Ever since men started sailing boats they tried to race each other but when it became a sport it was soon realised that to get a ‘fair’ result, some form of handicapping had to be introduced. Early handicapping systems were based on the number of barrels of wine (tuns) a boat could carry and were fairly unsophisticated. In time, more complex methods, mathematical formulae based on measurement, were developed and, around the world, the number of different handicapping schemes multiplied, some better than others.
It probably needs to be said that there is no absolutely fair handicapping, or should we say, rating system. Differing yachts perform differently according to weather conditions and, without taking into account weather conditions, everything has to be an ‘average’. IMS (International Measurement System) made a valiant attempt at including the weather but failed as a result of its complexity.
Following the downfall of IOR (International Offshore Rule) in the mid 1980’s, much of the English speaking world, parts of continental Europe and a few other countries adopted what was known as the Channel Handicap System developed by the Royal Ocean Racing Club of the U.K. and U.N.C.L. ( Union Nationale pour la Course au Large) of France. CHS survived the test of time quite well mainly because it was a secret formula and it was difficult for designers to build yachts ‘to the rule’. But CHS was not truly international and, most importantly, was not adopted by the United States of America.
In 2000 R.O.R.C. and U.N.C.L. introduced a new rule, IR 2000 which became IRC (together with its sister rule, IRM). This rule was universally adopted by the countries already using CHS. Then in 2003, IRC was accepted by the International Sailing Federation as an international rule and during 2004 the U.S. came on board. The last available figures (Aug 2005) show over 6,000 yachts registered, with the year-end estimate at just under 7,000. Numbers are growing at between 5% and 10% per annum.
Why should the Caribbean adopt IRC? Firstly, it is fair to say that there is nothing wrong with CSA as a rating system. In some ways, it is better than IRC but it suffers from being a local system and the Caribbean is no longer a ‘local pond’. For many years, the Caribbean has attracted racing sailors from all over the world. Initially, it was mainly on locally chartered yachts but, more and more frequently, owners are bringing their own yachts to the Caribbean to race which means they have to be measured (and pay) all over again. To some degree, this did not matter as it was generally wealthier yacht owners plus a few enthusiastic racer/cruiser owners (the author included), but all this has changed with the U.S. adopting IRC.
In 2005 nearly 500 U.S. yachts, mostly production racer/cruisers, held IRC certificates, with this number already exceeded by June 2006. Within a few years the number of racer/cruisers holding IRC Certificates in the U.S. could be several thousand. The Caribbean is perfectly poised to take advantage of this new influx of available racing yachts on its doorstep and it’s an opportunity not to be missed.
Introducing IRC need not mean the demise of CSA. Countries who have adopted IRC often maintain a local rating system. Technical Director of the R.O.R.C. Rating Office Mike Urwin comments “I am a wholehearted supporter of local systems including such as CSA. They provide the entry point for many, many people. So, personally, I would almost go as far as saying that if IRC were to be adopted, then CSA would still remain an essential part of the local infrastructure”.
In essence, it is only when it comes to racing designed to attract international competition that IRC becomes essential.
John Duffy raced both nationally and internationally under the CHS and IRC rating systems and was a member of the U.K. CHS and IRC Councils.