Time To Introduce Shorthanded Divisions in All Regattas

Greetings Fellow Sailors!  I am introducing an idea to all sailboat race organizers in the San Francisco Bay.  I would like to share a letter I just sent to a popular local sailing magazine- it lays out the concept.  I hope others in the wider racing community embrace and propel the idea forward, as I believe it will seriously increase waning participation in regattas.  Thanks for reading, and thanks to Sailing Anarchy for everything you do for our sport!

If it pleases you, I would like to submit an idea to the readership for discussion and, it is my hope, rapid adoption by the local yacht racing community.

The "think globally, act locally" premise of my idea is to help resuscitate yacht racing, including socializing around yacht racing, on the SF Bay and the Gulf of the Farallones.  My goal is to help halt the depressing and undeniable contraction of our sport and to reinvigorate racing in our yachting community in the hopes of growing participation again and- dare I say it?- attract newer (and younger) sailors?  

I don't have answers to "the big picture" issue of shrinking participation in sailing, but there is a really easy way to attract more boats to the existing catalog of sailboat races currently in place.

About 15 years ago, I started becoming a fan of the French and European shorthanded offshore racing circuit, and the amazing boats that have been (and are being) developed. I have been considerably influenced by it and have adapted it exclusively for the way I race my boat. Of course I get routinely throttled on the race course as we cannot keep up with fully crewed boats.  So in full disclosure- yeah- there is some self-interest here as well, but I digress.

My proposal is simple and straightforward so all race committees- take heed: introduce and offer a Shorthanded Division in every single regatta on the Bay and Gulf of the Farallones.

Why Shorthanded?

Shorthanded sailing is easier on the skipper, the boat, the budget and the logistics.  It is challenging for the participants, and yet in many ways, is a much simpler equation to solve.  Smaller crews, smaller sails, easier loads....the advantages are many.  Any boat can be set up for shorthanded sailing and once this is done, sailors enjoy the extra room in the cockpit and down below, handling smaller sails, fewer crew politics, etc.

Shorthanded Classes Defined

It's very simple.  There are 3 classes of a Shorthanded Sailing Division.  Each would start either individually- if there are 5 or more boats in the class- or all together, immediately after its equivalent Fully Crewed division boats start.  The Shorthanded classes are:

Solo (singlehanded)

Doublehanded (2 crew)

Shorthanded (per table below)

Shorthanded Crew Size - To Be Determined By LOA

LOA (in feet)                          Max. Crew                                         

21-27                                           3

28-32                                           4

33-38                                           5

39 and above                              6

Offering Shorthanded Divisions in every race will attract a larger pool of potential participants, and can be done with minimal change or additional administrative fuss or protocols other than requiring marginally longer starting sequences and some additional recordkeeping.  Before the naysayers and "nattering nabobs of negativism" (thank you, Spiro T. Agnew) start squealing that "it can't be done".....why not at least try it?  Otherwise, what bright ideas do you have that will attract more boats back to racing?

When I first got into racing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the level of participation in all venues was off the charts compared to today.  On any given race weekend, the OYRA, MORC and MORA would have huge fleets, with most races going significantly longer distances.  The Midget Offshore Racing Association ("MORA") routinely attracted as many as 50 or more boats for every race, and in those days, a day race wasn't some quick trip around the Lightship and in.  Day races could go 40, 50 or 60 miles; the overnighters were epic, with the Memorial Day weekend going as follows: Day 1- SF to Drake's Bay, spend night. Day 2.- Drake's Bay to Half Moon Bay leaving SE Farallone to port; Day 3- Half Moon Bay to SF.  The raft ups at Drake's Bay with scores of boats everywhere, were a blast; the parties at the Half Moon YC were the stuff of lore, and seeing all the hungover sailors at the breakfast spots before the Day 3 start was always a hoot.  Best of all, it was through all this socializing that I was able to expand my social circles and meet tons of wonderful people I would never had otherwise ever met.  This is, to me, the most rewarding  aspect of yacht racing- but it seems to be going away.  Hell- nowadays for the Half Moon Bay race, more than half the boats turn around at the finish and head back to the Bay.  There is no more race back to SF any longer.  Know what all this tells me?  A bunch of old fogies on board- or pussies.  Or party poopers.  Or all 3. 

Let's get more boatowners out on the water racing, and the crews socializing after racing.  As I looked around at the half-empty Richmond Yacht Club a few weeks ago at the peek of their wonderful and always fun Great Pumpkin party Saturday night, the mostly middle-aged+ crowd told me this party would die out by 10, as these folks will need to be in bed.  Where are all the 20 and 30-somethings?  Twenty five years ago, this party was a barn-burner that stayed alive to the wee hours. If we don't find a way to get more young people involved now, our sport and our social lives will continue to shrink.

Adding Shorthanded sailing classes to every regatta is a simple and surefire way to stimulate larger fleets and participation.  So race organizers and yacht clubs:  What say ye?


OK Anarchists: Please comment!


Alex W

Super Anarchist
Seattle, WA
One thing that would help this is having two defined handicap setups for boats: fully crewed and short handed. 

Some boats might run the same way for fully crewed and short handed. On my boat we would fly a #2 and a smaller cruising asym kite when short handed, which would drop my rating from 72 to 84 or 87. 

Since fleets are already small I wouldn't make a new division, but I would suggest recognizing the top 3 finishers in the short handed classes. 


Delta Dog

Nor Cal
This is an excellent idea.   Ignor the folks asking for different rating and just do it! Perhaps the easiest way to put this inmotion would be via the SSS...they seem far more open to new ideas than YRA.

WRT ocean racing, a big part of what killed participation was all the new safety reg. that got introduce after that Sydney 38 hit the farallons.   Not sure there is any way around these but its a big issue in term of participation.

yep, I'm far more interested in joining regattas which have shorthanded classes.  the whole day is better; far fewer cats to herd, and everybody gets all the 'job' they want, all day.


Pokey uh da LBC

Long Beach
While I can see how this idea might get a few more boats out of their slips, I'm not convinced short handed racing will increase the number of people participating in the sport?

If one 40-foot boat that normally sails with 8-10 switches to the double-handed class, three or four new double-handed boat will need to come out in order for the total participation to remain the same.

Seems doubtful.  



Solo (singlehanded)

Doublehanded (2 crew)

Shorthanded (per table below)

Shorthanded Crew Size - To Be Determined By LOA

LOA (in feet)                          Max. Crew                                         

21-27                                           3

28-32                                           4

33-38                                           5

39 and above                              6

Solo and double-handed I understand.  But beyond that, boat size should not be a determining factor.  Sail-rig should be.  It's not that much harder for 3 to sail a 25 foot sloop than the same 3 to do a 40 foot sloop.  Yes, the loads are higher but anything remotely modern in the rigging and control layout (read- no winch bolted to the mast nonsense) will greatly ease the workload.  Yes, if you're running a proper spinnaker, setting, tacking and dousing will be interesting and need to be practiced and planned (read- more time having fun sailing on the water).  Even with other sail-plans found on modern yawls, ketches, it's not that hard.

I'd call 3 short-handed and be done with it. Anything beyond that is crewed and be happy.

I like it simple.



+1....try it, I can see boats entering who may not be fully crewed less than existing boats dropping crew....Even if existing racers drop crew doesn't that increase the possibility of adding another short handed boat ?



Super Anarchist
If there is no SH scene already in existance there will be no purpose SH boats. Boats not be used or regularly used that are suitable are an obvious target not existing crewed boats. First canvas and find out what type of SH boats people want to sail and then grow slowly from that and be prepared to be very patient. 

Last edited by a moderator:


The UK (RORC) has a large 2H entry in all their races - 2H is shorthanded, not a formula relative to length.  RORCe 2H divisions (autopilots are allowed) are probably the best supported and competitive of all the RORC IRC categories and the 2H crews do beat the fully crewed!

2h is THE way to go



Sacramento area
This is an excellent idea.   Ignore the folks asking for different rating and just do it!
Yes! Vote with your feet and LEAD confidently outta the rating/politics mess. If folks find it compelling, they'll follow, and critical mass may be achieved. Trying to work within the ratings morass (would that be solo-Corinthian?!?) risks getting sucked into a backwater that may be helping stall sail/racing already.

Quoting Arlo (with apologies for some late-60s slang):
  You know, if one person, just one person, does it, they may think he's really sick and they won't take him
  And if 2 people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them
  And if 3 people do it! Can you imagine three people walkin' in, singin' a bar of "Alice's Restaurant" and walkin' out? They may think it's an organization!
  And can you imagine 50 people a day? I said FIFTY people a day walkin' in, singin' a bar of "Alice's Restaurant" and walkin' out? Friends, they may think it's a Movement...

Lead... and promote on the side to smaller boats or people you know who might be interested. You may be called crazy, but aren't most leaders of such movements deemed 'crazy' in the beginning? Ya gotta start somewhere, and you're swimming upstream against a history of higher-horsepower rigs and increased crew/railmeat to handle/balance them.

A potential fatal flaw is that the faster boats have the most involved skippers, owners, and crew, and those folks are all quite invested in the status quo of equipment and rules that they already have and use. You'll really get their attention if you start regularly beating them, but they may be far likelier to change the rules and equipment to favor themselves than to sail with fewer hands... especially if that means moving to smaller boats.

How about racing with one or two people? Singlehanded Sailing Society has been doing it for quite a few years..
Simple is better... leverage some of these guys' best practices.




Super Anarchist
I made the same pitch to the PHRF Socal and San Diego fleets several years ago and it went nowhere. SSS is mostly involved in longer races near and off shore and I personally would rather go out for an afternoon around the cans, bang the corners and head back to the bar. But, as I say, with PHRF fleets it went nowhere and I didn't even have a boat at the time so I dropped it. I would definitely like to do something like this locally in SD. They could even start the SF/DH division last so we don't foul up the rest of the fleet around the marks. 


What She Said

New member
Seatle, WA
Great post Rude Dog,

Hopefully this kick starts something. The Salish Sea needs more of this.  Autopilots should be allowed.  Another idea would be just to give singlehanded boats more time (PHRF or one design), what would be fair?  I'll throw out 10 seconds as a starter to that conversation?  Then you wouldn't even need different classes. 

There is another aspect to this though, course design:
For regular beer can racing, less turns are better for singlehanded sailing (less breakage = less cost = more people);
Destination racing (overnight with bars) is super fun.  So too are unique style races.  On a large scale Race to Alaska has inspired many.  On a smaller scale having unique "Le Mans style dock to bar" races would be a blast.  Can you imagine having to run down the dock from CYC, sail out of the marina, sail over to Eagle Harbor, drop the hook, and row your dinghy to the Public House.  First one to order a pint, wins. 
Non sailors seeing this would be enthused and maybe would start racing?  Isn't that the point?