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Why the new Director of the RORC Rating Office, Dr Jason Smithwick, is just the man for the job


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ollowing in the footsteps of Mike Urwin and James Dadd, Dr Jason Smithwick has a giant task ahead of him in his position as the new Director of the RORC Rating Office. Fortunately he is well equipped to tackle it.


From a technical standpoint, Jason is a graduate of the University of Southampton’s Ship Science course. If he were not now appointed to the Rating Office he might equally be a Computational Fluid Dynamicist or software specialist for a ship design firm or America’s Cup team. Thus, when it comes to handling the unpublished formula that lies at the heart of IRC, there are few people better equipped to safeguard it.


In terms of his credentials for dealing day to day with institutional international politics, Jason comes to his new position following nine years as Technical and Offshore Director of World Sailing and its 143 Member National Authorities, where he gained plenty of relevant experience.


His path from university to World Sailing was somewhat convoluted. “I worked for the American Bureau of Shipping at the time and they were reviewing all the Whitbread boats, like Silk Cut. Then when the Wolfson Unit got the contract to do that work instead, they contacted me. Then I just stayed...”


Jason’s time at the Wolfson Unit led to his sitting on committees at the Royal Yachting Association and subsequently ISAF, now World Sailing. Proving effective, perhaps too effective, in this role eventually caused him to be dragged away from number crunching and tank testing to the nearby offices of World Sailing, then at Southampton’s Town Quay.


It was through the ‘offshore’ part of his World Sailing remit that he had regular dealings with the RORC and developed a close relationship with the Rating Office. When the Director’s chair in Lymington became vacant, as Jason says: “The job description was basically my CV…”


Growing the IRC


He joins the Rating Office at a time when yacht racing has been on a slight decline globally – unsurprising given the economic and social changes over the past few years. Numbers of boats may be declining, but this is countered by a rise in the average boat length in IRC, with the net result that the number of people racing in IRC remains roughly stable. However, there are signs that boat numbers are now stabilising.


IRC has recently gained two new major championships. After two successful editions, the third IRC European Championship is set to take place in 2018 in one of IRC’s capitals – Cowes – where the event will also incorporate a new, more open-format RORC Commodores’ Cup. A sizeable fleet is expected for this. A month later, IRC will have its first ever official World Championship, joining forces with the ORC in The Hague Offshore World Championship, held out of Scheveningen, Netherlands – see page 26.


Looking ahead, one of Jason’s main tasks is to grow IRC. This will entail a multi-pronged attack. Firstly there is the international take-up of IRC. Already this is strong, as the map on page 10 illustrates, but it could be stronger. “We want to make sure it is understood that IRC is truly an international rule. At present there are 50 national Rule Authorities around the world that use IRC,


and certification is split between the RORC Rating Office and the UNCL Centre de Calcul in France,” says Jason.


Grass Roots Development


From its roots as the humble Channel Handicap System, built for club racers as a straightforward alternative to the IOR rule, IRC has since been adopted by ever more high-end grand-prix classes, notably the Maxi 72 and FAST 40+. While this is a welcome trend, a side effect has been the perception that IRC is principally a grand-prix rule, which, of course, is entirely untrue.


Therefore another task that Jason has set himself is to reignite enthusiasm for IRC at a grass roots level internationally. As he puts it: “We need to concentrate on more local regattas throughout the world, to make people understand it is an accessible rating system that is easy to use. It is not just about Maxi 72s and TP52s, it is just as much about cruiser/racers and evening club racing.”


Part of this drive will be to encourage the adoption of IRC as a rating system for cruiser/racers not just through national authorities around the world, but also at club level within these countries. That will come through PR and education, communicating the benefits of IRC, notably its simplicity both for boat owners trying to obtain a rating and for race officials using IRC out on the water.


To this end the Rating Office is pushing its ‘Start Up Scheme’. As Jason explains: “Here in the UK, we identify someone who is enthusiastic about IRC within a club. They can then work with the club members and collect the data for us. Then they can submit applications for the boats at their club all at once – that really helps speed up the process.” For example, he cites Michael Webster at the Royal Dart Yacht Club: “He’s keen on IRC and he holds the hands of all the members who want to get certificates. To have people like that in the sport is amazing.” Webster even came up to Hamble to get some training in IRC certification from measurer Mike Richards.


There is no reason why the idea shouldn’t work in the same way internationally. “We need to look at how we can help the other Rule Authorities around the world set up similar schemes.” Jason is also revisiting IRC’s pricing structure to ensure that this isn’t a stumbling block to smaller boats joining in IRC racing. He adds that he would ideally like to reduce the cost of getting an IRC certificate.


International Involvement


Although IRC has historically been a joint venture between the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and the Union Nationale pour la Course au Large (UNCL), Jason would also like to see greater involvement on technical committees from other clubs and official bodies elsewhere in world. This would help to increase the international feeling of ‘ownership’ of IRC.


There are also other types of yacht racing Jason would like to see better supported by IRC. One in the UK – but which it is hoped will soon be adopted elsewhere – is the HP30 sportsboat class. This works similarly to the FAST40+ in being a basic box rule anchored by IRC, with displacement of <2200kg,


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