show me the money

With five days to go before the close of entries for this year’s Sydney-Hobart race there is already a field of more than 150 yachts. They’ll all be racing South over the same course at the same time – but under three different handicap systems and in 14 separate divisions. Try explaining
that to a non-sailor. 

From the public viewpoint, there will only be two real contests: line honours (a drag race between the usual four old 100-foot supermaxis), and the overall IRC prize that seems likely to go to one of the growing local posse of souped-up TP52s.

Everything else is impenetrable. Our offshore handicapping systems have become an alphabet soup of competing regimes where the only person happy with their rating is the bloke who won last week’s race. Next week, when he comes nowhere, he’ll blame the same set of numbers that gave him his win seven days earlier.

Clearly, this fundamental aspect of our sport needs an entirely fresh approach. It’s time to dump all those tiresome measurements and the application of a secret four-digit decimal multiplier known only to the cleaning lady at the RORC Rating Office in Lymington.

For decades the dockside pundits have bleated that offshore sailing has become little more than a battle of the chequebooks. They’re essentially correct. The owner with the deepest pockets often wins. So why not just accept that reality and regulate competition along economic lines? It follows that the only fair rating system would be based on the owner’s net worth. Here’s my proposal for a simple, four-tier approach:

*  The top SQ (Squillionaure) division is reserved for those owners whose current credit has so many zeros it can’t fit on the bank statement. These are predominantly obscure Europeans with deep suntans who run pharmaceutical companies or private banks. They race exclusively during the Supermaxi season on the Med and pretend to get excited when they win a Swiss wristwatch.

*  Next down is the BD (Billionaire) division. This is dominated by US moguls on their third or fourth wife. They like to pretend they are just “one-of-the-boys” and occasionally take the helm for five minutes to show they’re real sailors. This division also includes the elite rulers of Middle Eastern and South American dictatorships whose wealth is unknown because it coincidentally happens to be the same as the treasury reserves of their countries.

*  The best racing will be in the OM (Ordinary Millionaires) division. Money here is not quite “no object”, but pretty damn close. Competing in the 50-to-75 foot fleets, these are the guys who buy a complete set of new sails every season, hire America’s Cup winners as tacticians and have the latest ‘hot’ designers creating a new boat before their current ride has even completed its first season. 

*  The Reasonably Well Off (RW) division is for the guy up the back of the boat nursing a lifelong dream of winning his favourite major offshore event. He’s a moderately successful local businessman with Admiral of the Fleet Syndrome who buys off his family with a cheap package holiday in Hawaii while secretly spending three times that amount on a new carbon rig.  

We might also need a separate division for those people who have a theoretical pile of the folding stuff – mainly dot.com tyros in T-shirts – but who may actually be skint. A prime example of this species was Alan Bond who started the Sydney-Hobart in 1989 as a multi-millionaire but stepped ashore from his yacht Drumbeat three days later to be told by reporters that he’d just been declared bankrupt.

There we have it. Fixed. These new handicap divisions based purely on individual net worth would be much fairer and more media attractive than any of the current hodge-podge of handicap systems. So let’s put an end to all this “May The Best Man Win” nonsense. Money talks, and in offshore racing it damn well screams.

– anarchist David