Sort of weird timing for a weird rule change, but, okay? Maybe it’s good for business, and we all need that to happen…
You’ve seen the fast look of photos and video of Volvo Ocean Race 70-footers blast reaching with headsails and staysails sheeted outboard to leeward. These outboard sheeting points are called outriggers, and with a few exceptions they are defined in the Racing Rules of Sailing (Rule 50.3) as being illegal.
To paraphrase Rule 50.3, an outrigger is defined as any fitting or device placed to exert outward pressure on a sheet or sail, outboard of the hull. Exceptions are made for booms and, when a spinnaker is not set, headsails sheeted or connected to whisker or spinnaker poles.
Classes like the Volvo 70s waived the rule for the Volvo Ocean Race, and the efficiencies of the leeward outriggers were proven. Now those boats are sailing in ocean races everywhere, which is why, on an experimental basis, the Offshore Racing Rule will allow and rate boats using outriggers this year if race organizers wish.
The challenge for a rule like ORR is to provide fair ratings for all boats. In 2019, ORR clarified that outriggers and whisker poles to leeward were not allowed, but for 2020, ORR has begun to engage in aero-modeling and will allow boats to declare outrigger usage on an experimental basis. However, it remains the call of the race organizing authority, so not all races using ORR will permit such devices.
The IRC rule has allowed whisker poles attached to the mast for several years, and the ORC rule is considering it for 2021. By allowing outriggers on an experimental basis, the ORR is keeping roughly in step with other major rules. After the trial with preliminary aero models in 2020, ORR expects to provide the option for a boat’s rated configuration beginning in 2021.
ORR is also permitting owners to design a sail for use with an outrigger and apply for an experimental rating certificate.
While adoption by organizers likely won’t be widespread this year, it’s been approved by the Tahiti Transpac, which has two Volvo 70s and a Volvo 65 entered.
In the meantime, the Racing Rules of Sailing and the Equipment Rules of Sailing are under review at World Sailing for their quadrennial update beginning in 2021. A proposed revision to RRS Rule 50.3 was approved in committee last fall that would eliminate the term outrigger altogether. While ORR representatives hope the rule will be even clearer by the time it takes effect, that is another story for another day.