Super Yacht Racing: Is ORC-sy the Answer?

Super Yacht Racing Under ORCsy Rule

The Close of the Super Yacht Racing Season and the Final Verdict on the ORCsy Rule

One of the wonderful things about super yachts is their individuality: They may have sleek racing lines or timeless classic charm. It’s one of the things we love about them, a chance for the owners and naval architects who designed and built them to show off their personality and skill. And there is nothing more spectacular than seeing these magnificent yachts racing en-masse and under full sail.

But how do you “level the playing field” in such a diverse fleet?

For years the handicap rating has been a source of argument – perhaps until now? With the new ORCsy rule, has the Offshore Racing Congress (ORC) together with the Super Yacht Racing Association finally come up with a solution?

As the Super Yacht season draws to a close, our Mediterranean Correspondent, Danielle Berclouw takes a look at how well the ORCsy rule has been received. With special thanks also to Jesús Renedo who has kindly provided the stunning photography.

The brand-new, Baltic-built, 108 ft carbon racer-cruiser Win Win

THE SUPERYACHT CUP 2015 ©jrenedo – The brand-new, Baltic-built, 108 ft carbon racer-cruiser Win Win

Being fast as important as having fun

Sure…prestige and aesthetics may have been at the forefront of boat building some years ago yet nowadays, the competitiveness of yacht racing has meant a radical shift in priorities. Today, speed and performance seem to be a more important consideration. And with the Nautor, Vitters and Baltic yards currently building high-tech performance cruisers, boasting aero-space interiors, and retractable propulsion systems, the focus on designing fast(er) super yachts is only likely to continue. This trend has culminated in the super yacht racing arena having grown quite remarkably in the past few years. From owners of hefty hulled 60+m mega yachts, to sleek and slippery racing machines, they all seem to want to compete, and this regatta-rivalry has emanated in timeless classic’s sparring with freshly launched carbon rockets. The tremendous imbalance in type, shape and size has made it hard for all boats to sail a fair race and over the years the super yacht regattas have used a number of different rules – the Bucket Rule, IRC, ORCi, the International Super Yacht Rule and now, the latest to arrive on the scene: the ORCsy rule.

This new rating combines a sophisticated velocity prediction with ‘dynamic allowances’ – which means concessions are made for yachts with, for example, a sizeable satellite dome, substantial super structure or a furling jib which slows down a yacht’s manoeuvring. Moreover, each competitor receives no less than 8 different ratings depending on wind strength and sea state to ensure as close and fair a race as possible.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

The implementation of the new rating for the 2015 season was a major decision. SYRA Co-Chair Kate Branagh explains: “When we looked at the options towards the end of the 2014 circuit, we knew the existing system, although it worked, was not perfect. But coming up with an alternative would take a considerable amount of time and resources. After several in-depth briefings and analysis of previous regattas and yacht types, ORC took on the challenge of coming up with a new racing rule. As well as developing the VPP, (used to set up polar performance tables of speed vs. true wind angle), ORC worked with the event organisers to look at different formats for racing, course options, starting procedures, class splits etc; all of which have had a bearing on how well the rule has worked in terms of producing fair racing.”

And how difficult it is to achieve a fair race becomes clear after talking to Lorenzo Giacomuzzi, captain of regatta regular, Swan 90 ‘Odin’. “You’re always going to have guys who strip the boat out, take the doors off, empty the fridges and pull on 30 professional race crew. Trying to put them up against boats that carry 4 jet skis and 2000 bottles of wine in their bilge is going to be tricky. This also goes for part of the ORC’s measurement process, which you can compare to holding the boat upside down and giving her a good shake. Everything that falls off shouldn’t be onboard: cutlery, candles, cushions…the lot! It takes us a week to take everything off the boat. A yacht like the 60m Perseus^3 simply can’t do that.”

When the boat is measured it’s not just a yacht’s tonnage that comes into the equation, but also every single other specification: from mizzen stay sail dimensions to rudder construction and everything in between. This effectively means that on the race course, winning (or losing) comes down to having a finely-tuned team of seasoned professionals and making the right tactical decisions.

Although most of the work and analysis for the ORC committee was completed over the winter months prior to the spring Caribbean events (The St. Barths Bucket followed by the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta in Virgin Gorda), their efforts continued throughout the 2015 season. After each regatta more was understood about the processes and application of the rule and so adjustments were made accordingly.

Marie - Winner of the Superyacht Cup

THE SUPERYACHT CUP 2015 ©jrenedo – The Beautiful Modern Classic Ketch, Marie: Winner of the Superyacht Cup 2015

To the nth degree

Kate Branagh comments about the different regattas: “Each event throws out various challenges. The issues in Palma were the huge diversity of the fleet and the building and subsequent dying sea breeze, so a different process was necessary to the Caribbean events. These are all difficult decisions that will always end in a compromise of some kind, but the aim maintains to create safe, fair and fun racing.”

Paolo Massarini, ORC committee member, also points out the rule’s transparency, enabling owners and captains to learn exactly how each rating has taken effect, to be a focal point.

Throughout the 2015 racing season opinions have been predominantly positive. After the rule’s debut in St Barth’s, during the Bucket, this boat-measurement-based rating made for tight racing and attracted praise from event organisers, owners, captains and crew. Volvo Ocean Race veteran Michael Joubert, who partook in both the St. Barths Bucket and The Superyacht Cup this year, said: “The general perception amongst the crews is that it’s been a huge step forward. The rating being based on fact, and proving to be transparent, has been very well received. The results are generally closer but as with any rule, the guys that are winning are very happy about it but there are still some boats out there who are proving difficult to rate, as they’re the ones ending up being 40 min out.”

Plain Sailing?

Unfortunately, it seems that getting it 100% right for everyone involved is never really going to be feasible with such a diversity of yachts. However, Ms Branagh is very impressed with what has been achieved in such a short time. “I’m glad to see crew on the dock, post race, discussing their tactics and efficiency of mark rounding, rather than sharing complaints about ratings. Of course, that still goes on, but perhaps now there is a little more excitement on the race course and generally happier participants and owners.”

And happy owners equal returning competitors and subsequently a growing super yacht sailing scene, which is great for the sport and the industry in general, not to mention the chosen charities and local economies. An event like the aforementioned Superyacht Cup boasts an economic impact of 3/4 million Euros – according to a study undertaken by Mallorca’s Chamber of Commerce – and a not-so-shabby 10.500 Euros cheque for local charity ‘Joves Navigantes’.

Paolo Massarini concludes: “The collecting and analysing of data from such different boats has resulted in a substantial database with highly reliable information. We are now up to version 48 of the VPP which will, again, be reviewed prior to the 2016 regattas. In addition to a revised Velocity Prediction Program competitors can also expect a more detailed measurement protocol and a more constructive involvement of captains & crew. What will remain unchanged is our ‘open book policy’ and the committee being present to run the scoring and offer on-site assistance. We still have work ahead of us when it comes to equalising such hugely disparate yachts, but we’re another year further and certainly a step closer.”

And nobody can argue that those big-boat-battles are not a helluva lot more interesting to watch, than a stationary sail boat showing off her sleek lines in a swanky St. Tropez-type setting..

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