Superyacht Racing Association Forming to Establish Safety Rules

Superyacht RacingSource: D. Glenn, Supersail World

A new association is to be formed to tackle safety and fairness in superyacht racing.  Following a number of injuries and near collisions in the burgeoning world of big yacht sailing competition, owners, designers, skippers and key personnel from the yachting industry have agreed that the Superyacht Racing Association (SYRA) be formed with the specific intention of making racing safer and fairer.

Yacht designer Ed Dubois, who co-chaired a meeting in St. Barts on the eve of the annual Bucket regatta and who has been instrumental in forming SYRA, said that if the industry did nothing to improve matters it would be regarded as “severe negligence of our duty”. In other words, it was time the superyacht racing fraternity took more responsibility for the remarkable environment it has created.

Dubois said that the rapid growth of racing yachts of up to 400 tons, which are primarily designed for cruising, together with the exponential increase in loads and the potential dangers that brought with it, meant the need for agreed safety measures should be addressed by an organized body representative of superyacht racing. “We have one hell of an animal here and we must control it before it comes back and bites us,” said Mr. Dubois.

The meeting in St. Barts generated comment on everything from handicapping rules, the involvement of ISAF and the use of professional crew, to the need to avoid mismatching yachts on the racecourse, equipment failure and the possibility of standardizing rules for all superyacht regattas.

Barry Houghton, the owner of Salperton 1V which was recently dismasted and aboard when one of his crewmen was severely injured last year when a jib sheet parted, said: “I have learned more about sailing my yacht during a 1-week regatta than I have in a whole year of cruising.” It was a sentiment which received a universal nod of agreement from the gathering and, in the context of his experience with Salperton, in a way helped endorse the need to form SYRA.

There were many interesting contributions. Yacht designer Gerry Dykstra reminded the meeting of the extraordinary fact that there are no classification requirements for running rigging. Parted sheets and failed lashings have been the cause of two recent accidents bringing this sharply into focus. Clearly equipment failure and the less often mentioned issue of user-error are big issues for SYRA. The importance of reporting incidents will also undoubtedly be high on its agenda.

America’s Cup veteran Brad Butterworth advised that owners should have the final say when it comes to rule making and that while rule formation should be in conjunction with ISAF, owners, through SYRA, must maintain control.

Joe Vittoria, the owner of Mirabella V, brought up the oft-discussed question of hiring professionals. “I play a lot of tennis, if I sent on Roger Federer to play for me the chances are he’d win,” he said as an illustration. He also touched on the unwanted aggression which professionals sometimes brought to the race course, but designer Bill Tripp said: “It doesn’t give them a license to be aggressive just because they are professionals.”

Others made the point that professionals were a safety feature in themselves as long as they abided by the spirit of superyacht or Bucket racing.

St Barts Bucket race organizer Hank Halsted defended the 40 meter no-go circle which he is imposing on competitors to avoid near misses. Some have criticized the effectiveness of this because of the difficulty of policing but with new GPS tracking and the requirement to deliver the yacht’s ‘black box’ at the end of each race so that the race committee can download tracks and monitor behavior, the initiative would appear to have much more weight.

Many other subjects were touched upon but the purpose of the meeting was to get agreement that SYRA should be formed, to agree an executive committee, whose responsibility would be to move the work of the racing association forward and to agree that an executive director be appointed, funded by an association membership fee.

It was agreed that the following executive committee be formed: Owners: Barry Houghton (Salperton 1V) and Albert Buell (Saudade); Designers: Bill Tripp and Ed Dubois; Builders: Burak Agul (Perini Navi) and another yacht builder to be determined. Industry: Robbie Doyle (Doyle sailmakers). Boat captain: David Hutchinson.

It was also agreed that experienced and popular race officer Peter Craig be approached to become SYRA Executive Director. His work would be funded by an annual membership fee to SYRA of between €2,000-€4,000. There was a moment’s silence at this announcement but Meteor owner Dan Myers quickly made the point that the whole issue of safety and fairness was so important to the supersailing movement that details like membership fees should be put to one side. “I spend more money on the ice to keep drinks cool during a regatta,” he said.

It was an amusing way of making the point, but everyone in the room understood the deadly seriousness of what he meant.

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