Handicap Racing

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davidh
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Handicap Racing

Post by davidh » Sat Jan 03, 2009 1:01 pm

In an attempt to start 2009 off correctly, I will set up a new string to answer Nigel's comments!

David - perhaps it is my New Year's devilment but statistically your conclusion is not supported by the evidence . For 5 different boats to finish that close to be a vindication of the handicap system, we would need data that showed 5 of the same class of boat regularly finished that close in similar sized fields .

Having lit the blue touch paper, I will step back and wait for the fireworks .


An interesting take on things Nigel BUT.......................

Your comments could be taken as a slight 'misunderstanding' of what is going on. As the PY system is based on a 'Time on time' calculation, what the boats are actually doing is racing the clock. So, if you have a number of boats and helms of a comparable standard, all sailing the course at the same time, then this is just the result that you should get.

"Lies, Damn lies and statistics" Disraeli once said, but in this case getting the boats finishing together like this is indeed statistically significant..... and an interesting scenario as we've had far more close finishes this last season than in previous years.

At Netley over the last 20 years (surely that is a long enough period to be statistically significant) we've seen a number of different classes rule the roost. First Merlins, then 505s, Hornets, Scorpions, Buzz, Scorpions again and then Phantoms. The only 'common' factor in all of these is that all the boats were well prepared and competitively sailed.

And in that one point lies the real downfall of the handicap system. In all the sailing I've done and have watched, at clubs big and small, across a full season it is the 'right' boat that is coming out on toip. Sure, there may be the occasional freak result, but across a series, the best sailed boat is usually the winner. But why is that the downfall of the system?

Simple- it is just so easy to point the finger at the handicap system and blame that for the lack of success. It is strange how the people who fail in club handicap races are also those who fail to register much out on the open meeting circuit.....wow, contentious comments there I'm sure.

The PY system is far from perfect, however, when used properly, it provides the very fragmented sport that we have here in the UK with a platform that gives a fair reflection of 'racing prowess'.

Now that is not to say that should the Brightlingsea Bandit turn up with a smart, race ready Seafire, that the remarks usually made about the OKs wouldn't find a new target but we'll meet that challenge when it finally arrives!!

Happy New Year to all

D
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by Nigel » Sat Jan 03, 2009 3:55 pm

Hi David,

I think my first thought is to register that I like handicap racing (particularly pursuits). I gives a competitive opportunity to those of us who choose to sail strange boats and/or at smaller clubs. we all know it cannot be perfect but it is far far better than no racing.

That said, the system does seem somewhat self fulfilling in that handicaps over time are affected by previous performance. The big assumption is that helms are of a comparable standard (whatever that is). Is a competent Mirror helm the same standard as a competent RS700 helm? In their own ways perhaps but a boat swap would probably highlight some differences. I am pretty sure I could lap faster in a Mirror :) .

The helms at Netley are probably all pretty good - A big club, a tradition of serious racing, good training and development opportunities but which classes are most likely to benefit from the results older more tired boats (and helms) elsewhere that score less well so depress the PY. It has been said on this forum before that a 30 yr old Ent(erprise) will not keep up with a new Ent (all other things being equal) so presumeably having the new Ent sailing of a PY whose calculation has included the old Ent results provides an advantage that one would expect to translate into more handicap wins.

Strangely the reverse also seems true. On of my friends sails a Vago and has to endure much sport at the expense of its PY. Laser originally published this at (I think) 1015. The owners association has had much debate and seems to have decided to change this to 1060 (or 1070 depending on the rig) and one post on their forum suggested it should be 1100 as they were still not winning things. Other posts indicate that other helms are winning things with the original PY of 1015.

Where am I going with all this? I think my point (made before by others) is that helm ability is far more important to performance than class of boat. It may be an option just to have scratch racing (maybe a "fast" fleet and a "slow" fleet) where a bunch of boats of broadly similar performance sail together and the results are as they are on the water. This may sound like a retrograde step but going back to my liking of pursuit racing, The thing I like is that it can actually be exciting at the finish where the lead is contested on the water in real time for all to see (and hopefully be involved in). Scratch racing may have its drawbacks but it would allow the same immediate excitement at the finish as in a pursuit.

It may be worth taking some old results and retro-calculating based upon this approach to see if the placings are significantly altered. If not then I would suggest the added real time excitement is worth considering.

All the best,

Nigel

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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by Nessa » Sat Jan 03, 2009 8:18 pm

I tried to do a pursuit race today as a guest at a club where I have not sailed before. The water was frozen, so no racing, but had we gone I would, in K88, have been on the same handicap as GBR 1111, who also knew the water. So far as I know the classics don't yet have a PY (I'm talking phantoms here, by the way) and even if the had, the news would not have reached the club I was at so I may have had some trouble convincing them (especially since my sail has the number 867 on it!)

As it was, I wasn't sailing for a result - that would be daft - but even so, I would have liked to have a better chance against a boat which although bears the same class name as mine, looks and probably sails, nothing like it!
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by davidh » Sat Jan 03, 2009 8:28 pm

nessa,

you have my sympathies!

IN the New Years Day Race, I was sailing on the conventional Phantom Handicap, even with a good P&B sail on a full carbon rig (please do not get the idea that I'm taking this seriously...) could still not match the new boats on what I'd call 'hull speed'.

but just think, contender wise, it coul dbe even worser, I might be sailing 171 next year - and the Contenders haven't even started the discussion on handicap points for older boats


D
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by jpa_wfsc » Sat Jan 03, 2009 8:33 pm

Nigel wrote: It may be an option just to have scratch racing (maybe a "fast" fleet and a "slow" fleet) where a bunch of boats of broadly similar performance sail together and the results are as they are on the water. This may sound like a retrograde step
All the best,

Nigel
As I recall, the OK, Enterprise, GP14 420 and Nat 12 all used to be within a point or two of each other. So in effect what you suggest, used to happen. Fireballs, 470's and so on might form another cluster (at least, in typical club racing).

Then radical boat development led to Cherubs, N12, N14 and so on leaping in performance and this is no longer true!. But in general this may be a good idea.

In the end the only truly competitive way to run any race is with matched equipment - e.g. Team racing in Universities where 6 or 9 equal boats are assembled for the event. Or open circuit class racing where the top 10 or 15 boats will all have new hulls and sails. Anything else, and you end up measuring yourself against those around you in the results table, not against boats, crews, or combination thereof that are either much quicker or slower than yourself.

The PY system creates opportunities for this to happen, however inaccurately, and its a good thing. Long may it live!
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by DavidC » Sat Jan 03, 2009 9:25 pm

I have to agree with David on this one.

PY is indeed not perfect but considering the complexities it does a very good job. The problems lie with the human condition that it is always someones fault other than the sailor! It is a data based system but trying to get clubs to send back meaningful data is a challenge to say the least.

When I sat on the PY Committee that was our biggest difficulty. One could see that the figure might not be correct but the data returned made decisions for you. Yes you could make a small adjustment but not a large one. I remember when the Fireball raced off 105 yet we have a club returning 127. Obviously a small pond where spinnakers were never used.

The other problem which remains is that clubs do not bother to actually look at the system and work out numbers as asked. Many of the returns just gave the published figures and you could see that no attempt had been made to adjust figures. Equally other clubs gave figures which had obviously no maths behind them. No Crew skill factor had been allowed for or the new figure was nothing more than a gut feeling.

Obviously when the figures do not seem correct it is entirely the RYA's fault! Class associations generally have taken the same approach in that it is all the RYA's fault and nothing to do with them instead of collating their own data and trying to advise clubs as to appropriate numbers to start from. Don't forget that many of the new classes with numbers issued by the builders of class have no actual basis other then a number which might look good in marketing.

Watching sailors complain about their handicap is always interesting. If you point out to them the faults on the course they of course do not want to know because it is easier to blame the PY and the RYA! Lets face it, if it takes you 60 seconds to set the spinnaker instead of 10 and you do that 3 times then forget trying to sail to your number!

David is right if I turn up with a bandit then no doubt remarks will be made. However although I make no claim as to being able to sail the boat well, everything in it will work perfectly and that is something which cannot be said for many of the boats I hear complaining.

Yes of course some boats will be outclassed with age, but the system allows clubs to adjust for this and of classes to collect the data and promote it. It will never be easy going from one club to another when the easy option for the club is take the published number, but with class association help it can be done.

The RYA is very keen to try and make the PY work as well as possible and is accepting on line data and will be able to provide individual club figures if requested. As will all things it is data, data and more data, but with a careful eye that ill prepared boats and bad sailors do not skew the figures anymore than well prepeared boats and champions might.
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by neil » Sat Jan 03, 2009 9:32 pm

The biggest problem seems to be the manufacturers supplied PYs for new classes - most of these make the boat out faster than it is. The best case of this is a certain singlehanded skiff, given a PY just lower than an AC so this boat could be sold as the fastest singlehander.

The manufacturers guessed PY is a pain as it does take a few years to get realistic data from PY returns to finally get a workable number.
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by Nigel » Sat Jan 03, 2009 9:47 pm

Hi DH & DC,

the things you say in favour of the PY and in encouraging clubs to put more effort into the system are undoubtedly true. Human nature though will invariably put forward reasons why their PY should be slower or anothers faster (I sailed a Harrier for a couple of seasons with a PY in the 900s! I had to sail really well to come last :) ) so I do have some sympathy with clubs that avoid the argument and stick to the published figures. I think my biggest disapointment with it is that as it is racing the clock rather than directly competing with others it loses some of the excitement at the finish that pursuit racing manages to retain.

Perhaps I should switch to a popular class ands go fleeet racing :shock: .

All the Best,

Nigel

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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by MartinH » Sat Jan 03, 2009 9:53 pm

Two other factors that affect performance and have not yet been mentioned are wind and sea conditions. Since I have had new the main on the Graduate my performance in light winds has improved enormously. It was always pretty good but in the last couple of races I sailed that were real drifters I was keeping up with the front of the fleet. If it was blowing as hard as it was at Netley I believe I would have been well down the fleet as the performance boats would get on the plane sooner and my new rig would have a lesser advantage. Also, and the experts can probably correct me here, in waves of any height the longer and heavier boats would have the advantage. Light boats would tend to slam harder and lose momentum.
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by Rupert » Sat Jan 03, 2009 11:38 pm

Having done Netley and Shearwater as my only 2 cvrda events this year, I'd agree with Martin. At Netley in wind and waves in the Firefly we were pretty much blown away, with only the boat's pointing ability keeping us anywhere near some of the bigger boats. At Shearwater, even on the windy 1st day, the flat water and close tacking made the Firefly pretty much unbeatable, and on the light wind Sunday handicaps didn't really get a look in, as Uffa has pretty much designed the ideal boat for those conditions.
BUT, it would be impossible to put together a meaningful system taking weather conditions into account. There is barely enough data to make the current system stand up, let alone a more complex one, and asking an over pressed and often unknowledgeable OOD make decisions based on sea state and wind strength is frankly asking for trouble.

The current RYA system works pretty well, but due to the small scale and willingness to make arbitary decisions based on being able to inspect every boat, the cvrda system works better! The RYA can't produce a handicap for every permutation of classic Hornet, for instance, but at Netley we were able to put our heads together and decide that one classic Hornet needed a rather large boost compared to the other.

This is what all clubs should be doing - they have the knowledge to make these decisions about boats they see sailing week in week out, but it never happens because if you change one handicap, you get whinged at for months by people either thinking it should never have been changed and that is why the boat is winning now, or from people who can't see why they can't have a different handicap because they didn't put their spinnaker up that race...I know, I was that person who changed the handicaps...

By the way, DC, how did you end up being involved with the RYA on this sort of thing?
Rupert

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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by DavidC » Sun Jan 04, 2009 9:52 pm

Hi Rupert,

I think the answer is being in the wrong place at the wrong time! :) :) :)

Basically I have spent the last 20 odd years doing a great deal of professional measuring and rule writing for what now amounts to some 50+classes. I am an International Measurer and International Judge and have also spent time sail making, rig building and boat building from racing dinghies to big boats. This means that I deal with the RYA on a very regular basis and it is often a case of "you would be just right to help out with.........." or "we have this little problem which we need looking at................"!!!!!!!! Therefore I get to put my head over the parapet and they keep hiding :twisted: Hey Ho

I have sat on so many committees that the novelty has definitely worn off :D I must be daft because I still apparently keep trying to help people :? :?

It must be a specific condition because DH seems to suffer from it as well and he can't even blame where he comes from :D :D

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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by davidh » Mon Jan 05, 2009 12:21 am

Rupert,

I think Dave C's description says it all.

The official line is however somewhat different. The RYA run a number of various Committees, when there is a vacancy then this will be advertised as a Job Vacancy on the RYA website. You get expenses but no pay as such.

I would warn however that the Dave C comments are closer to the truth, a real case of 'many a true word said in jest', for despite the jobs being advertised, many of the openings already have a name in the frame.....

There have been past rumblings that the RYA is a bit of an 'insider sport', if your name is known and the face fits then you may well get in and get on (sadly I score low on both these counts). One would have to also ask the question if taking on yet more unpaid work, for little in the way of reward, is in itself a path to more happiness. Following the unhappy time I had last year, one of my resolutions for 2009 is to do more for ME...... which I hope will mean that I get more time for my sailing rather than worrying about other peoples problems afloat. When I got a call back in October giving me a 'heads up' that a place on an RYA Committee was coming up I thought long and hard before a "thanks but no thanks" - and the proof of the pudding is that recently I've sailed more than in the last 3 or more years.

So...if you want to take that path to fame and glory (Dave C, tell us about the fame and glory!!!) then watch the RYA website!!

D
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by Rupert » Mon Jan 05, 2009 10:38 am

Thanks for the info, guys. It's something that has been in the back of my mind to do when the kids are a little older and my knees a little more shot...
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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by Pat » Tue Jan 06, 2009 2:35 pm

Most smaller clubs just won't go through the hassle of changing the PY. The attitude is that "that's the RYA handicap and we're sticking to it" despite them failing to provide conditions or courses for the boats to sail to their handicap.
Even with the fairly well known and published Merlin age related handicaps, clubs are reluctant to apply it, hence we've been grudgingly given a minute or two in Half Cut (merlin PY 1069 then) in a pursuit with new Merlins (PY 1019 then).

The best pursuit we've done was at Brightlingsea where the modern Merlins only got past us within the last five minutes of the race. The handicaps were right and the conditions and course gave us good racing with full use of the kite.

At Shearwater the old Merlins (pre 1969) get a block handicap of 1076 which gives close racing with the Lasers (1078) and Lark (1073) but we don't often get spinnaker suitable courses so we waste a lot of time gybeing the kite and trying to sail very tight reaches. It does give the group of faster boats and slower boats as previously mentioned though the day barge will generally win on handicap even when it isn't sailed near the front by a former national champion!

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Re: Handicap Racing

Post by DavidC » Wed Jan 07, 2009 7:11 pm

Ah yes, the fame and glory.

Settles into armchair, puffs on pipe and looks at expectant faces of sailors at his feet :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Rupert, David is right that some committee posts are advertised but some such as the PY committee tend to be invites because the committee is very small. Trust me, it was not that exciting and we spent 80% of the day dealing with cruisers and whether they had 2 or 3 bladed props!

You need to decide what area you would like to help in. There is very little on the technical side unless you want to become a class measurer but there are plenty of openings on the Judginng and Race management side.

It can be rewarding but remember that you really only need 3 attributes:
1 The patience of a Saint
2 The wisdom of Solomon and the most important
3 The hide of a Rhinoceros

Having said go for it, it can be very enjoyable.

Pat, We do try at Brightlingsea although we do not get it right all the time. Hoever, it does show how well it can work with a bit of effort. It is a shame that clubs do not try. Most of the programmes such as Sailwave can do the calculations so the reams of paper and pencil are no longer necessary.

D :D

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