Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Last summer I started crewing on a friend's boat in the Wednesday night races on the Patapsco River. They have a beautiful Jeanneau 33iP named Étoile (pronounced ey-twal) that is only a couple of years old. Like most racing associations in North America, we race PHRF so all the different boats in the area can have fun competing against each other. For those of you who don't know, PHRF is a handicapping system that attempts to level the playing field between boats of different sizes, designs, and manufacturers. The PHRF system is somewhat controversial among racing sailors due to the arbitrary way that the numbers are determined.

Last year we were getting beaten like a drum every week, partly due to the fact that there are very few boats of this make and model to help the regional PHRF officials compare for a proper rating. Our handicap number was too low, and we were losing ground every week. Going back through last years results, we were near the bottom of the standings every week. Over the winter, the owners of Étoile, Marcel and Barbie, appealed to the local PHRF regional association with all of their race data and supporting documentation. They were trying to illustrate to the board that our rating of 120 was too low. After much back-and-forth, and comparable rating info to other Jeanneau boats of similar size in other regions, the board relented and assigned Étoile a new rating of 144. That works out to an additional 24 seconds per mile of time taken off after the finish.

Also, over the winter Barbie and Marcel outfitted Étoile with a new set of Fusion M® carbon fiber sails from Quantum Sails Annapolis. These sails are night and day different from the stock sails provided new with the boat from Jeanneau. It's like the difference between buying a suit off the rack at the department store and going to a tailor to have a suit custom made to your exact measurements using only the finest materials. These sails fit perfectly and the boat performs so much better with them. The purchase was definitely money well spent.

Étoile crossing the finish line with a very happy crew!
This past week, in our first race of the year, we got off to a great start, picked the right side of the course, and stayed out of the worst of the foul tide that was fighting us. We noticed that the leading boat, Cecile Rose, rounded mark 1 on the port side. The route sheet specified a starboard rounding. More on that in a minute...

We managed to stay within a reasonable distance of the leaders and did not allow anyone to overtake us. We crossed the line 3rd overall. Cecile Rose was ultimately penalized with a RAF (Retired After Finishing) for rounding a mark the wrong way. Basically, RAF is used when a skipper breaks a rule during the race and does not take the necessary penalty turns before finishing. RAF is sort of like forfeiting the race. The second boat across the line, Caribbean Magic, had a lower handicap number than us which meant that on this night they owed us over 5 minutes in corrected time. When the dust settled, the RAFs and handicaps were applied and we had slipped into the lead by 20 seconds. Somehow we had pulled off a win! First place on corrected time! What a great way to start 2015. Now we just need to keep it going...

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