By John Fries
Handicap racing in the U.S. is an interesting journey with many twists and turns, and like many racers Eastern Connecticut competitors have been racing under PHRF (Performance Handicap Rating Formula) for a number of years. PHRF has been a trusty companion but has faced stiff challenges in providing fair handicaps with ever-changing boat types in our fleets and a wide diversity of race courses.
While serving on the Connecticut PHRF board I saw these challenges firsthand, and the need for a modern handicapping system to more equitably handle the task. Twenty years ago we had larger handicap fleets, which allowed us the ability to group boats together into classes with similar performance characteristics.
Fast forward to 2023 and its now not uncommon to see a Melges 24 in the same class as a Frers 33, a difficult situation to score fairly and consistently with a single number handicapping system especially when you consider roughly 50% of the races in Eastern Connecticut are Random Leg/Distance Race formats and not Windward/Leeward courses from which most of the data is derived to adjust ratings.
In the “East End” we assembled a committee to look at handicapping options moving forward, and after careful study the answer was clear: ORC. This system, developed and maintained by the Offshore Racing Congress, is a scientific VPP-based handicapping and scoring system that is the largest of its kind used worldwide and is administered here by US Sailing.
“Since ORC certificates were first issued by US Sailing in 2015, the interest and growth of this system in the U.S. has grown at an exceptionally fast rate,” said ORC Communications Director Dobbs Davis. “Last year, over 1,000 certificates were issued on all coasts and in the Great Lakes regions. We’re seeing this because competitors at all levels have been looking for a system that is accessible, accurate, consistent and objective, and offers fair racing for all boat types.”
Being VPP (Velocity Prediction Program)-based, ORC is fully-objective, using boat, rig and sail dimensions with scientific formulations to generate speed predictions over a broad range of wind speeds and wind angles. There are no subjective elements used in the handicaps. These ratings are in turn used to generate handicaps based on the course model used for scoring. ORC offers numerous course model ratings for use by Race Committees based on their decisions on course geometry and/or wind conditions: the better the information used to define the scoring model, the more accurate and fair will be the race results.
These course option ratings include Windward/Leeward, All Purpose, Predominantly Upwind, Predominantly Downwind, etc., and even includes race models used in events like the Chicago-Mackinac Race. This use of course modeling and wind speeds in the scoring is a key element that allows ORC to more equitably handicap a wide range of designs that often have dramatically different performance characteristics.
In the 2022 season we decided to try out ORC in the “East End” by testing its use for a wide range of races: the Donzo Wednesday Night Series, the Mudhead Benefit Cup, the Ram Island Invitational, the Mason’s Island Regatta and the ‘Round Fishers Island Race. The combination of Windward/Leeward and Distance races with boats ranging from a Capo 30 to an Italia 11.98 proved to be the perfect test. Over the course of the season we carefully looked at the corrected times in the races and found that ORC was an excellent solution to handicap our diverse fleet. The corrected times across a wide range of courses and conditions were significantly closer than they were using PHRF ratings in all of these scored races.
“The Mystic River Mudheads are excited to be part of this new racing series, which promises close and fair racing across the eastern end of Long Island Sound,” said Mudhead Commodore Matt Curtiss. “The Mudheads have always been about encouraging competitive racing, and ORC is another way to help foster and promote race participation.”
After the success of ORC in the 2022 season we started working on 2023. Given how successful the results were in ’22 and the growing interest from area yacht clubs and competitors, we decided an ORC season championship was the best fit – thus the advent of the “2023 ORC East End Cup.”
This new 7-race series includes a wide range of challenges from multi-race Windward/Leeward events to long and short Distance races. The series winners will have thus demonstrated proficiency in a variety of racing disciplines. The various course types used in these events are also ideally suited to the flexible scoring options that ORC has to offer.
“We are excited to have another racing series in our area for our fleet,” said Mudhead Past Commodore Toby Halsey. “As the coordinator of the Island Cup which looks at overall scoring from three area races, we are partnering with the ORC East End Cup to offer ORC as part of our series. I think ORC is a more fair way of scoring.”
The participating events in the 2023 ORC East End Cup are:
May 19 Essex Yacht Club Sam Wetherill Race
July 15 Mudhead Benefit Cup
July 22 Essex Yacht Club Rum Challenge
July 28 Mudnite Madness Overnight
August 19 Mason’s Island Yacht Club Regatta
August 26 Ram Island Yacht Club Invitational Regatta
September 2 Fishers Island Yacht Club ‘Round Island Race
To help streamline the process of obtaining an ORC certificate, the East End Committee has expanded on its relationship with US Sailing, ORC, and US Sailing-certified measurers. We help collect sail measurements as well as other data to make the process easier for owners. This cooperative approach has helped more owners get certificates in a shorter time frame than ever before, and with higher degrees of accuracy. A Win-Win for all involved.
“Adjusting a boat’s rating for wind conditions and course configurations are the primary appeal for ORC from my view as a PRO for nearly two decades,” said Mudhead Past Commodore Greg Gilmartin. “That’s acknowledging the elephant in the room and finding a place for it to play.” To learn more, visit orc.org and ussailing.org. ■
John Fries is the owner of Fries Sail Design and has 32 years of experience in the sailmaking industry. His racing and design experience ranges from Dinghies/One-Design to mixed handicap racing under a number of rating rules, through to Super Yachts and the America’s Cup.