For the first time this season I got to crew on Providence II, racing in the Tall Oaks’ pursuit race.
In club racing, some boats are just inherently faster, so there are various handicapping systems to make it more fair. In the US, the most popular system is the awkwardly named PHRF: Performance Handicap Racing Fleet. In PHRF, boats are assigned a number that represents additional seconds that it would take them to sail a mile. So a perfectly sailed boat with a PHRF of 200 should finish 10 seconds ahead of a similarly perfectly sailed boat with a 210 handicap over a 1 mile course. Usually boats start together, and the handicap is applied after the race on the time elapsed.
This race, however, was a pursuit race. Instead of all of the boats starting together, slower boats are given a head start based on their handicap, which should theoretically make for a more thrilling finish. Val’s Sabre 36 had the best PHRF of the 19 boats in the field by a wide margin, so we didn’t get to start until more than 13 minutes after the first boat, and a full three minutes after the 18th boat. It’s quite depressing to see the entire fleet sail away while you’re still milling about the starting line.
The course was complicated, involving 5 marks. I never got a good sense of it because I was focused solely on watching the main and making small changes to the sheet, traveler, and vang, but I know that it was large, encompassing both 40 and BB. We didn’t make up much time on the first leg, and on the second leg (both were reaches) we still weren’t able to pass anyone although we did close the gap with the other fast boats. By the third leg, it was game-on. On the first truly close hauled leg we started to pick apart the fleet as we tore up the windward side of the course. Providence II was able to point very high and still maintain speed, whereas other boats either slowed down as they pinched or needed to take an extra couple tacks to make the mark.
We continued to pass boats throughout the rest of the race. We did have some problems on the final downwind run to the finish…it wasn’t exactly dead downwind and we had both a hard time keeping the jib full and getting the whisker pole set. But I don’t think it impacted our position, as we still passed a couple boats on that leg and wound up finishing around 5th.
As my first Pursuit race, I have to say that it’s an interesting format. The rules of racing can tend to favor a boat in the lead, so you’re spotting the slower boats not only time but clean air and the ability to sail defensively. We finished well ahead of the other “fast” boats that started near us, so we must have been doing something right, despite the lead boats staying well out of our reach. Regardless of the outcome, it’s always fun to get to tweak the sails of a high performance racer/cruiser.