Longer Races – an Op-Ed Contribution

The following is an Op-Ed Contribution by Jon Pinckney, a member of the Harbor 20 Class Association and Fleet 1.


Open letter to Fleet one members,

I sailed in last night’s NHYC twilight race and wanted to express that the two races we sailed were perhaps the best two races I have ever experienced in the Harbor 20. I am hoping to open up a little dialogue amongst members as to why I felt the races were so good so perhaps we can duplicate last night’s experience for future races if other sailors felt the same way.

What I felt made last night stand out from all the other twilights was the length of the race course. The weather leg was approximately a half mile long and we sailed a twice around WL course lasting approximately 30 minutes. The wind was Southwest at about 8-10 knots. The longer course allowed for the boats to separate out on the course and sail the H20 the way they were meant to sail. This was in sharp contrast to 2 weeks earlier when in the same wind our races were twice around lasting 12 minutes long in the same conditions.

My belief as to why we do short course racing in the harbor is that before the H20 came along we raced sabots and other small boats in the harbor for which a small course was suitable. When the H20’s came along everyone just incorporated the H20 racecourse with the way things were always run for smaller boats.   I believe that is a mistake that we should look as a class to correct as heavier keelboats stop, turn, accelerate and generally handle much differently than a small lightweight dinghy. Short courses are dangerous as only so many 20 foot boats even fit in the race course at one time and the limited space ensures that 3 fleets of boats will always be on top of each other. As soon as one fleet goes around the windward mark, they are immediately headed downwind into another fleet of “hard on the wind” right away boats. I have often times been in this situation where 5-6 B’s are lined up in a row on Starboard tack taking up to 100 feet of space and as a downwind give way boat, I have nowhere to go to give way.

I am hoping that we can agree that longer is better and perhaps even recognize that a 25 minute race is still a short race for a 20 foot keelboat! If so is there a way we as a class can express our preference to PRO’s running our races? While I am thinking that races, regardless of how many legs sailed, should be about 30 minutes long, it is most important that the length of the beat is stretched out to allow for a more safe, fair, and enjoyable experience. The challenge is a southerly wind that runs across our east/west channels. While we are limited in space in these conditions we should do everything we can to make sure that every bit of length is incorporated into the course which I don’t think we always do. Perhaps we can discuss this openly here and then if the class agrees, make recommendations to PRO’s of all the local Yacht Clubs. As our numbers grow the danger grows along with the quality of racing and I think it is time correct something that has been wrong from the very beginning. Let’s recognize that a H20 is a 2,000 pound 20 foot keelboat and not a 100 pound 8 foot sabot or Lehman 12.

Invite all to comment below.


Jon Pinckney

Earth #15




  • Gary Thorne

    Good points, Jon–I agree with you that our races should last longer and have longer legs. It would be worth asking PROs about this.

    One way to get longer legs and races is to start at the leeward mark and finish at the weather mark. When RCs use separate start and finish lines, they already have a finish boat that could handle a windward finish as easily as a leeward one. With leeward finish lines, we seldom achieve the goal of starting the As before the Cs finish, because the Cs are racing downwind through the starting line until just before they finish. However, with a windward finish, we could start the As as soon as all the Cs round the leeward mark–once the Cs finish at the weather mark, they’re not racing anymore and could sail around the As coming upwind.

    For races in the turning basin, I think it’s more important to stay out of the NHYC moorings than to have long legs, so I wouldn’t advocate putting the weather mark in the moorings in a southerly. However, we could ask PROs to set leeward marks as close to X mark (in a southerly) or Harbor Island as the wind direction allows.

    Thanks for starting this discussion!

  • Per Trebler

    Jon’s comments are right on. I have participated in past NHYC races as crew and have noticed the congestion that builds, particularly around marks. I’ve wondered why the courses are like sprints which didn’t seem to allow the skippers to develop and execute strategies to overcome less than good starts. I also raced Thursday, my first as a skipper, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience (notwithstanding my results).

    Per Trebler
    Spiritus #117

  • Nik Froehlich

    This comment was sent via email to the Webmaster from Robert Kinney, and posted as a comment:

    Fellow harbor 20 sailors

    I want to agree with everything that Jon mentioned but I will respond from the PRO side.

    Wind direction:

    When the wind is right of 230 we have the ability to run nice long races that allow us to put a leeward mark down close to bay island which gives us the preferred distance that Jon mentions.

    When the wind is between 230 and 190 we start to limit the length of the. Course we have available. Traditionally NHYC has chosen to stay out of the main channel and allow BYC’s beer can racers a unmolested sailing area.

    Going to a 170 to 190 wind direction gives us even less room to operate. In these conditions I have found that running a triangle windward leeward course helps reduce the clutter of boats in the middle of the course

    When the wind goes to the left of the 170 all bets are off as our available race area shrinks even more.

    Starting line.

    It is my experience with the h20 a class that a longer line helps to eliminate the big mess at the start. The race committee must ensure that the leeward pin is not placed right on top of a moored boat. With a bigger more competitive fleet a square line becomes way more important. If we have a starting point instead of a line all the good guys want to be right there.

    The weather mark:

    Many times the weather mark is placed right next to a moored boat. I particularly like the ones inside a boat length as they make it “extra interesting”

    The real issue is that we have too many boats on our little tiny course.
    Some solitons might be…

    Sail the As on Wednesday night where they could have their own race track. This reduces the social part of Thursday night but the fleet has to decided if this is a racing deal or social? This would allow you to go all the way down the bay from q to x, lengthen the course by almost double.

    How about on Thursday you can’t bring
    Your pro crew? Wife girlfriend, boyfriend or significant other only. That Would surely detune the whole thing…

    How about a 4:45 start which would allow us to use longer courses?

    The solution for the sabots was two separate race courses. Possibly we need to think about this. The current thinking is that 15 harbor 20’s on a line is about all the course can handle.

    It would also be nice if a few more people did their penalty turns on the course as there seem to be a few boats that are above the rules.

    The racing will continue to get tougher as more folks jump in. This is all food for thought.


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