US Sail­ing is ready to wake Amer­ica’s dinghy scene from its slum­ber. They need our help.

Sailing World - - Contents -

Ev­ery­where I travel for re­gat­tas, I see a fa­mil­iar sight: tum­ble­weeds rolling through rows and racks of dinghies ei­ther aban­doned un­der faded deck cov­ers or left to the el­e­ments, or sit­ting tilted on a flat dolly tire or a dolly with no tires at all. Even at my home­town Sail New­port, the crown jewel of Amer­i­can pub­lic- ac­cess sail­ing fa­cil­i­ties, there’s a gen­er­ous spread of dinghies and small keel­boats that on any given day or evening in sea­son, sit high and dry. The prob­lem is there’s no crit­i­cal one- de­sign mass for most them — the Weta tri­maran, the banged- up Van­guard 15, the In­ter­na­tional 14 or the lonely 1990s- vin­tage Nacra — and when there’s no crit­i­cal mass, there’s no mo­ti­va­tion for their re­spec­tive own­ers to go out and play with oth­ers.

Sail­ing alone gets old quickly. I did it one sea­son with a bor­rowed RS100 be­fore re­al­iz­ing there are only so many tacks, jibes and down­winders I can do by my­self. I wanted to race some­one, any­one, but there was no av­enue and no fleet. At the time, I looked into Portsmouth hand­i­cap with vi­sions of start­ing an in­for­mal sum­mer se­ries, which came to a dead end, but it’s been nag­ging at me for years. Why are we one-de­sign dinghy rac­ing or noth­ing at all in this coun­try? Given that PHRF rac­ing is the keel­boat sys­tem choice in the United States, it’s cu­ri­ous why dinghy sailors can’t en­joy the same ac­cess to open-fleet ac­tion. The fact that Portsmouth Yard­stick — which seems to be a good way to get small boats rac­ing and sail­ing to­gether — hardly ex­ists here is a shame.

It’s time to drain the dinghy park. I sus­pect Portsmouth Yard­stick is a vic­tim of Amer­i­can sail­ing’s pref­er­ence for one- de­sign rac­ing; we’re white sheep sail­ing in cir­cles. But when the fleet dies, so too does en­thu­si­asm. And when there’s only one fleet in town, sailors are dis­suaded to em­brace or buy newer and bet­ter de­signs. With Portsmouth, there’s an op­por­tu­nity to get more peo­ple sail­ing in the spirit of “bring what you’ve got.” It can be an in­cu­ba­tor for in­no­va­tion and a home for or­phaned classes.

Yes, there could be a catchier name than Portsmouth, which was never re­ally a high pri­or­ity for US Sail­ing. Nur­tured by vol­un­teers and lo­cal race com­mit­tees for decades, the sys­tem was and never will be per­fect. Its most no­table de­ter­rent is that those who use it must also feed it be­cause the hand­i­caps are only as good as the race re­sults sub­mit­ted by

lo­cal vol­un­teer scor­ers. And then there must be some­one, or an or­ga­ni­za­tion, to crunch the num­bers on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

For in­spi­ra­tion, we turn to the GJW Di­rect Sailjuice Win­ter Se­ries in the United King­dom, where open dinghy rac­ing has long thrived. This se­ries links sev­eral hand­i­cap re­gat­tas un­der one cham­pi­onship and crowns sea­son win­ners. It has been a boon for new and for­got­ten one- de­signs, day­sail­ers, cats and one-off skiffs. With the in­volve­ment of a few data- minded sailors, the U. K.’ s hand­i­caps ( what they call Great Lakes Hand­i­cap­ping) con­tinue to im­prove, as does com­peti­tor sat­is­fac­tion. In 2015, or­ga­niz­ers re­ported more than 1,000 sailors from 82 dif­fer­ent rac­ing classes, and in the 2016 to 2017 win­ter sea­son, a to­tal of 1,012 com­peti­tors rep­re­sent­ing 89 dif­fer­ent classes par­tic­i­pated.

Clearly, the Brits are ahead of the game and far more pro­gres­sive with their dinghy sail­ing. It’s time we fol­low their lead.

The U. K. and North Amer­ica are very dif­fer­ent mar­kets, how­ever, and what is done there or in Europe is hard to repli­cate here in North Amer­ica, Zim Sail­ing’s Bob Adam once wrote to me in an email. “We have all dis­cussed the in­crease in va­ri­ety of dinghies in North Amer­ica, but all the man­u­fac­tur­ers have strug­gled to de­velop a solid foot­ing of one- de­sign rac­ing.”

How do we ( the col­lec­tive “we”) start a se­ries or in­tro­duce the idea of a new and bet­ter dinghy hand­i­cap sys­tem to the pub­lic, Adam chal­lenged. “Is this some­thing that can be spear­headed by Sail­ing World? Does US Sail­ing have a mech­a­nism to ad­min­is­ter the hand­i­cap num­bers?”

Yes and yes. With the prompt­ing of US Sail­ing’s off­shore di­rec­tor Nathan Tit­comb, a group of in­dus­try types, my­self in­cluded, met this past spring to set the wheels in mo­tion. Tit­comb took the lead by tack­ling the trick­i­est part: im­prov­ing the ex­ist­ing data­base it­self from the ground up and mak­ing it univer­sally ac­ces­si­ble (you no longer have to be a mem­ber to ac­cess Portsmouth Yard­stick scor­ing tools).

It’s now a US Sail­ing ini­tia­tive to sup­port it and grow it, and with the ear of soft­ware de­vel­op­ers from SAP Sail­ing An­a­lyt­ics, the off­shore of­fice could have an op­por­tu­nity to sim­plify Portsmouth scor­ing and race re­port­ing to the point where it hap­pens au­to­mat­i­cally from mo­bile de­vices, elim­i­nat­ing the one sig­nif­i­cant ad­min­is­tra­tive time de­mand. An app that records in­di­vid­ual start and fin­ish times, and au­to­mat­i­cally up­loads to the data­base af­ter sail­ing is not rocket sci­ence. What we need are events and clubs to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­i­ties of Portsmouth and for sailors to give it a try. US Sail­ing has all the re­sources on its web­site, and the hand­i­cap­ping ta­bles are free. We can do this. Let’s pump up our dolly tires, toss aside those deck cov­ers, start a fleet, and help spark a dinghy- rac­ing re­vival. Q

New and old one-de­signs race along­side one another in Eng­land, where more sailors em­brace dinghy hand­i­cap rac­ing. PHOTO :

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