The SoT Regatta Debate Goes Global

What makes for a proper Spirit of Tradition regatta is now officially a global debate.

In case you missed it, we have begun laying out arguments on how to reform SoT regattas ahead of the Camden Classics Cup, which we sponsor, that is coming later this summer. In several stories, we’ve outlined reforms for class rules, rethinking ways organizers should handle divisions amongst classic, vintage and SoT yachts. Protecting the passions of the many owners we know who feel gypped by the structure of SoT and classic racing events is important. What we did not know was that some of these owners live 6,000 miles away.

Meet the French owner of Freya, a Bill Dixon designed SoT 47-footer, who got wind of our essays via his broker, Port Grimaud, France-based Pierre-Andre Jeanne, who is arranging a sale of the boat.

Jeanne says his client has an impressive sailing record in this classic-looking sloop — that features an all-composite hull and a swing keel, installed to help it navigate in shallower water. By all accounts Fraya is ruthlessly efficient going to windward. With wins at the Voiles d’Antibes and Regates Royales. He plans to compete in the European IRC Championship later this year. The owner’s son also campaigns a pure-classic 42-foot German Frers Vagabondo II on both sides of the Atlantic. She competed in past Camden Classic Cup and ERR events, as well.

And if you think we are passionate about SoT Race reform, wait till you read this owner’s notes.  He goes into CIM, the crazy classing rules used for rating classics in Europe.  We’ll go into tearing apart this rule in later posts, stay tuned.

Here are his remarks edited for length and layout.

“The Med’s position can be summarized as follows: classic boats race under the CIM rules: essentially those rules are there to protect the heritage and therefore does not encourage hybridisation of the boats. In other words, carbonisation of rig is discouraged and penalized, self-tailing winches carry small penalties and sails other than Dacron are banned. So through penalties and originality marks you get a rating, which is reasonably consistent. And in principle gives every boat a chance to reach the podium.

Classic yacht races in the Med, lie the Regatta Royal, face the same challenges with SoT yachts as American organizers.

In the CIM rating there is no room for SoT vessels. Race organizers can have SOT boats but they will race under IRC rules: And the winners are not mixed. In the Med you also have race organizers trying to bump participation by having more boats, if you are out of Classic boats, SoT rules tend to become laxer! But a Classic boat that has been too hybridised becomes an SoT. And often is a “still born” in that SoT fleet.

It is also and at times an absolute danger on the start line because not as maneuverable.

In the Med we have no definition with the SoT class itself, because it becomes a “trash class” for anything that floats. It happens simply because the SOT class compared to American classes is in its infancy.  There are still too few boats.

The C.I.M. is International Mediterranean Committee. It exists since 1926 with 5 members: Yacht Club de France, Yacht Club Italiano, Yacht Club de Monaco, real club Nautico de Barcelona and the Hellenic Offshore Racing Club, in association with those countries’ sailing federations. They have a complete set of racing rules and a rating system for vintage and Classique yachts, which covers all important races in the Classique Med circuit. Some will criticise C.I.M. for certain pitfalls, but all has to give them credit for trying to establish a set of rule that works for most classic boats:

More at :cim-classicyachts.org.

On merit, I believe that a number of things should definitely be explored:

  1. A) A Classic boat should be encouraged to stay as original as possible.

Going from a wooden mast to a carbon mast is not innocuous it leads to formidable and additional stresses to the wooden hull and the eventual ageing and deterioration of the vessel. So to put it simply, a boat that is in as an original condition should be rewarded for remaining historically authentic and still, through a fair system of rating, be able to be on the podium.

  1. B) One cannot — and should not — prohibit the hybridisation of classic boats: We live in a free world where people and boat owners are completely entitled to do whatever they want with their assets including their boats. But the pursuit of speed through modifications that takes advantage of 50 to 70 to 100 years of  sailing advances should not come as a prejudice to the truly authentic boat. Yes, faster on the water! But equal on the podium.
  2. C) What one needs to avoid at all costs is the arms race for technology for classic boats. It is a mistake to go down the road that to remain competitive it requires the investing of larger and larger budgets into modernisation. Because in so doing you are killing the history and killing the democratic side of sailing.

“A good sailor should not have to be a rich man. A nice looking boat should not up being a privilage of only a rich man.”

A good sailor should not have to be a rich man. A nice looking boat should not end up being the privilege of only a rich man.

One way I think committees have found to solve simply these issues is in the International metre class. There are three classes: the Classic, the Modernised Classic sometimes called Sira and finally the Moderns. That is an excellent containment of the issues, although at world championships it is always the Moderns who win!. Work still needs to be done.

With no rules for SoT in the Med, it can get confusing. We have anything that is built post-1973 thrown into these trash classes; Old IOR boats, any 12-metres with reverse transoms, modern-ish boats with twin wheels, twin rudders, and open transom boats; There are GRP boats, etc, etc. None of these complement the Classic boats on the water. And that is where the problem lies: Classic boats and  Classic yacht regattas and events are supposed to be a celebration and a feast for the eye of the Classic line. And not a feast for anything that floats! Your posts captured it very well when you wrote: TO ENHANCE THE CLASSIC EXPERIENCE. There are many other races which give older boats the chance of doing well through their rating against new boats.

I think under the IRC rules in the Med, this kind of “trash class” still offers lively competition. It is just that there is no “visual harmony” on the water within the SoT class and with the Classic boats. Yes, there are at time anomalies where in some circumstances the smallest boat, say a Wianno with GRP hull, which is an SoT class in the Med, beats a yacht like Savannah on a windy day on corrected time. That is frustrating for the big boat and can be demotivating if this becomes systematic. But there are time anomalies that no rating system can completely eliminate. So you have to look at changing the rating rules.

To be fair in the Med if you have 10 SoT boats on a start line, it is a good turnout.

With all that said, I would start all definitions for SoT racing with that caption: To Enhance the Classic experience.”

  1. A minimum of three classes should be created to contain the key criteria and within these some sub classes if necessary.
  2. Safety on the water is key. And should result in course-specific considerations. An SoT boat with a long full keel boat should be handled differently than a SoT with thin fin and bulb on a crowded start line. Also boats of very different sizes is a major safety consideration.

How do you class and handicap the SoT yacht from the pure classic? It’s not easy.

In my personal opinion the word upgrade is directly and negatively proportional to originality, it starts with simple wood laminate to replace old frames and you have already greatly stiffened your boat and made your boat more competitive than the original. I suppose in the end the only true playing field is the one class design that rules out any modification.

Just to move forward on some concrete ideas of our failed SoT definition group attempt, we had suggested a scratch card with multiple criteria which would be generally found on classic boats,

Here are some of them:

  • Long overhangs
  • Plumb bow
  • Bowsprit
  • Wooden spars
  • Wooden deck/roof/cockpit/hatches
  • Bronze deck fittings
  • Gaff/gunter rig
  • Sheer line

The idea was that if you can tick four of the above, you most likely have an SoT

Things which would automatically disqualify:

  • Reverse sheer on the stern
  • Twin steering
  • Twin rudder
  • Open back
  • Stern to midship ratio close to 1

 

Just one clarification to perhaps put the SoT class in the Med in a softer perspective: The number of boats which would truly qualify against a set of hard criteria, is still small. So therefore by definition, when the Classic boat regatta organisers include SOT boats — which is not systematic: for instance in the Voiles de St Tropez SOTs are not invited — organizers have to resolve the dilemma of minimum quantity vs minimum quality for the class. And there are not enough numbers in any case to have a split start between the small and the big SoT. Thus the abnormality of a Wianno Senior on the same start line as a 90′ boats, which do not truly belong being on the start line — such as WALLY ONE.

Perhaps another difference between the Med/Europe and the East Coast SoT fleets is that at least to me, the historical growth in Europe has been driven by small SoT day boats, well under 45′. Boat like Tofinous and more recently Code O,  whereas in the US I would say the average SoT boats are much larger and have live-aboard capability.

That factor reduces the ability of European boats to cover longer distances.

But so you know, when I stupidly suggested a subtle modification to Vagabundo II, German Frers simply replied: “Do not bastardise a perfectly good design!” I think he is absolutely correct, one should think twice before attempting to improve of modify our maritime heritage.

And from experience, a boat that has lost its authenticity loses a lot of its value.”

 

Here’s an owner who has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how to best preserve authentic Classic regattas while enhancing the growing interests in a Spirit of Tradition experience. Most of his opinions are in close agreement with ours. There are many priorities to weigh, this is a complex puzzle to solve, and it’ll take input from all stakeholders in the Classic/SoT racing circuits. We’d love to hear your thoughts; you’ll surely hear more of ours.

What do you think?