I’ve long suspected there are a lot of sailors out there who would love to give racing a try, but don’t for two reasons: 1) they’re worried about trading gelcoat with someone during the controlled chaos that is a conventional starting sequence, and 2) they’re turned off by having to correct their finish time after the racing is done. (There’s nothing more disheartening than sailing a great race only to find out you were pipped at the post by some guy with a better rating!) Both these problems disappear, though, in a “pursuit” race. In this format, boats receive staggered start times based on their PHRF ratings, i.e. the slower boats start first, followed by faster and faster boats, with the scratch boat starting last. This eliminates all those crowds at the start. It also makes crystal clear how you’re doing against the competition: the first boat to the finish wins, simple as that.
Purists might argue that this approach doesn’t require the finely honed skills that must be employed to prevail in a conventional start. But while pursuit starts may not be appropriate for the Olympics, anybody who says pursuit racing is uncompetitive would be dead wrong. There’s nothing like watching some guy with 10 feet more LOA walking up on you from astern to get you tweaking those control lines. It’s the same thing if you’re the one with the extra LOA trying to reel in those little guys as you all drive for the finish at the same time trying to get that gun.
Another good reason to try pursuit racing is that it can be done without a race committee. Here in Boston we run what we call a “rogue” series after the regular Wednesday series ends in the fall. Everybody gets a start time in advance and the line is preset using fixed nav aids. Just before the start, someone decides the course we’re going to sail and then everybody is off and running—that’s it.
Try it sometime, and when you do, don’t forget to bring along your non-racing friends. You might be surprised at the results!
Photo by Blake Jackson