RORC rating office

All change?

Seventeen years after joining the RORC rating office, James Dadd took over the helm in September from Mike Urwin. During his tenure to date, Dadd has also been a measurer at four America’s Cups and four Volvo races and was in charge of the creation and subsequent management of the V065 class used in the 2014-15 contest

Seahorse: Firstly, a brief history of the rating office…

Mike Urwin: The office was originally set up in the mid ’50s on a dining room table in Bournemouth before moving to Lymington in the 1970s. The aim has always been to try to remain at the forefront of rating rule development. Originally, it was the RORC rule which was superseded by the IOR in 1969 with the office centrally involved in IOR development. CHS then came along in 1984 and was initially run from here, issuing certificates in CHS in parallel with IOR and IMS. Some boats including one designs were issued a triple certificate incorporating all three systems. During the late ’80s and 1990s, CHS grew exponentially until it was replaced by IRC (to all intents and purposes CHS brought up to date by changing the structure of the code rather than its effect), heralding a further period of growth to the point now that we and UNCL issue some 7,000 certificates annually across 38 countries.

The office of course does much more than just IRC – the office was centrally involved with the development and management of the Whitbread 60 rule and then the Volvo 70 rule, which James developed and we managed. More recently, James was seconded to oversee the build of the new Volvo 65s; with a finished boat weight range of just 29kg we feel that he did ok.

Along the way we also developed and ran IRM, the RYA/RORC sportsboat rule and worked with builders such as Nautor for the development and management of their in-house rules and also their one design classes.

Ultimately we see the role of the office as the de facto unappointed governing body for offshore sailing in the UK. We like to think the UK plays a major role internationally and so we’d like to see the office as contributing to offshore sailing worldwide in the broadest sense. Yes, sometimes we spend money with no return but we’re happy to support the sport. We are also heavily involved with safety issues and reguations.

SH: And UNCL...

MU: Ours remains a very strong relationship – IRC remains very much a shared joint venture. A lot of the research takes place here but many of the new ideas come from UNCL. And when changes are being considered each year there is a great deal of ‘back and forth’ across the Channel before anything is finalised.

SH: Have there been many specific technical developments during your time?

MU: Yes, masses! Huge changes. Twenty two years ago boats were IOR, IOR derivatives or IMS of sorts, spinnakers were symmetric, boats had spinnaker poles and bowsprits were banned. Neither water ballast nor canting keels were permitted. Masts were aluminium. Standing rigging was steel wire or rod. DSS had not even been thought of! Powered winches were not permitted… and trimmers thumb was unheard of. CHS and then IRC led the way in allowing all these innovations that then spread elsewhere.

We have always strongly held that IRC is permissive – we must embrace the modern and the new, but it is key that we must at the same time protect the existing fleet and not devalue their boats overnight… But if we do not embrace new ideas then IRC will go the way of its predecessors.

SH: In terms of the changing of the guard, how were your responsibilities split in the past and what role do you (Mike) see yourself having in the future?

MU: James has always held responsibility for the Whitbread/Volvo work while contributing substantially to research for not just IRC but also IRM and the Sportsboat Rule. (As an aside, it was gratifying when HPR was introduced in the US that I wasn’t sure whether to feel proud as it confirmed that IRM was basically right, or reach for the lawyers; HPR was similar in so many respects.) Going forward, James will now take on my role managing the office and holding responsibility for all its activities.

I will be leaving all the day to day ‘stuff’ behind but will continue to be involved in a consultancy role with responsibilities towards research, software development, etc. Activities such as the joint RORC/USS/ORC Universal Measurement System project – which is going well – will also remain with me and I will continue to contribute to ISAF matters.

SH: And new staff…

James Dadd: The VO65 project was very helpful, because I was out the office for most of the time it freed up a little funding so we could bring Andrew Yates in two days a week, learning IRC, the software and its development. Now Andrew will do more of that work. As Mike steps back so Andrew will gradually step up.

SH: So what about the Volvo and the Cup stuff…

JD: People think the two big events has been my life – that’s true to an extent but originally it was all IRC! But IRC is a bit of a cuckoo, every time we’ve focused on it there has been another egg drop in the nest, IRM, other rule development, the Cup and so on. So far as the core ‘product’ is concerned, over the last 10 years we’ve gone from trying to protect IRC to realising it does not need protection, we just need to encourage and develop it.

MU: And all of this is only possible due to a team here that now boasts over 100 man-years of rating rule experience…

SH: James, what about the next Volvo and the next Cup?

JD: For the first time since 1992 I’ve got no plans for the Cup right now. For the VOR we’re in negotiations with Volvo as to where we go with the 65s. I will remain class manager but the real question is how much time I can manage with my increased role here. Certainly not the four days a week I was away for last time.

SH: What about other IRC applications like the growing Superyacht race scene?

JD: The maths of IRC does alter through the size range… as does the physics. That said, many of the larger yachts are weighed and receive an IRC certificate in the usual way. There are no tweaks in IRC for any one class or size range.

However we did not pursue the avenue of a dedicated ‘Superyacht rule’, because we felt that the only way for boats of such a diverse type to really be looked after properly is not via a VPP or any other type of purely scientific rule; you’ve got to put in subjective elements. You need to account, for example, for the fact that some boats have to roll their jibs before they can tack and, even there, some will have fast systems and others slow systems. These boats are basically set up for cruising not racing. With IRC as the foundation, we did not want to get sidetracked away from an objective system. We didn’t do that with the Wallys or Maxi 72s, which are both IRC classes, and both fleets to date seem to like that approach and don’t show any sign of wanting to change.

MU: Once you move above 100-foot there are just too many variations for a pure VPP system. What the Superyachts need is not a rating rule, they need a handicap rule. An objectively managed handicap rule.

JD: Over the years there’s been a lot of shouting at IRC that it’s more of a handicap rule, that we have a set of dials we use to adjust ratings. In fact that’s what the ORC has created with ORCSy – and I don’t disagree with that as it’s what’s needed for those boats. But it’s something that we did not want to do; our core constituency is the IRC cruiser-racer fleet and we felt that if we did something like that for the Superyachts it could adversely affect general opinion of IRC – it’s never been something we tweak for individual types of boats. In any case we would never have the time.

SH: So has Comanche got the highest IRC number ever?

MU: Nope. The highest TCC ever was Hetairos at two-point-something. So in context compare that with a Folkboat on a rating of 0.7 something, Hetairos has to get around the track three-times faster. Which is entirely possible.

SH: Handicap racing is always fairer between boats of a similar size. When classes like the Maxi 72, TP52 and 100-footers come up against each other under IRC how does it go…

MU: It’s reasonable, but it often comes down to conditions. The particular issue with the TPs and Maxi 72s and their success under IRC is more about the budget and effort those guys put in which inevitably has an effect on performance. Put the same effort into almost any half-decent cruiser-racer and it would do just as well.

JD: The other thing with the TP52 in particular is the amount of design refinement and design investment that has gone in. The amount of information that Judel-Vrolijk have on a 52-foot race boat – compare that to if they did a 40-foot version where they don’t have anything like the same amount of data to base their choices upon. Plus the TP52s are very cool boats. I’m much happier that the IRC optimum is thought to be something like a TP52 rather than something like the old slab-sided IMS 50s.

SH: The size cut-off where lighter boats and even carbon has become effective in IRC seems to be drifting below 40-foot for the first time. Will that downward trend continue and do you want it to?

MU: Yes. We are now seeing well-sailed 40-foot racers doing just fine under IRC. The challenge now is to extend that downwards. IRC is inclusive and we very much want to embrace these boats which is why we are actively working to better treat designs like the new Farr 280 and C&C 30. Will we get it right first time? Of course not, but come January and you will see IRC changes to help lighter boats around the 30-foot size.

JD: Another area you mentioned is the carbon boats and I’ve been looking at this for a few years now. What we must do above all is ensure we are not incurring unnecessary costs. If you are building a new boat at 50ft it is now cost effective to build it in carbon. But it used not to be cost effective at 40ft. However… if you look at the current cost of carbon, use it at 40ft and you’re going to use less material, less resin and fewer man hours. Against that you can’t use decent gel-coat and there are also other drawbacks. But the gap is closing.

It’s useful in this regard that before I sat down here I was a boatbuilder and also set up a couple of one design classes. We’re certainly seeing that in the right context for these smaller boats carbon is becoming a cost effective way to go, especially for previously high-labour items like keel-floors.

The whole approach of IRC is that we do not want to cause someone to do something they would not naturally do. For example, what material would you choose if there wasn’t a rating rule involved? Right now I’d say that at 35-foot carbon is already very much in the mix.

MU: But we still need to be careful about the effects on the bulk of the fleet. The cruiser-racers that IRC will continue to be aimed squarely at. But the well-sailed ‘wiz bang’ boats should be competitive and if we can achieve that then were doing alright. But it’s not easy.

JD: Any boat will also always have a preferred set of conditions and that’s as it has always been and as it should be. That is why it’s so important that organisers experiment more with varied course formats. Especially for the Corinthian sailor, always doing the same manoeuvres at the same mark can get pretty dull… Mixed courses can offer more interesting and more testing racing… and also more fun. For one thing, we need to learn to go reaching again –  and boats should be made more capable of it.

SH: How do you select and develop your tools?

MU: We make heavy use of internally developed software. We have the ability within that to run ‘what ifs’ against the whole fleet to explore the effects of potential changes to any one boat – what are the unintended effects? We also use WinDesign, mainly for performance prediction.

A key element however is that we have worked over the years to earn the trust and confidence of the designers themselves. Many of them are happy to share their research and their predictions with us in the knowledge that we will keep the data confidential. A few years ago we were struggling with a particular issue so I called a designer who right away said ‘sure, come over, there’s all the design work, the CFD work, the tank work, and by the way we’ve now got records of the actual performance on the water. Help yourselves’. That is worth far more than almost anything else.

Given the big budget design programmes out there, we could never hope to match their spending. The resources that the design community enjoy are orders of magnitude greater than what we will ever have. And the same goes for any rating office. Some design offices now have ready access to supercomputers; none of us can match that nor likely ever will.

SH: Empirical observation is often talked about in the same breath as IRC, is that still the case?

JD: Yes, absolutely. As one designer once said to me, ‘the only reason we go racing is to validate the VPP’. Things don’t always work in the way theory suggests, even today. There was that – expensive – phase when the Mini Maxis ended up putting chines on the back of the boats and they did not always go in the right place nor work as expected; a number of hulls and even boats were scrapped as a result. Empirical observation of how boats are actually performing in the water is immensely valuable. Are the heavy boats winning, or the light boats, or the over-canvassed boats. Is that specific to a set of conditions or a location. What we do find interesting is, if the heavy boats are winning are the light ones coming last? That would suggest something really might be wrong.

SH: Can we return to the Universal Measurement System (UMS)…

MU: Good progress is being made. A common standard for sail measurement for all commonly used rating systems is very close now. The same data for all and involving all sailmakers; it will be announced at this month’s ISAF conference. And this new sail measurement programme will be rolled out jointly with the ORC. There are also other changes underway in the equipment rules to embrace this move, plus other areas are starting to be addressed as well. We’re getting there.

SH: Finally, at some sizes IRC and ORC designs appear to be converging, although this is currently skewed by the fact that most ORC racing takes place at light air venues, meaning that compared with an IRC design, for ORC you will usually crank up the sail area…

JD: More important than that, I do not believe that we have yet seen a truly ORC-optimised design and until we see that it is very difficult to comment with any certainty. Also, we have seen some pretty unusual looking keels in ORC this year that we suspect are driven by the rule rather than pure design advantage.

SH: The TP52s win under both systems…

JD: They do at the moment. But I have no idea how the TP would fare against a completely optimised ORC design of a similar size. To be honest at this point I haven’t got a clue.