Sailing as a sport can be a highly addictive and fun experience, albeit a bit expensive. Just like you can use a sailboat to enjoy yourself and cruise around the world or do some partying or fishing, you can also use it as a sport boat to take part in racing events (a regatta). There are usually multiple races in a single regatta, with the winner standing out after completing them all.
The type of boat that can take part in sports events is not limited to a single size or type. You will find that there are races and classes that are available to all types, from the smallest dinghies to large yachts. The ones built for speed will have the upper hand in some cases, while in others the skill of the crew is much more important. No matter what type of boat you have though, you will be able to take part in competitions with the class being the only thing that varies. Catamarans, dinghies, cruise boats and race boats, all of them can take part in a regatta.
Classes of boats
The class that the boat belongs in will determine against what other boats it will compete. The classes are not necessarily fixed, with some of them being stricter than others.
One example of a class that is quite restricted is the one that is manufacturer controlled. In that case, you will find classes of boats that are built by the same manufacturer according to fixed specifications. Since the boats are identical, the thing that makes the difference is the skill of the crew. J/Boats, Melges, RS Sailing and Laser Performance are a couple of well known examples of “strict one-design” classes.
Most of the other types of classes are based on the measurements of the boat. Sometimes that just means that the boat should have a certain length, while in other cases you get other measurements that have to be respected as well, according to certain formulas.
Racing doesn’t have to be restricted to just one class of boats though. Handicap racing is the solution that allows sailboats of different types to go against each other. They do this by giving handicaps and adjusting the boat’s racing time if it has an advantage over others. There are a few different types of handicapping systems that may be used.
Depending on the distance over which the race takes place and the location, you get a couple of types of races.
The short course is one example where the race takes place in protected waters, has a short length and usually relies on buoys to make up the race course. Thanks to the length and location that is close to the coast, boats of all sizes can take part. The Olympics races belong in this category, as is Cowes Week or America’s Cup.
When the race is close to the shore, but it’s not inside protected waters, it’s called coastal racing. Generally, you are able to see the neighboring islands or the coast, but the race is longer and can take up to a couple of days.
Long races that go over a longer distance and go quite far from the shore are part of the offshore racing category. These can turn into round the world sailing events, with Volvo’s Ocean Race or the Global Challenge as great examples.