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Blame the post-race rum! That is the only excuse I can think of that saw another session of grumbling about Hong Kong Performance Numbers (HKPN) turn into a collective will to try and get the HKPN system back to being a credible performance based rating scheme; designed to encourage entry-level cruiser racing as well as cruiser racing on yachts that are not suitable for the IRC ratings scheme.

You might not have even noticed the changes since June.  Before then, I think we were all shrugging our shoulders, accepting that ratings never changed; rating issue was a little hit or miss and boats that had ‘bandit ratings’ would always do well regardless of how they sailed (because their ratings never got updated). It got to a point where every yacht club in Hong Kong was doing its own research to find a replacement performance handicapping scheme because HKPN was just not working. The RHKYC was looking into Echo, the PHRF system was being looked into by the ABC, HHYC and DBYC and the RYA was going to introduce a new scheme which really was looking at being the last nail in the coffin for HKPN in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Sailing Federation authorizes the Cruiser Owners Association (COA) to administer the HKPN system and within the COA is a sub-committee that forms the HKPN Ratings Committee. The four members of the new Ratings Committee are active regular sailors and boat owners who are very much involved with the sailing scene in Hong Kong. Jon Zinke, former COA Chairman is the Ratings Committee Chairman and he is joined by Justin Shave, Bo Fussing and me, Rob Berkley. Between us, we own boats such as Naiad, a Taipan, and the catamaran, Sowulo, as well as Sex Drive and Struan so feel we are well placed to not only administer the HKPN scheme but keep in touch with it at club race level. Our individual racing covers every level of cruiser racing in Hong Kong beneath the top level racing divisions.

So what is HKPN? It really is just the golf handicap of Hong Kong sailing allowing boats of all types and crews of all abilities to compete on a level playing field. The intent is that every boat should have the same chance of winning a race under HKPN! Clubs are not obliged to use HKPN but regular races are held under HKPN at the RHKYC, the ABC and HHYC; most of Hong Kong’s sailing clubs. The first step into cruiser-racing is obviously to get a rating before you start racing and this can be done by downloading a form on the new COA website (
http://www.coahk.org/about-us.html). For a limited time, to encourage new sailors to get an HKPN rating (or handicap) these are now given for free and some of you might even have noticed over the past months that you had magically been given an HKPN rating without application.  If you have a boat and want to race, get a rating! You don’t need to be a member of the COA to get one (though joining is actively encouraged).

We have worked hard on getting an objective ratings allocation scheme together.  We now assume that your boat is in good shape and reasonably well sailed when we allocate a rating and the intent is not for you to comfortably win your first race – you might, but if you start off with mid-fleet results we feel we are getting it right. Without asking for too many details of your boat, ratings are assessed using a web of relative IRC ratings, PHRF ratings, comparison of existing boats with a HKPN rating plus a lot more.  Far from experts, we do make mistakes as the owner of Knot@work recently found out; thankfully his query of his rating led to a quick review and everyone ended up happy before she raced for the first time.

Performance handicapping only works with regular entry of racing and publishing of the results (taking for granted that we do need you to race too). The system was designed to update ratings after every 4th race is entered into the HKPN programme. Our intent is to publish ratings every two weeks which for most boats will easily see your handicap updated every 4th race; this we are managing to achieve. After a big regatta weekend we may throw in an extra update. Your updated rating can be found on the COA website and is also distributed to the yacht clubs for their calculation of HKPN race results.  Even if you don’t often race under HKPN, your performance relative to other boats and hence your HKPN rating is constantly being assessed and entered into the programme.  We are trying to use every race possible for ratings assessment, so unless you are class racing or in an individual race such as a double handed, then your race results are being used.  To that end we are delighted with the progress made between the COA and DBYC to hopefully include their races in the HKPN scheme, regardless of whether they continue with their own DBPN handicapping.

Please note that there is a process of review for ratings. It takes little more than an email to the COA (
secretary@coahk.org) requesting review accompanied by the reasons for requesting the review. The owner of the Morris 36 ‘Goodwill’ will be pleased to see that his review took his rating from that befitting a Mumm 36 to something more appropriate and I think that the crew of Harlequin should be happier now that it has been given a more appropriate rating for a cruising boat. We will also try and spot boats that need a rating change too. Barnstormer was a classic case in the summer when, although racing in IRC, our data was showing need for a HKPN rating change¦.so it was changed.  Communications are important in other areas too. If you buy a boat, tell us. There is no need to suffer the race history and hence rating of the seller!

The full ratings list that is published on the COA web-site (
http://www.coahk.org/ratings/current-hkpn-ratings.html) will change in December. If you have an HKPN rating but have not raced for 5 years (and some ratings go back to 1997) then your yacht will no longer be on the HKPN ratings list. We will keep your records so if you want your boat back on the list, please contact the COA and we will re-instate it.  In essence, only those boats that have raced in formal club races or have applied for a rating since 1st Jan 2004 will have a rating on the list (class races, single and double-handed, crew and ladies helm, the RTI 2008 and Classic Rally etc don’t count as they have not historically been entered into the HKPN programme). With so much dead-wood needing to be removed from the old list, we might have inadvertently removed some ratings belonging to boats that want to race. Please take a moment to check the ratings list when you can.

So far, nothing new. We have just got the HKPN system back on track.  What next?

We certainly hope we can keep this momentum going.  From a group of volunteers I am not going to put any promises into print but we are trying to make this work.  Bo Fussing has some great ideas of how to get HKPN on-line, letting you look more closely at race history, how your rating has changed over the month or years plus a plethora of other things. We have tweaked the programme to make it more responsive to your actual performance on the water. You might notice a little more movement in your ratings, but this should hasten changes of rating if you have a significant change in your actual performance.  We hope to get the clubs to give more feedback to us; getting the RO to tell us when races shouldn’t be used for ratings purposes because the wind died at the 1st windward mark is invaluable as is getting Sail-Comms to tell us if they think a boat has a rating that is out of kilter with the rest of the fleet.  We can change it!

I mentioned earlier the use of objective methods to determine a boats initial rating. This will take time and some lively debate first, but we are looking into ratings bands based on these initial ratings such that there might be a rating above which your boat cannot go. At some point it forces owners and their crew to perhaps lift their game or clean that moving reef off the keel.  This is not ours as a Committee to decide but will be raised at Club level soon.

What is wonderful for performance handicapping in Hong Kong at present is that it is enjoying this rejuvenation. HKPN is back on track and I hope that it will not be too long before we can get effective trials of the other handicapping systems running alongside it in an effort to offer the sailing community of Hong Kong the best performance handicapping system possible.  If you have issues with the current scheme; please let us know.

R A Berkley.