Split time?

Last July marked the official debut of yet another international sailboat racing handicapping rule, and with it the possibility of a major schism within the offshore racing fraternity. The fracture could occur along national lines if racing authorities in Britain and France promote their new, home-grown handicapping systemthe International Rule, Measured (IRM)while the International Sailing Federation (and presumably the majority of its member countries) stick it out with the beleaguered IMS (International Measurement System).

At the same time, a growing number of serious racers, particularly in North America, are eschewing handicap racing in favor of the various big-boat one-design classes. Historically, however, it’s been difficult to sustain big fleet racing in one-design classes, which are too large for easy, convenient trailering.

The new IRM rule is supposedly configured to “fit” today’s exciting, high-performance one designsMumm 30s, Mount Gay 30s, Corel 45s, Farr 40s, J/125s, etc.without requiring much by way of costly “optimization.”

Of course, nothing is assured at this point, and for owners whose wish to compete at the international level during the next few years, the choices may not be easy.

Handicapping issues were certainly front and center at last summer’s Champagne Mumm Admiral’s Cup, during which three boat teams from many of the world’s top sailing nations gathered at Cowes on the southeast coast of England to vie for offshore racing supremacy. This Admiral’s Cup, unlike previous editions, was predominantly a one-design regatta. Only the big boats (45 to 50 feet) from each team sailed as IMS handicap entries. So in a sense, the ’99 Admiral’s Cup represented a crossroads in Grand Prix racing. For Admiral’s Cup 2001, event organizers must soon decide whether to go “all one design,” remain with a mix of one-design and handicap boats, or return to all handicap. And if handicap racing gets the nod (as seems most likely), will it be under IMS or the new IRM?

Admiral’s Cup ’99

Since 1957, the Champagne Mumm Admiral’s Cup, or CMAC as it’s often called, has tenaciously clung to its informal but well-established title as the “world series of ocean racing.” No question, the Volvo World Ocean Race (formerly the Whitbread) and Hawaii’s Kenwood Cup have joined the CMAC at pinnacle of Grand Prix keelboat racing, yet there’s no denying the significance of an Admiral’s Cup victory. The U.S. entered CMAC ’99 as defending champion, having won for the fourth time in ’97. On the other hand, there’s little carry-over from one CMAC to the next, because, even more than in the mainstream professional sports, top sailors operate as itinerant free agents and serve whichever program is currently paying the piper.

Although contemporary Admiral’s Cups no longer attract the 15 or more teams who attended during the heyday of the International Offshore Rule (IOR), the number of teams with the skill and depth for a realistic shot at winning has always hovered at around half a dozen. In ’99 there was a total of nine entriesup a couple from an all-time low two years before. Had New Zealand and Japan not been over-extended due to America’s Cup campaigns, there would likely have been eleven.

The CMAC format consists of a mix of inshore day races in the tricky, tide-swept Solent and a pair of offshore contests; the latter is heavily weighted in the overall scoring. In recent CMACs, each three-boat team has consisted of a one-design “small boat”the well-established International Mumm 36plus two IMS handicap racing boats, one of about 40 feet and the other 50. For ’99, the team formula was further amended by replacing the mid-sized IMS boat with a second one design, this time a new and unfamiliar one. The Sydney 40, built in Australia, is by all accounts a decent, all-around race boat that’s avoided the more bizarre rating game manipulations that are currently plaguing the IMS. However, the main reason the Sydney 40 got the nod for CMAC was an unprecedented promotional charter offer from the primary builder, Bashford International: just one pound sterling per boat, plus a suit of sails. With Britain’s Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) bending over backward to coax more nations back to their premier event, such largesse was more than welcome. The RORC also decided to swell the CMAC ranks by admitting “regional” as well as national teams, thus paving the way for a potent Team Europe entry and a hastily assembled Commonwealth Team.

CMAC ’99 had two main themes. The racing itself was relentlessly tough and close, with six teams still in the running for an overall win at the start of the 380-mile finale. High-stakes racing in confined waters produced a rash of protests, and the U.S. big boat, Idler, was severely compromised by a couple nasty collisions and a violent grounding. Figuring out how to tune and handle the unfamiliar Sydney 40a brand-new one-design that had staged its first major championship only a week before CMACwas key to success in ’99. The British team probably lost the regatta due to problems getting their S-40 up to speed, and only the first- and second-place teams regularly finished all three of their boats in the top half of the fleet. When the dust had settled, the Dutch team emerged with its first-ever Admiral’s Cup, with team Europe second, and Great Britain third. The U.S. team finished fifth behind Germany.

As expected, the challenges plaguing the IMS were exemplified in the Admiral’s Cup 50-footers, all of which had big-section masts, internal ballast/low stability, and hull shapes tweaked for rating advantage at the expense of outright performance. In absolute terms, these boats are distinctly slower than the 50-foot IMS boats from five or six years back; and indeed, significantly smaller, simpler one designs like the Corel 45 can usually outpace them. But, the biggest IMS-related issue of the ’99 Admiral’s Cup revolved around the French 50 footer, Krazy K-Yote Two, an ingenious “rule-beater” that ultimately withdrew from the regatta in protest when saddled with what her owners viewed as a punitive, last-moment handicap adjustment. A closer look at this story reveals much about what’s troubling the IMS, and explains perhaps why two leading sailing nations may be poised to break ranks with the rest of the ISAF.

The Krazy K-Yote Two controversy

The heart of the IMS is some elaborate computer software known as a velocity prediction program or VPP. Numerous hull and rig data obtained by a detailed measurement of the actual boat supply the input needed to predict performance under various wind conditions on each point of sail. Unfortunately, despite its inherent sophistication and numerous refinements introduced over the years, these performance predictions can never be absolutely precise. Clever, analytically inclined designers backed by clients with exceptionally deep pockets have identified areas where the VPP used by IMS gives too much “credit” for certain speed-reducing characteristics such as “tree-trunk” masts, bloated aft sections, and undesirably low stability. Lately, some peculiarities alarmingly reminiscent of the twilight days of the IOR have appeared: ultra-light high-tech hulls loaded with internal lead ballast, and deep keels in which the bottom half of the fin and even the bulb are fashioned from wood and fiberglass.

Krazy K-Yote Two was conceived to take maximum advantage of the IMS allowance for aerodynamic drag associated with large-section mastsa weakness in the VPP already being exploited to some extent by most leading designers. But 27-year-old naval architect Juan Kouyoumdjian went considerably further, giving his 50-footer an huge, unstayed wing mast that tapered from about 31-by-15 inches at deck level to 12-by-six inches at the tip.

Rotating masts are not permitted under IMS, but until now, no one had perceived a need to restrict the “inconsequential” twist that often occurs in conventional masts as a result of mainsail and running backstay loads. What Kouyoumdjian did was to engineer a carbon-fiber mast that was mechanically stiff both longitudinally and athwartships, but flexible in torsion. Accordingly, the upper portions of the rig were designed to twist up to 24°, which partially aligns the wing section with the air flow to reduce drag. Better yet, thanks to this twist, the upper portions of the mast can actually go to work as worthwhile, unmeasured upwind sail area, providing extra drive while simultaneously earning a healthy windage credit under IMS. (Whether deliberate, substantial mast twist constitutes “illegal” mast rotation is another issue, not yet resolved.)

And as if this was not enough, IMS automatically awarded Krazy K-Yote Two a further allowance for the aerodynamic drag of conventional shrouds and spreaders, because the VPP contains no provisions for an unstayed rig. Amazingly, the free-standing spar was only 10% heavier than a comparable full-race carbon mast with the associated standing rigging. Credit excellent engineering and superb construction by Goetz Marine of Bristol, R.I., which built the 78-foot rig along with the rest of this offbeat boat.

Krazy K-Yote Two was briefly test-sailed in New England before being shipped to the U.K., but owing to severe time constraints, was never worked up against comparably sized race boats prior to the Admiral’s Cup. Although most individual sailors in Cowes were intensely curious to see how this innovative racer would fare against a conventional fleet, several CMAC team leaders expressed dismay and threatened to withdraw from the competition if Krazy K-Yote Two was allowed to race under her original IMS certificate. Team Europe and Italy filed technical protests, basically on the grounds her novel rig gave her an unfair advantage.

The IMS is administered by the Offshore Racing Council (ORC), a subsidiary of the ISAF that often exercises considerable autonomy. Two days before the first CMAC race, Nicola Sironi, the ORC’s Chief Measurer, issued a “rating correction” which was immediately appealed by Ortwin Kandler, Krazy K-Yote Two’s owner. To make a long, sad story short, an international jury upheld the ORC’s right to administer the IMS as it sees fit, although their judgment included sharp criticism for having failed to address the matter much sooner. Kandler returned to France in disgust, refusing to race under what he regarded as a “fudged” rating, and for a brief time the entire French team withdrew to express their indignation. Last minute persuasion by CMAC organizers eventually coaxed a gutted, two-boat French team to the start lineparticipation demanded by Champagne Mumm as a condition for its future involvement as primary event sponsor. Krazy K-Yote two a yacht built specifically for the ’99 Admiral’s Cupwill probably never be raced; a real pity considering the promise her novel rig appears to offer for voyaging as well as racing applications. Certainly, there was widespread sympathy for Kandler and Kouyoumdjian, who had created an ingenious boat consistent with the existing IMS rule, only to have the rug pulled out from beneath them at the 11th hour. Somehow, it didn’t seem quite cricket.

Enter IR2000

Two years ago, in the face of faltering support for IMS racing in the U.K. and France, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and its counterpart, the Union National pour la Course au Large, jointly announced plans to develop an alternative handicapping system for the new millennium to be called International Rule 2000. IR2000 would encompass the existing Channel Handicap System (CHS), which has successfully served a diverse fleets of racer/voyager types since 1985. Under the new proposal it would be re-named the International Rule, Club, or IRC, but would remain essentially unchanged.

The key feature of CHS/IRC handicapping is its proprietary rating formula that, in principle at least, precludes rule exploitation. In practice, astute designers have deduced the parameters of the secret rule, enabling aggressive campaigners to build “CHS Specials” that usually blow away the stock production boats. Just as the IMSoriginally developed to serve the casual cruiser/racer crowdwas ambushed by the Grand Prix hotshots in the early ’90s after the IOR collapsed, the CHS has been increasingly pressured by keen racers transferring from the IMS ranks.

In an effort to persuade the more aggressive, hard-core campaigns to leave CHS/IRC handicapping to its original club racing constituency, IR2000 offers a second, entirely new rule known as International Rule, Measured, or IRM. Unlike the IRC, the formulas involved are in the public domain. In fact, you can download a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet from the RORC web site, www.sailing.org/rorc, and play at optimizing the IRM rating of your boat on a home computer. Straightforward, do-it-yourself measurement can provide most of the required input data, although accurate boat weight and the inclining test required to assess stability may present a challenge. Output is a single-time correction factor (TCF), not the multiple wind speed-linked TCFs provided by the IMS. Single handicap racing, although potentially less equitable, is overwhelmingly more popular with competitors who naturally want to be able to determine how they’re doing while still on the course.

The IRM spread sheet provides base values representing optimum sailarea, beam, draft, righting moment, etc., for a yacht of a given “L” or sailing length. As the boat’s actual measurements deviate from these optimal values, the handicap becomes progressively less favorable. No question, the IRM rule will be “type-forming,” just as the IOR once was, and more recently the IMS. In this case, however, the rule makers are striving to encourage a breed of race boats that are lighter, stiffer, and more “powered-up” than the majority of existing designs. Unlike the IMS, the IRM gives no “credits” for features that cost speeda feature that will hopefully forestall the usual efforts to develop rule-beaters. Skeptics, of course, suspect that the open, straightforward character of the IRM will lead to unforeseen developments with less-than-desirable implications.

Can IR2000 succeed?

The RORC’s triumphant announcement of their IRM plans fell short of being a triumph in public relations. Indeed, many sailors were irritated about what they perceived as a cavalier dismissal of the IMS and the paternalistic prescription of an unknown alternative. Now that details of the new rule are available, sailors and designers are beginning to evaluate the IR2000 plan on a more concrete basis, but most are adapting a “wait and see” attitude. After enduring a costly wave of design obsolescence when IOR bit the dust, it’s understandable that many sailors would prefer to see evolutionary refinements of the IMS rather than an entirely unknown, untested system.

And IR2000 is not the only proposed new alternative. U.S. Sailing has developed a simplified derivative of IMS called Americap that permits inexpensive VPP-based handicaps to be issued for series-built boats when IMS measurement data from sisterships is already on file. So far, Americap has yet to achieve widespread recognition, although it’s been used for a handful of events, including the recent Marion Bermuda race. Because Americap certificates are only available to standardized production boats, one-off racing machines still need to go the full IMS route. On the other hand, if Americap catches on, today’s hot offshore one designs will sooner or later find themselves eligible for Americap ratings, and again the foxes will be loose in the hen house.

RORC’s concept for IR2000 ushers in the IRM on the coattails of a robust CHS/IRC. But while Channel Handicapping has a solid 14-year track record in the U.K. and France and has more recently attracted converts elsewhere in Europe and the Far East, it is hardly “international” in the same sense as the IMS. To become a truly worldwide system, IR2000 would require the official endorsement of the ISAFmost unlikely until the IRC has been adopted in quite a few more sailing areas and the IRM thoroughly tested and de-bugged.

The most enticing feature of the IRM is the type of boats that it encourage sextremely light, stable, powerful designs that will undoubtedly be a real blast to sail. North American performance boat owners who have become disgruntled with the capricious, often subjective nature of PHRF handicapping may be eager to give the IRM a try. The acid test will come when the first purpose-built IRM boats take on existing hot one-designs such as the OD-35 and Farr 40. If both types stand a fair chance under IRM, IR2000 quite likely has a rosy future. If not, it may be tough to get the numbers needed for viable IRM racing fleets.

Contributing editor Sven Donaldson, a former sailmaker, is a marine technical writer based on the West Coast.

By Ocean Navigator