport Race, The Marblehead-Halifax Race, and Key West Race
Week – are very similar, says Chen.

Chen, in fact, was
one of a delegation invited from the Caribbean to the Storm Trysail Club in New
York last September to give a presentation about the CSA rule. “Dick Neville,
the club’s Commodore, said our worst nightmare would be for the CSA rule to
spread nationally and he is right,” Chen says. “The reason that CSA works so
well in our region is the experience of the measurers on each island. We are
proactive and actively modify the rule. CSA is tailored and customized for the
Caribbean, by Caribbean sailors for Caribbean events.”

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