twinkle, twinkle, little NoR

The air above the East Coast of Australia may no longer be thick with defamation writs but the tension between the two-handed fleet and the Cruising Yacht Club in Sydney is yet to subside completely. There are apparently still some serious complaints pending that the club needs to formally arbitrate.

Meanwhile, and perhaps mindful that confusion can often breed resentment, the CYCA has made their position crystal clear in the Notice of Race they issued earlier this week for the Sydney-Hobart Race: two-handed entrants are welcome, but they will not be eligible for the overall handicap prize. 

In other words, there has, as yet, been no happy resolution to the dispute that provoked so much aggravation before the (COVID-cancelled) race last year. Here are the keywords in the new NoR:


6.1 Overall Winner 

The overall winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be the fully crewed boat (a boat that complies with NOR 3.5.1) that wins the overall IRC Handicap Category.

It is those two words – “fully crewed” – that are the crucial addition to the original NoR for the 2020 race. 

The minimum crew for a fully crewed boat in the Sydney-Hobart is now 5, down from the previous minimum crew of 6. By excluding the two-handers from the overall prize, the club was forced to introduce three new divisions: Two-handed IRC, Two-handed ORCi and Two-Handed PHS. 

The revised NoR has also had to close a loophole that caused the CYCA some embarrassment during the heated debate last year. Their long-standing broad exemption from RRS 52 (“Manual Power”) that allowed the use of stored power for the operation of winches, water ballast and canting keels (“appendages”) also had the unintended effect of allowing autohelm without penalty. That paragraph now reads:

7.3 Changes to the Racing Rules of Sailing

(d) RRS 52: RRS 52 is changed for fully crewed boats (NOR 3.5.1) to: The rotation of a boat’s rudder shall be adjusted and operated only by the power provided by the crew. RRS 52 does not apply to a boat entered in a Two-Handed Handicap Category (NoR 3.5.2) 

In other words, the two-handers can use autohelm but the fully crewed boats must be hand steered at all times. To leave competitors in no doubt, the NoR actually makes autohelm capacity compulsory for the two-handers:

7.4 Additions to AS Special Regulations

(i) A two-handed boat (NOR 3.5.2) shall be fitted with an autohelm.

That is the letter of the law, at least until after the Sydney-Hobart Race beginning on December 26. Beyond that, the CYCA will be guided by the recommendations of an expert committee of offshore veterans they have established to consider the issue.

Two questions they may well ponder turn on apparent contradictions. 

The first concerns safety. If the club believes that an offshore racing boat needs a minimum of five crew to sail the 628nm from Sydney to Hobart safely, why does it even allow the two-handers to compete? 

The second question turns on an assumption. We can assume that, in the opinion of the CYCA, the use of stored power for autohelm renders the two-handers ineligible for the overall prize because that equipment delivers performance superior to that which might normally be achieved by humans.

But if that is so, why does the same principle not also disqualify the boats that run their motors or generators to deliver power to grind winches, swing keels or shift water ballast? To be consistent, should they not also be racing in a separate division?

And looking further ahead, how should a legacy event such as the Sydney-Hobart respond when – as surely will soon happen – someone enters an IMOCA 60 or similar hi-tech beast?

– anarchist David