Club cruiser-rac­ers

Peter K Poland ex­tols the so­cia­ble, sport­ing and em­i­nently af­ford­able virtues of cruiser-rac­ing

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

Swift sailing with a so­cial spin

Sailing has al­ways been a so­cia­ble sport. And clubs – be they down-to-earth sailing clubs run ‘by mem­bers for mem­bers’ or grander royal yacht clubs with salaried staff – have al­ways been at the heart of sailing.

Whether you en­joy a cruise in com­pany, a so­cial get-to­gether, an oc­ca­sional jovial ses­sion at the bar, low-key club rac­ing or higher-oc­tane re­gatta weeks, sailing clubs come up with the goods. Without them – and the pub­lic-spir­ited peo­ple who help ad­min­is­ter them on a vol­un­tary ba­sis – our sport would have less to of­fer and pro­vide fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties to get to­gether with like-minded sailing folk.

Club rac­ing splits into three cat­e­gories: dinghies, keel­boats and cruiser-rac­ers. The dinghy sec­tion is pop­u­lar with all gen­er­a­tions and dou­bles up as a train­ing ground for young­sters – es­sen­tial for any club look­ing to en­cour­age its next gen­er­a­tion of mem­bers. Keel­boat rac­ing in older wooden classes (like X Boats and lo­cal One De­signs) and GRP rac­ers (like the Na­tional Squib, Fly­ing 15 and RS Elite etc) re­mains pop­u­lar with sailors who en­joy a short, cap­size-free One De­sign blast fol­lowed by a ses­sion ashore. And cruis­er­rac­ing en­com­passes any­thing from a mod­est 18ft Mi­cro Ton­ner right up to a sump­tu­ous Swan. Split­ting the fleet into sep­a­rate di­vi­sions takes care of size vari­a­tions, and the re­sults are cal­cu­lated us­ing a va­ri­ety of hand­i­cap sys­tems.

Over a lengthy sailing ca­reer I have been lucky enough to en­joy count­less happy hours – mainly as a string puller – on all sorts of club races, and in the process I have made many great friends. That’s the joy of cruiser-rac­ing. Whether it’s in some­thing as grand as Cowes Week, as huge as the Round the Is­land Race, as muddy as Burn­ham Week, as chilly as win­ter and spring se­ries or as un­der­stated as mid­week evening rac­ing, it guar­an­tees good sport. And you needn’t own an ex­pen­sive mod­ern yacht or be a hot­shot to join in the fun.


Cruiser-racer hand­i­cap­ping tends to come in three forms. Firstly, there’s an of­fi­cial RORC-con­trolled ‘mea­sure­ment’ rule – pre­vi­ously IOR, then CHS and now the IRC (a widely used in­ter­na­tional rule). Then there was the RYA’s old PY (Portsmouth Yard­stick), now up­graded into the more sci­en­tific NHC (Na­tional Hand­i­cap scheme for Cruis­ers). And fi­nally there are lo­cal sys­tems such as the pop­u­lar Poole Harbour-de­vel­oped VPRS (ve­loc­ity pre­dic­tion rat­ing sys­tem), the ISCRS (Is­land Sailing Club Rat­ing Sys­tem used by ‘oc­ca­sional’ rac­ers in events like the Round the Is­land Race) and the suc­cess­ful Scot­tish CYCA (Clyde Yacht Clubs’ As­so­ci­a­tion) sys­tem. You can get your yacht’s rat­ing for most of the lat­ter by fill­ing in a form giv­ing the re­quired de­tails and di­men­sions, etc.

At the risk of caus­ing con­fu­sion, the new NHC was de­scribed by the RORC’s rat­ing of­fice as fol­lows. ‘All boats tak­ing part in a NHC race need a start­ing hand­i­cap which will be al­lo­cated by the RYA [from] the “Base List”... [which is] cre­ated from a rat­ing for­mula us­ing “boat show” data such as sail area, hull length, beam, weight etc.

‘The RYA will pub­lish base numbers for around 1,200 de­signs for clubs to al­lo­cate to their boats. If a de­sign is not on the base list and the RYA does not have data to cre­ate a base num­ber, the club will be given a “rat­ing cal­cu­la­tor” to cal­cu­late a base num­ber. When a boat first takes part in a club race it will start on its base num­ber. After this it will de­velop its own per­sonal club num­ber which it will use for fu­ture races.’ Clear? In essence, your num­ber works a bit like a golf hand­i­cap. It can be ad­justed up or down by the club in the light of re­sults.

How it all works

To get an ini­tial pic­ture of how this all works – and which boats take part –

I spoke to PBO’s David Harding, who races in Poole Harbour. David told me: ‘The main se­ries com­prises mid­week evening races run by Park­stone YC on Mon­day nights, Poole YC on Tues­day nights and the Royal Mo­tor YC on Thurs­days. Lil­liput SC also ar­ranges some cruiser rac­ing.’

Start­ing with Park­stone YC (of which he is a mem­ber), David ex­plained that ‘on Mon­day nights, races are sailed un­der the VPRS hand­i­cap, de­vel­oped by Ruth Kelly as a more open, fair and less ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive to IRC [see]. It’s also used out­side Poole and has largely dis­placed the less pop­u­lar PHHS, the Poole Harbour Hand­i­cap Sys­tem.

‘A typ­i­cal Mon­day night mixed fleet ranges from a speedy, ul­tra-mod­ern Ar­cham­bault A31 to a cou­ple of Hunter Sonatas [22ft 6in], var­i­ous mid-range Beneteaus, Contessa 32, Con­tention 33, one or two Su­per Seals/Parker 27s and boats of that gen­eral ilk. There are also One De­sign fleets of J24s and Cor­nish Shrimpers, so there’s some­thing to ap­peal to most tastes.’

David also races on a J109 with Poole YC. ‘Class 1 is IRC; other classes are VPRS. There are lots of Elans – typ­i­cally a 40, sev­eral 333s and a 31 or two, plus the J109, Dehler 36, Dehler 29, Sigma 33 etc. Smaller-boat/non-IRC classes in­clude sev­eral MG 27s, a First 285, H-Boat, Quar­ter Ton­ner, Moody 33, Al­bin Nova and Dehler 34 right down to the Poole YC tid­dlers – Seal 22s, Etap 20, sev­eral Splin­ters, etc.’ So – once again – va­ri­ety aplenty, and scope for lots of fun.

The Royal Mo­tor YC races on Thurs­days, and David sails on an MG346. He says ‘Class 1 is IRC; Class 2 is VPRS. In class 1 there are sev­eral Elan 333s, an Elan 410, X43, Ar­cham­bault A35, Dehler 33, First 31.7, Fi­garo II, Bavaria 35 Match and Jean­neau SO 36i. Class 2 – I used to race on an MG 335 – in­cludes Sonatas and Im­palas, Dehler 29, First 305, First 260 and even a Crab­ber 24. As the RMYC is so close to the harbour en­trance, we usu­ally race out­side, hav­ing started from the club line. That’s why most of the big­ger boats race on Thurs­days, be­cause

there’s bet­ter rac­ing out in the bay.’

When I pushed David on which boat types did best in the Thurs­day se­ries, he said the Elan 31, Dehler 29, MG346 and Dehler 33 were con­sis­tently suc­cess­ful, adding that the Sonatas and Im­palas were also com­pet­i­tive in light-weather evening races.

Healthy scene

On the south side of the So­lent, Chris Thomas (Is­land Sailing Club sailing sec­re­tary) told me: ‘Our Evening Race Se­ries runs from April to Septem­ber and reg­u­larly sees 70 boats turn out each Tues­day. We have topped 90 en­tries, but some can’t race every week.

‘For hand­i­cap­ping we use IRC, ISCRS and NHC. Both IRC and ISCRS are used in the Round the Is­land Race. NHC is used for our cruis­ers in the Evening Race Se­ries, with tan­dem IRC Re­sults. Both IRC and ISCRS are pop­u­lar through­out the year. The NHC sys­tem works well for us in our Evening Race Se­ries.

‘We’ve been run­ning a per­sonal hand­i­cap sys­tem for years... our club rac­ing scene is healthy be­cause we are open to all and we lis­ten to our com­peti­tors and move with the times. Course boards have gone and text mes­sag­ing has been added to aid the send­ing of course and fleet mes­sages.’

To get an idea of which boats do well, I looked at re­cent ISC Class 1 re­sults and found Js (97 and 109), Firsts (35, 40 and 407) and Elan (350) in the top 10. And – just to add an­tique va­ri­ety – an old but beau­ti­fully main­tained and sailed wooden Lau­rent Giles one-off sat splen­didly amongst the newer plas­tic fan­tas­tics. In second place. That’s part of the fun of hand­i­cap cruiser rac­ing: a good ‘oldie’ with qual­ity mod­ern sails and an ef­fi­cient crew can be com­pet­i­tive.

The Royal South­ern YC also en­joys a lively cruiser-rac­ing scene. Mag­gie Wid­dop (a Contessa 32 owner) told me: ‘We have two sorts of cruiser rac­ing. One is around the cans in monthly re­gat­tas or pas­sage rac­ing, and the other is sail and power rac­ing [an un­usual wheeze that other clubs might look at?].

‘We have al­ways had a cruis­ing di­vi­sion in our monthly re­gat­tas. The boats are a real mix­ture, from Folk­boats to large mod­ern pro­duc­tion boats. Mostly they are short-crewed – often with the fam­ily on board – so they don’t do as many races in a day as the IRC classes. They also join in our pas­sage races to Poole and Yar­mouth.

‘The monthly re­gat­tas are part of our Sum­mer Se­ries and the Pas­sage races are a sep­a­rate se­ries. The hand­i­cap­ping sys­tem is done by the club. We tried the RYA sys­tem in the past, but it did not suit our mem­bers.

‘We have two “sail and power” cruiser races a year. A hand­i­cap­ping sys­tem was de­vel­oped by An­gus Prim­rose to al­low for yachts to mo­tor for half the elapsed time of each leg; so it in­cludes de­tails on the en­gine, in­clud­ing horse­power and the type of pro­pel­ler. There is a penalty for over-mo­tor­ing. We also give a prize for the low­est per­cent­age of en­gine time. These are very pop­u­lar events, and the one to France has been run­ning for over 40 years.

‘The club rac­ing is prov­ing very pop­u­lar this year, with over 80 boats en­tered in our Sum­mer Se­ries. Our near neigh­bour Ham­ble River SC does Wed­nes­day evening races.’

Clyde con­trast

To get some Clyde con­trast, I con­tacted Des Balm­forth. He wrote: ‘The scene is on the up after a de­cline since 2008 fol­lowed by a plateau over the past three years. The re­cent for­ma­tion of the Scot­tish RC35 (Racer Cruiser) class as­so­ci­a­tion is a good ex­am­ple of like-minded own­ers form­ing a “box rule” to get con­sis­tent class turnout at events and their own start. There are also fairly strong One De­sign fleets of Sigma 33s and Sonatas. The busiest clubs are the Clyde Cruis­ing Club, Royal Western YC, Mud­hook YC, Fair­lie YC and Royal High­land YC.’

When it comes to hand­i­cap sys­tems, Des said: ‘IRC and CYCA are used. IRC suits those in the faster and racier classes; CYCA the slower and cruisier. The new NHC hand­i­cap is not used in the Clyde. There seems to be lit­tle ap­petite for a pro­gres­sive sys­tem.’

And what boat types are tak­ing part? Des said: ‘IRC has Corby 33s, a Mills 30, First 36.7s, Pron­avia 38, Swan 40, First 35, J109s, half ton­ners, sports­boats, Farr 727 etc. Very few of these are cruised. CYCA

has Moodys, Grand Soleils, Fast­net 34, Sigma 38, Dehler 38, Elans, Nic 35, Contessa 32, GK24 etc.’

So the pic­ture be­comes clearer... Elans, Js, Dehlers, Firsts, el­derly ½ and ¼ ton­ners etc clearly have a lot of fol­low­ers around the UK. On the cruisier front, Des added: ‘There is a fairly healthy and en­thu­si­as­tic white sails class which turns out most week­ends. They tend to be boats such as Maxi, Moody, Ocea­nis, Ri­val etc.

‘The Scot­tish Se­ries and West High­land Week re­gat­tas flour­ish. SS is the more per­for­mance-ori­ented event, but it has been widened out to al­low cruisier boats to en­ter per race for in­shore races. WHW is a clas­sic point-to-point – Oban to Tober­mory – with lo­cal races at ei­ther end. I’d say WHW at­tracts more older yachts. The area of growth in rac­ing is 33 to 38ft, where costs are not as sig­nif­i­cant as 40ft plus.’

Peter Booth – 25 years a Sonata sailor at He­lens­burgh SC – said Wed­nes­day evening rac­ing on the ‘East Patch’ in­cludes a wide cross-sec­tion of boats in­clud­ing Sig­mas, Sonatas and 707s.

Join in the fun

Mov­ing down to the East Coast, cruiser rac­ing seems to be patchy. Claire Scott of the Haven Ports Yacht Club (on the Or­well) said that a healthy mixed fleet in­clud­ing Bavarias, Moodys, Oyster 26, Dehler 34, Fin­ngulf 33 and sundry older ¼ and ½ ton­ners and ‘clas­sics’ came out to play, while agree­ing with Ant Law of the RBYC that longer races such as EAORA and ex­tended re­gat­tas like Burn­ham Week had fewer en­tries than in the past. Both said that en­cour­ag­ing boat own­ers to en­ter was a time-con­sum­ing task.

So how does a club get its mem­bers to join in the fun and go rac­ing? One of my most ac­tive ex-cus­tomers – Mike Web­ster (who owned a Hunter Sonata, Im­pala, HB 31 and 707) – re­cently moved to the West Coun­try and joined the Royal Dart Yacht Club. And – be­ing an en­thu­si­as­tic sort of chap – he was soon sucked into the club’s rac­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. He told me: ‘The prob­lem with club rac­ing is that you can get stuck in a rut, and ev­ery­one gets bored with do­ing the same old thing week in week out.’

So – Mike be­ing Mike – he got ‘in­volved’; start­ing with the new Com­modore’s Chal­lenge Cup event to cel­e­brate the RDYC’s 150th an­niver­sary. To en­cour­age en­tries, he ‘did a deal’ with the RORC whereby own­ers got a 50% price dis­count on an IRC rat­ing cer­tifi­cate in year one and 25% in year two. And the re­sult? Mike said: ‘Within three months we had 30 yachts rated. In year two, our numbers have grown to 43! Whilst no rat­ing or hand­i­cap sys­tem can be all things to all peo­ple, it has proved that rac­ing un­der IRC is the fairest avail­able as far as we are con­cerned. If one’s club is lucky enough to qual­ify for this IRC Start-Up scheme, it would cost a Sonata owner £39.90 in the first year. My SJ320 cost me £81 in our club’s second year in the scheme.’

And what about the new NHC? Mike says: ‘The joint RYA/RORC project of in­tro­duc­ing NHC was for races to be dual scored. Un­der the NHC, all yachts are given a base hand­i­cap num­ber. The re­sults sys­tem (we use HAL­sail) au­to­mat­i­cally ad­justs a yacht’s hand­i­cap after each race, so in time those at the back of the fleet will pro­gres­sively get a more ad­van­ta­geous hand­i­cap; the­o­ret­i­cally un­til they win! We score all our races un­der IRC, but the yacht that wins the NHC gets a special prize; cur­rently a pot of jam from one of our lo­cal race spon­sors! The evening rac­ing se­ries be­comes a great event, with the re­sults be­ing read out be­fore sup­per.’

The RDYC sea­son com­prises ‘Wed­nes­day evenings, typ­i­cally with 25 yachts out. This year, due to in­creased en­thu­si­asm, we have in­tro­duced spring, sum­mer and au­tumn Satur­day rac­ing. The fleet in­cludes a hot Ar­cham­bault 35, Corby 29, SJ320, J24s, Moody 31s, Elans and four Tofi­nou 7s. One Tofi­nou 7 is cur­rently vy­ing for first place in IRC Class 2 against an Elan 295.’

Mike ad­mits that it’s hard graft for those run­ning the rac­ing – but it shows what can be done when the right peo­ple ap­ply them­selves.

Good buys

Many as­sume you have to own a fin-keeler to take part in club rac­ing, but RORC’s Jenny How­ells told me IRC rat­ings have al­ready been is­sued to the twin-keel West­erly Cen­taur, Kon­sort and Ful­mar; Hunter Hori­zon 26 and Duette 23; Sadler➜

25, 29 and 290; Sea­wolf 26, Snap­dragon 24, Achilles 24 (triple keel) and French Django 770 and Surprise. Un­der CHS, a twin-keel Hunter Hori­zon 21 and 30 once both fin­ished ‘in the money’ in the Round the Is­land Race – prov­ing that twin-keel­ers with good sails can do well.

So which fin-keel­ers make good cruiser-racer buys? I was prompted to in­ves­ti­gate this by PBO reader Robert Veale, who wrote say­ing: ‘I’ve been a wooden-boat owner for 20 years and, as I’ve aged, I’ve tended to cut down on voy­ag­ing and go for a quick squirt round the cans in­stead. But up against sporty lightweights, I get stuffed at the start and spend the time play­ing catch-up. Also, I want some­thing sim­pler to main­tain.

‘With a 36ft limit on my berth, £50k-ish bud­get, maybe dou­ble-handed ca­pa­bil­ity such as an asym­met­ric kite (but not an ab­so­lute re­quire­ment), rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion for a week in France pre-Brexit, what would you go for? ’ Good ques­tion.

The Elan ‘brand’ fre­quently does well. De­signer Rob Humphreys has a real skill for find­ing a good bal­ance be­tween space and pace; and Elans also of­fer good value.

The 1999 Elan 333 is a good ex­am­ple. A high­ish SA/disp (sail area/dis­place­ment) ra­tio of 20.72 and low­ish DLR (dis­place­ment/WL length) ra­tio of 166.35 add up to speed, while a bal­last ra­tio of 38% (with a CG-low­er­ing bulbed keel) prom­ises sta­bil­ity. A gen­er­ous draught of 6ft 3in will also give good wind­ward per­for­mance. As an added bonus, the ac­com­mo­da­tion is well thought-out and she’s a pretty boat. If her size does not suit, Rob’s Elan 31 (2002) and 40 (2001) are just as good. To get a bowsprit, you need to go newer and look at the Elan 350 or 320.

Run­away suc­cess

The Js also crop up a lot. For bud­get ‘round the cans’ rac­ing, the old J24 has many fans, while the cruiser-racer J109 (2004) has been a run­away suc­cess. An SA/disp ra­tio of 21.3, DLR of 171.51 and bulbed lead keel (bal­last ra­tio 35.78%) ex­plain why this thing re­ally shifts. And note that – un­like al­most all pro­duc­tion builders – J/Boats go for lead. It costs more than iron, but is so much bet­ter.

The J109’s sprit + asym­met­ric down­wind rig is suited to cruis­ing and is po­tent around the race­course. And the in­te­rior – while sim­ply built – has ev­ery­thing you need. If you want a cheaper, more spar­tan op­tion, the 1995 J105 is a great boat. If your bud­get is big­ger, the 2008 J97 and 2012 J108 are also race-win­ners with good sea-go­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The X-332 (1994) is another com­pet­i­tive yacht that has sold well. Its SA/disp ra­tio of 21.01, DLR of 166.81, bal­last ra­tio of 34.15% and 7ft 1in draught bulbed keel are on a par with other suc­cess­ful cruiser-rac­ers, while the classy in­te­rior fin­ish is su­pe­rior to most of its type. And, of course, there are many other X yachts of vary­ing ages to choose from.

You can’t ig­nore the First range. There are many to choose from; although re­cently Beneteau has stopped build­ing larger Firsts and now only of­fers the 20 and 25. There’s ob­vi­ously more profit in an Ocea­nis.

The 1998 Finot-de­signed First 31.7 that evolved from the 310 is a con­tender. A high­ish SA/disp ra­tio of 17.55 and a low DLR of 153.38 in­di­cate slip­pery per­for­mance, and the heav­ily-bulbed 6ft 3in draught keel (27.33%) gives it up­wind bite. I en­joyed rac­ing on a 31.7 along Di­nard’s rocky shore and was im­pressed by its com­fort­able in­te­rior. The big­ger and good-look­ing Farr-de­signed First 40, 36.7 and 35-2 reg­u­larly do well on the club cruiser-racer cir­cuit.

Slip­pery hulls

Of course, there’s noth­ing to stop you club-rac­ing a more cruisey Ocea­nis. Many share the same slip­pery hulls as the Firsts, and your hand­i­cap should com­pen­sate for ex­tra weight and a smaller rig. For ex­am­ple, the Ocea­nis 300 and Clip­per 311 share the First 31.7’s Finot hull. Give the boat a silky bottom, fit a fold­ing prop and in­vest in some qual­ity sails and you could be in busi­ness.

Jean­neau and Du­four also of­fer good mod­ern cruiser-rac­ers. The Sun Fasts and quicker Sun Odysseys (such as the 36i) do well, and the re­cent Du­four 34 wins races.

The Dehler range also fea­tures promi­nently. Cees van Ton­geren (van de Stadt de­sign of­fice) came up trumps with the lovely Dehler 34 (de­vel­oped from his win­ning ¾ ton DB1 hull) and Dehler 28 (1987). These are IOR-gen­er­a­tion boats so do not have the mod­ern slim fin and bulb keel: but if you opt for the deeper-draught ver­sion you’ll have a yacht that sails beau­ti­fully, looks good and has a tidy sea-go­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion plan. The 34 and 28 have both proved to be com­pet­i­tive. If you have a big­ger bud­get, the newer Judel/Vrolijk Dehlers also do well.

Then you have the el­derly but still suc­cess­ful One De­sign classes de­signed by David Thomas. The Sonata (22ft 6in) might be small, but it’s a bun­dle of fun to sail. Its wind­ward per­for­mance is leg­endary and it wins races. The Hunter Im­pala 28 is equally suc­cess­ful. In­deed, it’s cur­rently un­der­go­ing a re­vival. Sailors have re­alised how com­pet­i­tive it is in IRC rac­ing. Then you have the Sig­mas. The 33, 36, 362 ‘cruiser’, 38 and 41 are great all-pur­pose boats. I once came second over­all crew­ing in a 362 in the huge Round the Is­land ISCRS fleet. We missed the top spot by sec­onds.

If you have the funds, some newer yachts seem to have an edge as de­sign­ers suss out the IRC sys­tem. The French JPK range (960, 110, 998 and newer 1010 and 1080) has an un­canny knack of win­ning races. You can hardly call them ‘se­date’, but they have prac­ti­cal ac­com­mo­da­tion and of­fer great sport to a keen crew.

Of course, the aim of hand­i­cap­ping sys­tems is that any old well-sailed yacht can win on its day. But a large part of the fun is the sen­sa­tion of sailing a yacht that of­fers ‘feel’ and speed. Pro­vided you get rac­ing cov­ered by your in­sur­ers, fit a fold­ing prop and de­cent sails and at­tract a few keen crew mem­bers, you’ll dis­cover that club cruis­er­rac­ing brings a whole new di­men­sion to sailing.

Sigma 33: avail­able second-hand from £13,500

Elan 333: second-hand from £30,000

This SJ320 be­longs to Mike Web­ster of the Royal Dart Yacht Club

Elan 350 (with bowsprit): avail­able second-hand from £84,000

J109: avail­able second-hand from £75,000

Moody 31: second-hand from £22,000

Du­four 34: avail­able second-hand from £63,000

X-332: avail­able second-hand from £54,000

Dehler 34: avail­able second-hand from £26,500

Beneteau First 40: avail­able second-hand from £75,000

Polly, the Hunter Im­pala 28 co-owned by PBO deputy editor Ben Meakins

JPK 960: second-hand from £90,300

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