The Newport Bermuda race has one of the most diverse fleets in offshore racing. Competitors include virtually every monohull boat type, from classic ocean racers of the 1960’s to modern lightweight carbon fiber fliers. In designating a handicapping structure for the 2008 race, our goal is to use a system which provides the fairest opportunity for every competitor to win, regardless of the age of the boat or the rating rule to which it may have been designed.
Handicapping any fleet on an ocean-racing course is a challenge. This is particularly true for the 635-mile Newport Bermuda Race, which typically includes a large amount of close-reaching or fetching.
Big-boat racing is today dominated by two primary approaches to handicapping: single-number rating rules such as IRC, and VPP (Velocity Prediction Program) systems such as ORR.
With any handicapping system, designers and owners look for exploitable characteristics in the rules to find an edge on the race course. These characteristics are typically speed-producing factors that are either ignored or underestimated by the handicapping algorithm.
Single-number rating rules typically measure a limited number of speed-producing factors in a desire for simplicity. With a smaller number of characteristics measured, greater opportunities exist to exploit that rule over time. Hence, newer boats designed to a single-number rule typically dominate older designs built to the same rule. Boats that were not designed to that rule at all are almost always at an enormous disadvantage compared to boats built to the parameters of the rule.
A thoughtfully-constructed single number rule can provide good racing for similar boats designed to that rule, particularly for a series of races over the variety of courses. Single-number rules are far less successful at equitably handicapping mixed fleets of diverse boat types for a single ocean race.
VPP-based rules such as ORR (the Offshore Racing Rule) incorporate a much broader range of performance-generating characteristics in the handicapping algorithm, making it far more difficult to create boats with an advantage in performance versus rating. ORR also evaluates a boat’s performance on all points of sail and in all wind conditions, making it possible to custom-design a handicapping scenario for a specific race course.
In addition, a basic measure of seaworthiness—the stability index—is derived for every boat as part of the ORR measurement process. The stability index measures a boat’s resistance to capsize, and its ability to right itself in the event of capsize. The clubs that sponsor the Newport Bermuda Race have a profound interest in offshore safety. Ensuring the seaworthiness of the fleet for this challenging ocean race is a primary objective.
For the Newport Bermuda Race, the ability to equitably handicap the diverse fleet using ORR far outweighs the apparent complexity of a VPP-based rule. Racing under successive generations of VPP rules for the last 25 years has produced an astonishing variety of winners in this premier offshore event. Yes, there will be “big-boat years” and “small-boat years” based on varying weather conditions over a big patch of ocean. But every competitor in the Newport Bermuda Race can come to the starting line on June 20, 2008 knowing that the handicapping structure is both comprehensive and unbiased.
For these reasons, ORR is the primary handicapping system chosen for the 2008 Newport Bermuda Race. All boats will race under ORR in all divisions, with the option of selecting dual scoring under ORR and IRC in the St. David’s Lighthouse and Gibbs Hill Lighthouse divisions.
The keys to success in the Newport Bermuda Race are simple: prepare your boat and crew well, analyze the Gulf Stream and weather properly, put your boat in the right place on the race course, and sail your heart out.
If you do this, we can guarantee you that the handicapping system we use will give you the fairest possible chance to win some of the biggest prizes in offshore racing.