Mike Urwin, RORC Rating office, Technical Director explains to Louay Habib some of the changes proposed to IRC, and the overall objective of the IRC rule.
LH: What is IRC's underlying philosophy?
MU: We want IRC to be a permissive rule. IRC Rules say it is for ballasted monohull keel boats with not more than two masts; those are the only fundamental restrictions we want to apply. So, if someone comes along with something novel, like water ballast or canting keels or asymmetric spinnakers, or bowsprits... we want to embrace that but until we get to understand what the new idea is all about, we try as hard as possible to be cautious in the way we rate the boats. If we don't know what the effect will be on the performance of the boat, we tend to over compensate. Do we always get that right? No. Do we then do something about it? Yes.
LH: How in practice is IRC managed?
MU: IRC does not rate individual boats, it rates the features of boats in general. We are not looking at individual boats but the whole fleet. So, as and when necessary, we make changes to the rule on an annual basis, it is very, very rare that we will make changes during the middle of a season. We run a research agenda and at the end of each year the IRC Technical Committee decides which things we want to change, which things need more work and which things are to be left alone, as they are perfectly alright. These changes all happen on a yearly basis; January 1st in the Northern Hemisphere, June 1st in the Southern Hemisphere.
We also look at what is going on, out there on the water, especially particular styles of boats that are doing well. At the recent UK IRC owners meeting, there was noticeable comment, from around the country that boats with bowsprits were doing perhaps rather too well. That fits with our own observation, so the likelihood is that there will be a small tweak to that next year.
There has also been a fair amount of ‘noise' about the King 40 in America, Soozal, which has a powered winch package. I don't think it is appropriate for a boat of that size to have high speed powered winches and others seem to agree with me and there will be a change in how IRC deals with that next year. We want to be permissive but we don't want people to think they have to go out and fit powered winches if they are going to win a regatta, IRC does not encourage unnecessary expense. If a development comes along with value to the sailing community, we will not penalize it. If the development has little or no value than we will not look as favourably on that.
Powered winches are a great example; if the boat we are rating is over 100ft then everything is powered, if a boat of 50 ft is primarily used for cruising and has a powered main sheet winch, we don't want to exclude those boats from IRC. We have to cut the maths differently for boats of various sizes and uses.
Powered winches on 40ft boats are rare today but we don't want it to become de rigueur. The same goes for any other source of stored power, it will be treated in the same way.
LH: What about Endorsed certificates?
MU: We have no general opinion as to whether or not an IRC event should insist on endorsed certificates, it is up to the each organizing authority to decide. If asked, we will advise them but at the end of the day it is their decision. We would ask who the event is aimed at: If it is aimed at club racers there is little point in insisting on endorsed certificates; if the event is aimed at an international fleet of high performance yachts, such as a Mini Maxi regatta then perhaps there is a valid argument for entries having endorsed certificates.
What is interesting to note is that it is rare for a yacht to see any significant increase in its rating after its certificate is endorsed. It is much more common that a rating goes down. The boat is likely to be a bit heavier than thought and the sails a little bit smaller.
LH: What about consistency of ratings? Do these differ from place to place and country to country?
MU: The rating for a production boat can not differ from place to place or country to country unless the data for the boats is different. We have standard files for absolutely strict one-designs, but production yachts can and do vary significantly: the hulls may be the same but there are enormous variations in rigs, sails, keels and weight. The length and beam may be the same but we will need the individual rig and sail data for that boat. Building boats is a hand-crafted process, as a result of which variations are inevitable, and owners themselves contribute to variations in weight by specifying different fitout. All this means that a typical 40 foot production cruiser can vary as much as a tonne in weight from a sistership.
LH: What about box rules? How do they fit within IRC?
MU: IRC is a rating rule which applies a time on time handicap but there is no reason why we would not produce a box rule, if we were asked to do so by a group of owners. There is nothing wrong with a box rule, RORC have administered the Whitbread/Volvo 60 and Volvo 70 Box Rule. However, they do not suit owners who are club racing, primarily because the boats have multiple purposes. However, if a group of owners wanted us to develop and administer a box rule we would be more than happy to discuss that.
LH: How do you police rule compliance?
MU: A good example to use is stacking (ie moving all the gear to one side of the boat to increase righting moment). Under the racing rules of sailing (Rule 51) stacking is illegal and we support that. It is however permitted in IMOCA 60 Class racing and the Volvo Ocean Race, but the sailors hate it. The problem is policing it; inshore courses are probably too short to gain an advantage and boats are in sight of each other but offshore is a different matter. So we have to rely on the integrity of sailors which is no different from other areas of the sport, like going around a mark. In reality, there are much more efficient ways of cheating than stacking. The philosophy of RORC Rating is to continue to instill an ethos of competing within the rules of sailing.
LH: 2010. What changes can owners and sailors expect to see?
MU: There will be many small changes next year, potentially issues such as bowsprits, and stored power. We will also be slightly refining the way we treat keels. One significant change to the rule is the way it will look. From the 1st January 2010, we will be adopting the Equipment Rules of Sailing, in their entirety. We are doing that because IRC is an international rule and we need to have measurements and standards that are common to all countries. We want to have measurers who have been trained by us or the relevant National Authority. We want to have consistency of training and measurement, throughout the world. In practice, this won't actually change anything but it will result in improved IRC measurement standards around the world.
For a more information about IRC including frequently asked questions: