The buzz during Friday night registration at the St. Croix International Regatta back in February, actually a little heated yelling and screaming, centered on what boats appropriately fit in the Racer-Cruiser class and which should sail in Performance Cruiser.
Regatta director Juliet San Martin explains the basic theory behind the designations: “Racer-Cruisers are heavier displacement boats without a planing hull. They’re expected to fly a spinnaker. The big difference between them and Spinnaker boats is that they are measured heavy. They don’t have a stripped out hull. On the other hand, boats can go into the Performance Cruising class from either Racer Cruiser or Spinnaker. The issue is whether they are measured light or heavy. They can fly a spinnaker or not, and are scored accordingly, but they have to declare their intentions at the onset of the regatta. What the Performance Cruiser designation allows is for a Spinnaker boat that is light on crew or with crew inexperienced in handling a Spinnaker to still be able to race in a class competitively.”
The problem, though, is that there are no written guidelines in the CSA handicap rule in black and white to take controversy out of these classifications. All At Sea put this quandary to CSA Chief Measurer Jeffrey Chen, who offered his insight:
“The manifestation of this issue in St. Croix is somewhat unique for two main reasons. First is that this is a reasonably small regatta and, as such, just does not have the ability to field the number of classes required for all the groupings that apply to the fleet. This means that several groups may be lumped into a single class or individuals that may be put into classes that they would not ordinarily belong. Second, and probably the bigger influence on this, is the fact this is the first regatta of the C.O.R.T. Series. The classes that are developed in St Croix then stand for the rest of the series, hence there is further pressure on the
To re-cap the CSA handicap rule and what it does, Chen adds, “The Caribbean Sailing Association Rating Rule is a rating rule that attempts to quantitatively estimate the speed potential of racing yachts. A direct derivative of this is that we can usually separate the various racing yachts into groups that have some commonality in terms of expected performance in specific courses and conditions. One of the functions of the CSA Regatta Measurer is to advise the Race Committee of these groupings relative to the courses and conditions. Not all the regattas avail themselves of this service and many Allocation Committees choose to ignore the advice given, sometimes justifiably-so, based on certain criteria.”
For example, Chen continues, “In an ideal regatta, we would be able to separate the fleet into these classes where like race with like. Unfortunately, there are not many ideal regattas and difficult decisions are made by the Race Committee and sometimes by a Class Allocation Committee or sometimes by an individual appointed by the Race Committee.
“These decisions must take into consideration much more than just the speed potential of the boats. For instance, consideration must be given to safety (are the yachts suited to the conditions expected on the race course?), maneuverability (can you put a low rated 50-foot yacht to race with a bunch of 30-foot yachts with similar ratings?), exclusivity (you may have a bunch of class boats and one outsider with a similar rating), abnormality (you may have one or two boats that just do not belong in any of the obvious groupings/classes), and finally, yacht club/event/regatta politics (always those competitors who are pot hunting or looking for the weakest competition in order to win prizes).”
He adds, “Given that a Class Allocation Committee/Person has to deal with a generous helping of all of the above, no wonder it is always difficult and invariably one or sometimes a few of the competitors feel a bit resentful (usually claiming never to return – but showing up the next year hoping that things may be more favorable). The bottom line is that the Race Committees have to deal with all the yachts that register to race, and that not everyone will be satisfied with where they are placed.”
Chen says he is prepared to put in writing class guidelines from a CSA rating standpoint. “But,” he says, “I am fully aware that no Regatta that uses the CSA Rule will be bound to these guidelines. I am also going to be speaking with the St Croix Yacht Club about some suggestions that may improve the present situation with their Regatta. Class Allocation can only be made more consistent through dialogue and co-operation of the region’s stakeholders in yacht racing. The CSA sponsored Regatta Organizer’s Conference is the ideal forum for this.”