but weight, there’s more

It might just be a coincidence, but the release last Thursday by the Rating Office of the Royal Ocean Racing Club of its “updated” Measurement Manual for IRC handicaps brought the protracted debate over the rating of Sydney-Hobart winner Celestial immediately to mind.

Maybe that was their intention. The notion that the RORC could now feel the need to bolster its own credentials as a rating agency is difficult to avoid. The wording of the manual is a curious mixture. Some sentences read as self-congratulation; others more like attempts by the RORC to relieve themselves of direct responsibility for the veracity of the ratings they themselves finally determine. 

Thus, on the one hand, we have this:

“The IRC Rating Authority takes great care in checking the data supplied, even for standard certificates … The measurer’s responsibility is to achieve a fair and accurate result, rather than the optimum result for the particular owner.”

But, on the other:

“The international IRC rating rule has always been a self-measurement system, and official measurement is not a rule requirement unless the boat needs an Endorsed IRC certificate.”

The Notice of Race for the Sydney-Hobart does require, at 3.3 (a) (i)), that IRC boats may only enter if they have “a current, valid Endorsed IRC Certificate”. That compulsory endorsement is enabled by Australian Sailing, the national Rule Authority. The IRC Manual spells out the obligations of their key role:

“The Rule Authority carries responsibility for auditing the boat’s data file and for defining what, if any, data is to be verified. In doing this, the data and measurement standards shall be applied.”  

Those are firm principles of oversight but Australia Sailing has now three times, refused to answer legitimate questions from SA about the reporting and endorsement process in relation to Celestial. They continue to maintain the absurd fiction that “the processes through which we might present facts are defined and limited by the rules which govern the race”.  

In the face of such nonsense, it is inevitable that doubts and uncertainty about the whole system continue. We are moving into ‘What have they got to hide?’ Territory. 

Has the local “auditing” process been no more than applying a rubber stamp before the owner-supplied data is passed on to the RORC? How could the Rating Authority then satisfy itself that the data was correct, and issue a “valid endorsed” certificate?  

 So the real issue that arises from the Celestial saga is not whether or not they raced with an inaccurate handicap. It is much broader than that. (In any case, that horse could already have bolted. We can reasonably assume the yacht is no longer in the same configuration as it was when measured for its December 16 certificate). 

No experienced offshore sailor would deny that Celestial raced to Hobart very well against a crack fleet. But the fundamental problem here is one of confidence in the integrity of the IRC system: whether, as currently operated, it is sufficiently transparent and ensures a fair and genuine sporting contest. 

In that context, a revealing test case is now emerging. 

The veteran offshore skipper Shane Kearns has persisted with his request for a rating review of Crux, the S&S34 whose weight increased between certificates by 181kg while its LWL, somewhat implausibly, diminished.   

His request for a review was considered in the UK by a panel of two – the RORC Technical Manager and the Director of the Rating Office. Not surprisingly, they found in their own favor and the data inconsistency was brushed aside: 

“The Rule Authority and Rating Authority are satisfied that normal processes and measurement have been followed and believe the latest measurements to be accurate. 

“The data differences between the previous and 2021 boat weight and overhangs are within the tolerances stated in IRC rule 9.8. 

“Given this, we consider it unnecessary to reweigh or remeasure overhangs in accordance with IRC Rule 9.4.” 

(For those who don’t know their 28-page IRC Rules by heart, 9.8 lists the allowable tolerances, including a remarkably generous plus-or-minus 5% for weight. 9.4 permits re-measurement but states that the decision of the Rating Authority “shall be final”.)

Well, Kearns is not conceding defeat just yet. Yesterday he wrote back to the RORC in characteristically forthright terms, quoting the wording of 9.8 that allows re-measurement if “a specific detail is clearly in error” and that the RORC panel’s review had not considered “all the available evidence” as required by the terms of 9.4. He has repeated his application for a re-weigh and re-measure.

Meanwhile, returning to the lingering disquiet over Celestial’s rating, the dockside gossip is that the situation has now become a Mexican standoff between the owner, Sam Haynes, and the other TP52 skippers. 

It seems that if anyone moved to formally request a rating review of the Hobart winner Haynes might then request reviews of the other TPs in the fleet. Presumably, this could reveal a fresh range of ‘irregularities’. Maybe they’ve actually all been racing TP53s? 

These clubhouse politics are less than edifying, and to the rest of us it’s beginning to look like a classic conspiracy of silence. That, in itself, is evidence that the loopholes in the whole system have become a chasm.

A little more transparency from everyone concerned would be welcome.  Comment here.

– anarchist David