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Noble Marine 2012

Getting more people racing: A look at Poole Yacht Racing Association

by Rupert Holmes 7 May 2015 09:46 BST 7 May 2015

Rupert Holmes looks at the moves Poole Yacht Racing Association has made to engender competitive and fun yacht racing, with strong social bonds...

Poole in Dorset may be blessed with some of the best sailing grounds in the UK, including easy access the extensive sheltered waters of Poole harbour, the larger expanse of Poole Bay and the English Channel. However, we all know that great natural facilities alone are not enough to ensure a good turn out for racing events.

The Poole Yacht Racing Association (PYRA) has been among the most pro-active and innovative of local sailing organisations in both lowering the bar to entry for yacht racing and in ensuring competitors have the best possible overall experience. The association organises racing for yachts and multihulls in conjunction with three local clubs – Poole YC, Parkstone YC and the Royal Motor YC.

In the late 2000s, the fleet was split between serious race boats and cruiser-racers that were rated under different systems. This meant numbers in each class were diluted and each one had to cover a wide rating band. "At the time the nonsense was that we had virtually identical boats racing neck and neck, but in different classes," says the association's Ken Morgan.

The solution was for the association to pioneer its own rating system for monohulls, dubbed the Velocity Prediction Rating System (VPRS). It was developed with the aim of offering a credible, affordable and universally applicable alternative rating system. "The modestly priced VPRS system allowed us to pull the whole fleet together, with sensibly banded class divisions, which made for much better racing," adds Morgan.

Ratings are calculated from easily-obtained measurements, which are then run through a velocity prediction program. There is no attempt to manipulate a boat's, or a crew's, rating beyond the figure output by the VPP. Accurate ratings can therefore quickly be calculated, which helps to keep costs down – membership of PYRA costs just £50 per year, including the rating certificate.

To keep things easy for those who want to try racing for the first time, the system has estimating routines that can cope with missing data, although these are biased to ensure no advantage is conveyed. Significantly, for owners of cruising boats, losses from cruising orientated sails and furling gear are reflected in the ratings.

The success of VPRS is such that other clubs along the south coast, including Chichester Cruiser Racing Club and Hardway SC in Portsmouth harbour, have started to adopt it. Find out more about VPRS at: www.vprs.org

Racing formats

The association runs a varied programme that takes into account member feedback, including the fact that they may wish to try a different mix of events each year. For instance, in 2013 the association ran an early season longish race down to Torbay and Dartmouth, which was very well attended.

For 2015 the schedule runs on alternate weekends, with a 24-race series, including an opening pursuit race and a day of two-handed round the cans racing. After that it's passage races, mostly to the Solent, plus two extended weekend cross channel triangles.

There's scope for a wider range of event types in the future. "Who knows, perhaps a demand for more round the cans racing will return, or another night race, or another PYRA on Tour. The important thing is to keep the racing fresh and exciting," says Morgan.

Social aspects

As well as aiming to provide the best possible experience on the water, social events around each race are also central to the association's ethos. "This is hugely important and largely explains PYRA's enduring popularity," says Morgan. "For the past seven or so years we have managed to find commercial sponsors, which means crews turn up at an away rendezvous for a prize giving with complementary drinks and sometimes a buffet or barbecue, and maybe a quiz or treasure hunt. People love it. There's loads of banter, lots of fun and getting to know the other crews."

Finally, Morgan gives four top tips for good yacht racing:

  1. Interesting, varied, exciting and achievable races/courses.
  2. Straightforward, understandable and efficient race management.
  3. An accurate, fair rating system and class structure.
  4. A fun, non-cliquey social side with an emphasis on welcoming and involving new members.
Find out more about PYRA at www.yachtsandyachting.com/club/936/Poole-Yacht-Racing-Association and at www.pyra.org.uk.

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