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PHRF, Fleeting Boats and Race Management
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  When I first began racing I was like most folks.  All I was concerned with was figuring out the start sequence and getting my boat up and down the race course without getting my ass handed to me too badly (embarrassingly) or fouling other boats in the process.  Both goals took a considerable amount of experience to accomplish and I still have much to learn. 

  I think it was the second race I was ever in; my trusty First Look, a Capri 22 wing keel standard rig, and I found ourselves in Fleet 1.  Did I object?  How could I?  I had no idea how PHRF worked so, whatever.  Fleet 1 is where the fast boats are.  I must be really fast!  Right?  Absolutely wrong!  Looking back on that experience and my knowledge now of PHRF and fleet management, I could not have been more misplaced in a fleet.  First Look's  PHRF which stands for "Performance Handicap Racing Fleet" was at 225.  The fastest PHRF rating for a boat in Fleet 1 in that race was 28 for a Corsair F-28R, which is a racing trimaran.  To give some perspective the F-28R will cruise under mainsail alone in the double digits.  I was lucky to see 6 kts sliding sideways at top speed.  The fact of the matter is that there were no boats that could compete with the F-28R in Fleet 1 that day.  It was a turkey shoot.  It was bad race management.

  Almost every sailboat you can mention has been raced somewhere and will have a PHRF rating assigned to it.  The Grapevine Sailing Club maintains it's own PHRF list and it is compiled of data construed from clubs and sources across North America.  It is so owners can race their boats in other than One Design (OD) fleets.  One Design is the truest form of racing and that is made up of exacting boats that have exactly the same sail dimensions and inventory.  The Catalina 22 is a good example of One Design racing at GSC where there is a strong fleet presence.  If you are like me though, PHRF is your game. 
  The problem with PHRF is that it is "imPHRFect".  It's still the best method we have to race non OD boats against each other and make the competition as fair as possible.  The concept of PHRF is that any boat sailing at or below it's numbers can beat any boat sailing above it's numbers in corrected time.  On paper I'm sure there's an argument.  In reality though, it is simply not the case.
  It's been my experience that a given boat sailed well with at least a 20% lower PHRF than it's nearest competitor's rating maintains a consistent advantage.  The greater the percentage above 20%, the greater the advantage.
  There are other considerations also even when PHRF numbers are close.  Displacement plays a big role in this equation.  Consider a 5K lb boat versus a 10K lb boat.  They may have very close PHRF ratings, maybe less than 10 sec. apart.  You can tack a 5K lb boat much faster than a 10K lb boat and that means time.  When wind is light the 5K lb boat has a clear advantage but bring on a gale and the 10K pounder pulls away. 
  Example: Catalina 30 Tall Mast Bow Sprit (TMBS) PHRF 174 vs J22 OD PHRF 177.  Should these boats be fleeted together?  Absolutely not!  Their rating is 3 sec. apart.  In average wind the J22 will kill the C30.  Don't get me started on the Catalina 22 PHRF of 270.  It's a PHRF destroyer!  We can all be thankful they sail in an OD fleet.
  My approach to race management has always been to fleet boats as best I could for maximum competition.  "I'd rather lose in a big fleet than win in a small one" has been my philosophy when applying this strategy.  If I am not being pushed to excel, it ain't racing, then what's the point?
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