Sailing: Races made to measure

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The Independent Online
CLUB class and dinghy racing in this country is strong and in good health, so the experiment which begins tomorrow to bring back strength and purpose to the middle layer in the form of the inaugural Commodores' Cup, in the Solent, will be keenly watched by eyes afar as well as near.

There are 13 teams of three boats each racing under a handicapping rule known as the International Measurement System with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Jersey sending their own teams, rather than linking up with England in a British team.

The strongest challenge is likely to come from the United States, which is sending two teams, with extra flavour coming from Argentina, Hong Kong, France, the Netherlands and Finland. The organiser, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, has a difficult role as it has to please its members and has chosen to act as a quasi-national authority in the field of grand prix racing.

The IMS is supposed to offer a more finely tuned handicapping system to allow boats which are not thoroughbred racers, but can also be used for cruising, to race against each other fairly.

It has been introduced as private owners have become increasingly unwilling or unable to finance grand prix boats to race under the International Offshore Rule, which is itself to be changed in November. Commercial sponsorship of top-rung racing has yet to fill the gap.

The IMS uses size and performance data for each boat in a variety of weather conditions to calculate target speeds. Inevitably, there have been discrepancies to iron out.

Equally inevitably, boat designers and manufacturers have rushed to produce yachts which will do well under the rule and so semi-professional 'works' teams are appearing. There has been no shortage of heavies to recruit in a year without America's or Admiral's Cup, Whitbread race or a professional circuit.

The English team has a gloriously quaint look as two Tripp boats, the 47ft Sunstripper and the 40ft Outstripper, are being entered by the British importer while the third boat, the 26-year- old Sparkman & Stephens-varnished yacht Sunstone, is campaigned by her owners, Tom and Vicky Jackson, who also live aboard.

That very clubby angle enchants some, but infuriates others who want to see even more of a modern, purpose-designed emphasis.

The RORC has landed itself with more success, in terms of support and media scrutiny, than it originally expected. Doubtless the struggle on the water will be keenly fought, not least by the Jersey team which has the most modern of purpose-designed boats in Erec Dragten's Dubois-designed Impulse, a revamped IOR boat in the Castro-designed Red Source, and Phillip Tolhurst's J39 Warlord. The inshore influence of Graham Walker and the crew organisation of his old Indulgence syndicate assist Tohurst's cause.

Like the Admiral's Cup, there are four inshore races, one long offshore and one short offshore for the boats which fall into three overlapping bands of 50 to 43 feet, 45 to 38 feet and 41 to 35 feet.

Too much success, unfortunately, could be a difficult problem to manage as the RORC, split before it took the decision to back IMS, may find that the good is the enemy of the best.