No. 57 - April 1984


John Charters

Ye Editor has asked me to write something on handicaps, PHRF in particular, without, of course, giving me enough time to do the research I'd like. So, much of what is to follow is from memory, which my family delight in reminding me (often) is not what it used to be - a view not necessarily shared by your scribe, I hasten to add.


Almost from the beginning it was realized that for sailboats to race together evenly and fairly some form of handicapping would have to be used. If I recall, the first system was based on waterline length. You all will remember I'm sure that 1.34 times the square root of the waterline length, yields the theoretical hull speed of any displacement hull. All hulls at that time were displacement, planing was yet to be discovered. Simple though the system was, clever designers soon found a way to get around it. Increase the overhang. Those classic lines we all so admire now, with long overhangs and sweeping sheer, were designed more with an eye to speed than beauty. That 20 foot waterline, when heeled, became 35 and the hull speed shot from six knots to almost eight. Soon other measurements were incorporated into the formula, each yacht racing body more or less coming up with their pet formula.


Into this mess came the I.O.R. and the computer. In an effort to reduce the inequalities of the then existing rules, a scientific, but complex method of measuring yachts was adopted, pretty well world wide. Designers, still up to their tricks, were able, for a while, to circumvent this new handicap rule. Every time this happened, the I.O.R. people tried to plug the loopholes. I think we are up to I.O.R. mk IIIa now. And I guess the famous winged keel is the latest attempt to gain an advantage without changing the yachts rating. The big problem with the I.O.R. rule is that it is costly. And if through some error in the design of your boat, you end up with an unrealistic handicap, you are more or less stuck with it, or major boat modifications. A good example is our own Tanzer 22. Under the I.O.R. mk IIIa we rate as a quarter ton yacht and, for awhile, were competitive. Today the winning ¼ ton boats are 26 feet long, and faster. But then, the T22 was not designed to beat the rules, just to be a darn fast, comfortable, good looking twenty-two footer. And it is. Still probably one of the fastest cruising-racing boats in its size, other than the flat out racing machines . . . but I digress.


So, the good folks out west devised a different sort of handicap rule. PHRF. I think this originally stood for "Pacific Handicap" rather than "Performance Handicap". Regardless, the object was to rate boats not by their size or shape, but rather on their speed potential. The PHRF philosophy is to assume every boat will be sailed to its maximum speed. Sort of as if we were all Ted Turners. PHRF also assumes all "stock" boats will have a spinnaker pole the same length as the boats "J" measurement. Here is where we lose a little. The "J" on a Tanzer 22 is 8.56 feet, our pole is 8.75 feet. I think also, PHRF assumes a spinnaker of .85 of the "J", and a Genoa of 150% (ours is closer to 170%). "J" by the way, is the distance from the point where the forestay attaches to the stem head fitting, to the forward face of the mast, measured in a horizontal plane. There are also a few other items that are assumed - inboard engine, fixed or folding prop, retractable outboard motor, and so on.


The final handicap figure is more or less arrived at by trial and error. By compiling hundreds, maybe thousands, of race results over many years, one arrives at a pretty fair idea of each boat's speed potential. That is if there are enough of anyone particular class of that boat racing. This then, becomes "your" PHRF handicap as published by the PHRF headquarters.


Now comes the problem. Individual club or area handicappers are allowed, even encouraged, to modify handicaps to suit their local sailing conditions. Whether or not you sail in an area of predominately heavy or light air makes a great difference. An example . . . a Hobie 33 has been clocked at 23 knots. Obviously on a flat out plane. To the best of my knowledge a C & C 33 does not plane. Not like that, anyway. Obviously, the speed potential or speed difference between these two boats will be quite different in light airs, and heavy airs. Once that Hobie gets up on a plane, there ain't nothing goin' to touch her! So your local handicapper is going to use the results from your racing area, to increase, or decrease, your PHRF rating, and others. After a few years, many of your handicaps will differ, perhaps substantially from the "stock" PHRF handicaps, and that's how it should be. Every area has different conditions and the PHRF should try to recognize and adapt to these differences. Always in an effort to be as equal as possible to everybody. Having said all this, I must admit, it does not always work. As usual, human error enters into it and some boats do not get a fair handicap. If the truth be told, I've yet to hear a skipper admit his handicap was fair. It is always too high! After every race I hear . . . "I have to give him 58 seconds per mile and there is NO WAY I can possibly beat him with that sort of handicap!"


Nor is it a lot of help to know the handicaps used in another area. Chances are both areas have modified the handicaps of most of the local boats from the "stock" PHRF. And, whereas your T22 PHRF may be higher than mine, possibly the Paceship 23 PHRF is also higher. To make a fair comparison, one needs to know all the handicaps from each area. So, it's not much use telling your handicapper that the St. Lawrence Valley Yacht Racing Association rates the Tanzer 22 at 3.75 minutes per mile (or 225 seconds), unless you can give him all the other boat handicaps for comparison.


So what to do if you think your T22 PHRF handicap is unjust? Sure gather as much evidence from other areas as you can, particularly on those boats you think are unfairly handicapped in relation to yours. It may help strengthen your hand when you appeal to your own handicapper. But, even more important, is to gather results from your own racing area. You will have to show him that the local T22's just don't stand a chance unless he gives them another 5 seconds a mile, or whatever. You will have to prove it to him with actual race results - say over a season. Of course, if you do get your handicap improved, all the other skippers will scream to the handicapper asking for new handicaps also. Now, aren't you glad you are not the club handicapper?


When it comes right down to it, there is no such thing as a "fair" handicap system. Ever! There are just too many variables. Some days the gods will favour you, some the other guys. Apart from the wind and wave variables, think of how the shape and length of the race course will affect different boats. If we all raced Olympic triangles it might be a little easier, but we don't. Some boats are potentially faster up wind some only reach their maximum speed off the wind.


So how many reaches and runs the race has will make a big difference on how various boats will end up on corrected time. Where I race, the C & C Shark 24 can pretty well hold its own upwind with the Tanzer 22, but off the wind the T22 with its much bigger spinnaker (about 372 square feet to 225 square feet) will walk all over the Sharks . . . that is unless the wind pipes up. Then those rascal Sharks plane and go by us like we were standing still. Or, as more likely, broaching all over the place, 'cause we are overpowered. So, no matter what the handicapper does, he will always be wrong!


My advice, try to get enough Tanzer 22's racing to get your own start and race on a boat-for-boat basis, then all you'll have left to complain about is that the other guy has better sails than you.


Reference: "PHRF: 20,000 Sailors Can't be Wrong", pp 57-60, June 1982, Yacht Racing/Cruising.



Johann Tanzer was born and raised in Velden am Worthersee, Austria, in 1927. He was educated in the traditional European method of schooling which was followed by trade school. Upon graduation, he was drafted into the Navy. When his tour of duty was complete, he was employed as a Boat Builder for the next three years. He decided to move to Switzerland and worked there for an additional year. He became affiliated with a local Sailing School as an instructor and where, after the initial year, he became the School's Sailing Master. He was responsible for both the administrative and the instructive facets of the School for the next six years.


Hearing of the promise of life in Canada, he decided to make the leap across the Ocean to the good life. As funds were not sufficient to move the entire family, he came alone in 1956 to prepare the way. His first job in Canada was with Aviation Electronics as a Maintenance worker. After six months of diligent work, plus learning a new language, his family finally joined him in this new Land.


His first venture into a business of his own came in 1958; with barely enough money to support the family, he opened Tanzercraft. The Company dealt mainly with boat repairs. His first big job came as repairs and preparation of some of the boats for the Olympics. These included Flying Dutchmen and Dragons, which were racing machines of the time. The early boats were mostly made of wood, which later changed to fiberglass which we know today.


He soon began to build boats under Licence in Canada. These included such well­known models as the Flying Dutchman, Flying Junior, Y-Flyer, and Cascade 24 to name a few. He decided to design a family boat that would be economical and at the same time be suitable for racing. The design was called the Constellation which was later renamed the Tanzer 16. A few Tanzer 16's were built by Tanzer­craft, but shortly thereafter the financial backers decided to close the company in 1965. Later that year he was able to open Tanzer Industries, now known throughout North America. Building boats was the main drive of the new Company. His first design, the Tanzer 16, was followed in 1970 by the Tanzer 22. In 1972 the Tanzer 10.5, designed by Dick Carter, was brought into reality under Johann's personal supervision. At the time of this article, the Tanzer Sailboats number as follows:


Tanzer 14 (discontinued) 594

Tanzer 16               1,590

Tanzer Overnighter      504

Tanzer 22               2,230

Tanzer 7.5              730

Tanzer 26               837

Tanzer 28               158

Tanzer 8.5              73

Tanzer 10.5             28



In person, with Mrs. Tanzer, at the Montreal Salon Nautique, February - March 1982.