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ORC Rule builds momentum at North America's oldest regatta

by New York Yacht Club 26 May 17:17 PDT
New York Yacht Club's Annual Regatta © Paul Todd/

The Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth, the perfectly equitable rating formula for racing sailboats. Three things not yet discovered. But that didn't, and won't likely ever, stop Indiana Jones, Juan Ponce de León, and sailors around the world—respectively—from trying.

In 2020, the New York Yacht Club turned to ORC to handicap its performance racing fleet. This summer will mark the Club's third season with the rule, which is administered by the Offshore Racing Congress. The ORC Rule is managed in the United States by the Offshore Office of US Sailing. The registration numbers for the ORC fleet for the upcoming 168th edition of the New York Yacht Club's Annual Regatta speak to the rule's growing acceptance in the United States. With two weeks remaining until the first start of North America's oldest annual regatta on Friday, June 10, the ORC fleet stands at 40 boats, ranging in length from 33 to 74 feet.

What is ORC? What changes are in store for 2022?

How can I succeed? Click here for a Q&A with NYYC Rating and Measurement Rules Committee Chair Ed Cesare

"The first Annual Regatta in 1846 utilized an early handicap formula to score the boats and so has every non-wartime edition since," says Peter Cummiskey, the event chair for the regatta. "It's never easy to get sailors to embrace a new rating rule, so we're very pleased to see how many boats are lining up to compete under ORC. We anticipate some great racing."

The New York Yacht Club's Annual Regatta was first sailed on the Hudson River on July 16 and 18, 1846. A similar competition the previous year was called a Trial of Speed. With a few exceptions for world wars and other global crises, the event has been held every year since. For the majority of its existence, the Annual Regatta was raced on waters close to New York City. Since 1988, however, the event has been sailed out of the Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport, R.I., and has settled into the current three-day format, which includes a race around Conanicut Island on Friday, two days of buoy or navigator-course racing on Saturday and Sunday and nightly social activities on the grounds of the historic Harbour Court mansion. The 168th Annual Regatta is sponsored by Hammetts Hotel, Safe Harbor Marinas and Helly Hansen.

The return of the Maxi 72 class to the Annual Regatta for the first time since 2016 will add a shot of speed and glamour to the regatta. Three of the 72-foot ocean thoroughbreds will compete in this year's Annual Regatta. Hap Fauth's Bella Mente program has been mainstay on the maxi yacht circuit for well over a decade and has recorded plenty of significant victories. But at Les Voiles de St. Barths in April, it was Jim Swartz's Vesper (above) that had the edge in a two-boat battle, winning four of five races. George Sakellaris' Proteus will join that duo for the Annual Regatta.

"It's incredibly exciting," says Swartz. "Match racing Bella Mente in big seas at St. Barths was as fun as it gets. Adding a third player will take it to the next level."

In the other classes, the speeds may be lower, but the fleets will be bigger, and the competition equally as intense.

Among the newcomers to ORC this year is John Brim, who will hit the line with his Italia 11.98 Rima98, which he acquired earlier this spring. Brim is no stranger to handicap racing, having owned a 48-footer, 60-footer and a 55-footer, each of which he raced under the IMS and IRC rules more than a decade ago. Of late, he's focused on one-design racing—on standard windward-leeward courses—in the J/70 and IC37 classes.

Last summer, during the New York Yacht Club's Annual Cruise, he realized maybe he was missing something.

"I remembered the fun of going point-to-point," says Brim. "I realized that has been a missing dimension because I'd been sailing the last eight years in J/70s and a couple of years the IC37s. I said, 'This is fun.' It was fun to also compute who won at the end of the day using the ORC handicaps. It was something different after many, many years of one-design sailing."

Brim is also excited that the boat (a sister ship is at left) will allow him to sail with a largely amateur crew.

"It's not a full-on race boat," he said. "I'm going to back to where I used to be and I'm looking forward to it."

Brim maintains his ambitions for the season are modest. But the Italia brand does have a reputation for success under ORC, so no one should be surprised to see Rima98 competing for class honors at the Annual Regatta. At the Alexela 2021 ORC World Championship in Tallinn, Estonia, last August, Italia 11.98 yachts finished second, sixth and ninth in the 62-boat Class C fleet.

Racing in the 168th Annual Regatta begins on Friday, June 10, with a race around Conanicut Island starting. Two days of buoy or navigator-course racing will follow on June 11 and 12.

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