Yacht racing

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Newport Beach to Cabo San Lucas race start 2013 Cabo San Lucas Race Start 2013 photo D Ramey Logan.jpg
Newport Beach to Cabo San Lucas race start 2013

Yacht racing is a sailing sport involving sailing yachts and larger sailboats, as distinguished from dinghy racing, which involves open boats. It is composed of multiple yachts, in direct competition, racing around a course marked by buoys or other fixed navigational devices or racing longer distances across open water from point-to-point. It can involve a series of races with buoy racing or multiple legs when point-to-point racing.



Yachting, that is, recreational boating, is very old, as exemplified in the ancient poem Catullus 4:

1883 description of the racing of Bermudian boats, by Lady Brassey, with illustrations showing the Bermuda rig. Initially, working vessels were rented for weekend racing in Bermuda, but affluent competitors of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club soon purpose-built racers Bermudian sail racing boats by Lady Brassey 1885.jpg
1883 description of the racing of Bermudian boats, by Lady Brassey, with illustrations showing the Bermuda rig. Initially, working vessels were rented for weekend racing in Bermuda, but affluent competitors of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club soon purpose-built racers

The yacht you see there, friends,
says that she's been
The fastest piece of timber ever seen;
She swears that once she could have overhauled
All rival boats, whether the challenge called
For racing under canvas or with oars.

(trans. James Michie)

"Yacht" is referred to as deriving from either Norwegian ("jagt"), Middle Low German ("jaght") or from the Dutch word jacht, which means "a swift light vessel of war, commerce or pleasure. The sporting element in the word lies in the derivation of jaght from the root jaghen, which means to hunt, chase or pursue…." [1] [2]

The formal racing of boats is believed to have started with sailboats in the Netherlands sometime in the 17th century. Soon, in England, custom-built racing "yachts" began to emerge and the Royal Yacht Squadron was established in 1815. In 1661 John Evelyn recorded a competition between Katherine and Anne, two large royal sailing vessels both of English design, "…the wager 100-1; the race from Greenwich to Gravesend and back." [3] One of the vessels was owned, and sometimes steered, by Charles II, the King of England. The king lost.

In 1782, the Cumberland Fleet, a class of sailing vessel known for its ability to sail close to the wind, were painted racing up the Thames River with spectators viewing from a bridge. [4] Much like today, this obsession with sailing close to the wind with speed and efficiency fueled the racing community.

In the 19th century, most yacht races were started by allotting starting positions to the competitors. Buoys were laid in a straight line, to which the competitors attached their yachts by means of spring ropes. The yachts were required to keep all the sails forward of the mainmast on deck until the starting signal was given. [5] The Yacht Racing Association was founded in 1875 by Prince Batthyany-Strattman, Captain J. W. Hughes, and Mr. Dixon Kemp. [6] The Y.R.A. wrote standardised yacht racing rules which included the 'Flying Start' used today. [7]

Bringing yacht racing to the forefront of public life, the America's Cup was first raced in 1851 between the New York Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron. Not ruled or regulated by measurement criteria as today, it is the second-place finisher was Aurora, "and but for the fact that time allowance had been waived for the race she would have been the winner by a handsome margin." [8] Subsequently, the Cup races were conducted, usually every three to four years, based on a challenge issued by one club to the current Cup holder, which till 1983 was the NYYC.

As at 2017, the La Ciotat Based Yacht Partridge 1885 is documented as being the world's oldest, still fully operational classic racing yacht. [9] [10] [11]

Rules and ratings

Yacht Racing Yacht Racing Photo D Ramey Logan.jpg
Yacht Racing
A yacht race at the finish line Yacht race photo D Ramey Logan.jpg
A yacht race at the finish line
Santa Cruz 70 Retro 2013 Ahmanson Cup regatta, Newport Beach, California. Santa Cruz 70 Retro off Newport Beach California photo D Ramey Logan.jpg
Santa Cruz 70 Retro 2013 Ahmanson Cup regatta, Newport Beach, California.

As yacht racing became more prevalent, and yacht design more diverse, it was necessary to establish systems of measurements and time allowances due to the differences in boat design. Longer yachts are inherently faster than shorter ones; therefore, in the interests of fairness, in the 1820s a “primitive system of time allowance was introduced on the Solent.” [12] Larger yachts were handicapped; but owners with the biggest vessels had a problem with the allowance system, for they preferred that crossing the finish line first, much as in foot and horse races, should suffice to win the contest. As a result, both ratings and “one-design” competition were developed.

Ratings systems rely upon some formulaic analysis of usually very specific yacht-design parameters such as length, sail area, displacement, and hull shape. During the 1920s and through the 1970s the Cruising Club of America established a formula by which most racing/cruising boats were designed during that period. After its descendant, the mathematically complex International Offshore Rule (IOR) of the 1970s, contributed to much decreased seaworthiness (and even speed), the simpler Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) [13] system was adopted. The PHRF uses only proven performance characteristics, especially theoretical sailing speed, as a means to allow dissimilar yachts—typically crewed by friends and families at clubs rather than by professional crews—to race together. Most popular family-oriented cruising sailboats will have a rating filed with a local chapter of the PHRF.

The most prevalent handicap rating systems today are the Offshore Racing Congress (ORC), Offshore Racing Rule (ORR), [14] International Rating Certificate (IRC), and the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF). [15] Many countries organise their own handicap systems which do not take into account the size, weight, or sail area of the yacht, but performance is measured on the basis of previous race results. The Irish E.C.H.O. system is such a handicap system. [16]

One-design racing was invented by Thomas (Ben) Middleton in 1886 in Killiney Bay close to Dublin City, Republic of Ireland. Middleton was concerned that winning a yacht race was more reliant on having an expensive new yacht, than it was on the skill of the yachtsman. [17] One design yacht racing is conducted with classes of similar boats, all built—often via mass-production—to the same design, with the same sail area and rig, and the same number of crew, so that crew ability and tactical expertise are more likely to decide a race than boat type, or age, or even weather. Popular racing boats such as The Water Wag, Laser, the J/22 and J/24, the Etchells, and the Star and New York 30 of Nathanael Herreshoff are examples of one-design boats.

In general, modern yacht-racing contests are conducted according to the Racing Rules of Sailing, [18] first established in 1928. [19] Though complex, the RRS are intended primarily simply ensure fairness and safety. The Rules are revised and updated every four years by the body now known as World Sailing.

Notable races

The major races of today can be classified as inshore, offshore, ocean, and around the world. They adhere to one set of rules, but use diverse handicapping standards. [20]


The Admirals Cup was created in 1957 by the Admiral of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Each country involved is allowed to send one team and three boats of a chosen one-design class. Formerly it was raced every two years. It appears that due to international disagreements that this event no longer takes place.

The America's Cup was established in 1851. This is the oldest, and arguably the most prestigious, event in yacht racing. Participants are restricted to a measurement formula for the boats, and the rules concerning this formula have been controversial since the beginning. The English, who were the challengers for the first 132 years of the race, commented "England rules the waves, but America waives the rules." This race was not traditionally an inshore race, due to the requirement that the British boat would sail to the racing area, which involved sailing trans-Atlantically.

The Auckland Anniversary Regatta was founded in 1840. It includes the Heather Cup, which has been contested on over 170 yearly occasions since establishment. (It was halted briefly during the Second Boer War.)


The Vic-Maui Yacht Race runs from Victoria, Canada to Lahaina, Hawaii a distance of 2,308 nautical miles ((4,274 km)). The race was started in 1965 and is held every other year. It is the longest of the Pacific-Hawaii races.

The Transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac) starts off Point Fermin (San Pedro, near Los Angeles) and ends off Diamond Head Lighthouse in Honolulu a distance of around 2,225 nautical miles (2,560 mi; 4,121 km). It is one of yachting's premier offshore races, attracting entrants from all over the world. Started in 1906, the race is organized by the Transpacific Yacht Club.

Fastnet was established in 1924 with 7 boats. The race covers approximately 600 miles starting at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, rounding Fastnet rock on the southern coast of Ireland, and finishing at Plymouth.

The Tour De France A La Voile was established in 1978 with 20 boats. The race parallels the cycling event and takes place along France's three coasts: English Channel, Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean. It covers over 1000 miles.

The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race was established in 1945. This Australian race runs from Sydney, New South Wales to Hobart, Tasmania a distance of over 682 nautical miles (1,263 km; 785 mi). [21]

The Melbourne to Hobart Westcoaster race runs 440 nm, across the Bass Strait, down the rugged West Coast of Tasmania, around the southernmost tip of Australia, and up the Derwent River to the finish in Hobart.

The Newport to Bermuda race started in 1906. It runs from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda.

The Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac was founded in 1898 with five boats. The race runs over 300 miles, from Chicago to Mackinac Island on the northern tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan.

The Marblehead to Halifax race was founded in 1905. The race runs for over 360 miles, from Marblehead, Massachusetts to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Coastal Classic, started in 1982, is New Zealand's premiere fleet race. At about 125 miles, it is shorter than most offshore races. It runs north from Auckland to Russell, which is at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island.

The San Fernando race, started in 1975 with six yachts, runs a distance of 500 miles between Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The Governor's Cup, started in 1996 with 15 yachts, runs a distance of 1700 miles between Simon's Town in South Africa and St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

The Regata del Sol al Sol was established in 1968. This race runs 500 nautical miles, from the St. Petersburg Yacht Club in St. Petersburg, Florida to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, a small island 8 miles Northeast of Cancún in the Caribbean Sea. Typically, two dozen or more boats from all over the Gulf of Mexico compete, with LOA ranging from 35 to 80 feet.



See also

Related Research Articles


Yachting is the use of recreational boats and ships called yachts for racing or cruising. Yachts are distinguished from working ships mainly by their leisure purpose. "Yacht" derives from the Dutch word jacht ("hunt"). With sailboats, the activity is called sailing, and with motorboats, it is called powerboating.

Maxi yacht

A maxi yacht usually refers to a racing yacht of at least 21 metres (70 ft) in length.

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race Annual yacht race from Sydney to Hobart

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is an annual event hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, starting in Sydney, New South Wales, on Boxing Day and finishing in Hobart, Tasmania. The race distance is approximately 630 nautical miles (1,170 km). The race is run in conjunction with the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, and is widely considered to be one of the most difficult yacht races in the world.

Fastnet Race

The Fastnet Race is a biennial offshore yacht race organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club of the United Kingdom with the assistance of the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes and the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth.

One-Design is a racing method which may be adopted in sports which use complex equipment, whereby all vehicles have identical or very similar designs or models.

Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race

The Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race (MHOR) is a biennial sailing race which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005. It runs between Marblehead, Massachusetts and Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is believed to be the longest running offshore ocean race in the world and is considered one of the pre-eminent ocean races of the North Atlantic.

The International Offshore Rule (IOR) was a measurement rule for racing sailboats. The IOR evolved from the Cruising Club of America (CCA) rule for racer/cruisers and the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) rule.

Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) is a handicapping system used for yacht racing in North America. It allows dissimilar classes of sailboats to be raced against each other. The aim is to cancel out the inherent advantages and disadvantages of each class of boats, so that results reflect crew skill rather than equipment superiority.

Sail Canada is Canada's governing body for the sport of sailing. Sail Canada is a "Member National Authority" of World Sailing. Organization of sailing in Canada is divided into four groups: yacht clubs, Provincial Sailing Associations, class associations, and Sail Canada itself.

Sailing yacht Private sailing vessel with overnight accommodations

A sailing yacht, is a leisure craft that uses sails as its primary means of propulsion. A yacht may be a sail or power vessel used for pleasure, cruising, or racing. There is no standard definition, so the term applies here to sailing vessels that have a cabin with amenities that accommodate overnight use. To be termed a "yacht", as opposed to a "boat", such a vessel is likely to be at least 33 feet (10 m) in length and have been judged to have good aesthetic qualities. Sailboats that do not accommodate overnight use or are smaller than 30 feet (9.1 m) are not universally called yachts. Sailing yachts in excess of 130 feet (40 m) are generally considered to be superyachts.

The Launceston to Hobart yacht race is a 285 nautical mile race, commencing at Beauty Point on the Tamar River, with competitors sailing out of the Tamar River, east along the northern coast of Tasmania, through Banks Strait and south down Tasmania's East Coast, through Mercury Passage between mainland Tasmania and Maria Island, across Storm Bay, to a finish line in the Derwent River. The race departs on 27 December each year. The race is known as the L2H race despite the race commencing at Beauty Point, some 45 kilometers north of Launceston.

1993 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

The 1993 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race was the 49th annual running of the Australian "blue water classic" Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. It was hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia based in Sydney.

Australian Sailing magazine (ASL) is published by Yaffa Publishing Group, an independent publisher headquartered in Surry Hills (NSW). Founded in 1976, it is Australia's only dedicated yacht racing magazine.

The Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race is a biennial yacht race held in odd-numbered years, from Marion, Massachusetts to the island of Bermuda, a distance of 645 nautical miles (1,195 km). The most recent race was held starting June 9, 2017.

Sailing (sport) Amateur or professional competitive sport

The sport of sailing involves a variety of competitive sailing formats that are sanctioned through various sailing federations and yacht clubs. Racing disciplines include matches within a fleet of sailing craft, between a pair thereof or among teams. Additionally, there are specialized competitions that include setting speed records. Racing formats include both closed courses and point-to-point contests; they may be in sheltered waters, coast-wise or on the open ocean. Most competitions are held within defined classes or ratings that either entail one type of sailing craft to ensure a contest primarily of skill or rating the sailing craft to create classifications or handicaps.

The Verve Cup Regatta was established in 1992 and is organized annually by the Chicago Yacht Club. In 2010, it became the largest offshore course race regatta in North America. The Verve provides is one-of-a-kind regatta that is a highlight of the sailing season in the Midwest U.S. The event is sailed over three days and takes place on three racing circles in Lake Michigan with the Chicago skyline as a backdrop. The competition includes offshore and inshore courses, as well as a new distance race added in 2010.

Captain John Holden Illingworth was an English naval engineer in the Royal Navy who achieved fame as a yacht racer and yacht designer. Described on his death as "the father of post-war offshore sailing racing", he held most of the senior positions in British yachting and pioneered several innovations in the sport.

Handicap forms for sailing vessels in sailing races have varied throughout history, and they also vary by country, and by sailing organisation. Sailing handicap standards exist internationally, nationally, and within individual sailing clubs.

UFO 34

UFO 34 is a cruising and racing fibreglass monohull sailboat class. It is a sloop based on a design by Holman and Pye. The design features a spade rudder and a Bermuda rig with a large, overlapping headsail. Over 150 UFO 34s have been built both in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Route Halifax Saint-Pierre Ocean Race Sailboat race

Route Halifax Saint-Pierre Ocean Race is an ocean race held in late June or early July, every two years, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada for a distance of approximately 350 nautical miles (650 km) to Saint-Pierre, in the French Archipelago of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon off of coastal Newfoundland. It is raced by crews of two or more people, most commonly in sailboats in the 30 to 40 foot range, but boats from 21 feet (6.4 m) to 60 feet (18 m) have been raced in the past.


  1. Phillips-Birt, Douglas (1974). The History of Yachting. New York: Stein and Day. pp.  9. ISBN   0812817044.
  2. Free Dictionary: definition and derivation of "yacht"
  3. Phillips-Birt, Douglas (1974). The History of Yachting. New York: Stein and Day. pp.  14. ISBN   0812817044.
  4. Phillips-Birt, Douglas (1974). The History of Yachting. New York: Stein and Day. pp.  22. ISBN   0812817044.
  5. Athlone Yacht Club, 'notice of race' for Lough Ree Regatta 1835 in Athlone Sentinel, 31 July 1835
  6. Dixon Kemp's manual of Yacht & Boat sailing and Architecture, 11th edition of 1913
  7. Dixon Kemp's manual of Yacht & Boat sailing and Architecture, 11th edition of 1913
  8. Phillips-Birt, Douglas (1974). The History of Yachting. New York: Stein and Day. pp.  28. ISBN   0812817044.
  9. "The world's oldest racing yacht?". www.yachtingworld.com. Yachting World. 22 October 2008. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  10. "he bowman gets a good dousing on "Partridge", one of the oldest yachts ..."
  11. "Cannes & the Régates Royales". www.regatesroyales.com. Société des Régates de Cannes. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  12. Phillips-Birt, Douglas (1974). The History of Yachting. New York: Stein and Day. pp.  29. ISBN   0812817044.
  13. "US Sailing". Archived from the original on 2012-03-10. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  14. "ORR". US Sailing. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  15. "Offshore Home". Archived from the original on 2012-03-24. Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  16. "ECHO and IRC Handicapping". www.sailing.ie. Irish Sailing Administrator. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  17. The water Wags 1887-2012 by Alfred and Vincent Delany
  18. "ISAF : About The Racing Rules of Sailing".
  19. Rushall, Mark. "The Racing Rules of Sailing" (PDF). Rushall Partnership. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  20. Steward, Sue & Anthony (2000). Top Yacht Races of the World. London: New Holland. ISBN   1859743943.
  21. "About the Race". Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race . Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  22. Eastaugh, Sophie (4 November 2016). "Vendee Globe: 66-year-old solo sailor takes on 'Everest of the Seas'". CNN . Retrieved 15 November 2017.

Further reading

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