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Team racing

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Team racing

Team racing, also known as teams racing, is a popular form of dinghy racing and yacht racing. Two teams consisting of 2, 3, or 4 boats compete together in a race, all the boats being of the one class and reasonably evenly matched. The results of each team are combined to decide the winner – as opposed to fleet racing where boats are scored on an individual basis, or an inter-club fleet race where boats from three or more clubs compete and the finishing points of boats from a club are added up to give the club's overall position. The low points scoring system is used in team racing: a boat that finishes 1st earns 1 point, a boat that finishes 2nd earns 2 points, and so on – with the winning team decided by adding together the points of all the boats in each team. The team with the fewest points wins, with additional rules applied to decide ties in the 2-boat and 4-boat formats.

Team races are usually sailed over very short (5 - 10 minute) courses in the form of a starboard (right) hand 'box' course (beat from start/finish, short reach, run, short reach, beat to start/finish) if only two teams are competing (so start and finish can be combined), otherwise the course is in the shape of a (digital) 'S' on its side (beat from start – mark to starboard, short reach (starboard), run (port), short reach (port), beat to finish). This format puts a premium on team racing tactics – rather than the outcome being decided by pure boat speed. On-the-water umpiring is now the norm, with boats having the option to do one penalty turn after an infringement - or two penalty turns if they sail on and are penalised by an umpire.


  • History of Team Racing in the US, UK, and Ireland 1
  • Team Racing Boats and Event Formats 2
  • Team Racing Tactics 3
  • Winning and Losing Combinations 4
    • 2-boat team racing 4.1
    • 3-boat team racing 4.2
    • 4-boat team racing 4.3
  • References 5
  • External links 6
  • Further reading 7

History of Team Racing in the US, UK, and Ireland

Inter-club fleet racing and team racing of a kind has existed as long as yacht racing itself, but the earliest recorded regular 'modern' team racing event, with just two teams of two, three, or four boats battling it out over several races, is the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity Match.[1] The match was first sailed as a two-a-side team race in 1913 and again in 1914 (1913 at Oxford - they won, 1914 at Ely - Cambridge won). The first sailing contest between the two Universities actually took place in 1912 - as three match races at Ely (Cambridge won 2-1). After World War I team racing recommenced (two boats a side) in 1920 on the neutral waters of Oulton Broad in Norfolk, when Oxford won, and has continued annually at locations around the UK - usually on the coast and three boats a side since the mid 1930s. In addition, an annual team racing contest (two boats a side) between the constituent colleges of Cambridge has been held since 1924,[2] and a similar competition has been held at Oxford since 1926.[3] The first recorded international team racing event was the British-American Cup series in Six-Metres (4 boats a side), which was first sailed in 1921 at Cowes, as a result of a UK challenge, with the UK winning 4-3.[4] The series was hotly contested every two years, particularly pre-World War II, but ceased in 1955 (when the US won 4-0 yet again) as costs escalated and interest in the class declined due to its loss of Olympic status in 1952.

In the US what is now the US Harvard), Harry Anderson (Yale) and Bill Cox Sr. (Princeton) all helped develop the ICYRA team race rules in the 1940s, and these were the forerunners of the NAYRU (now US Sailing) and International Yacht Racing Union (now ISAF) team race rules.[9] (International harmonisation of the Racing Rules of Sailing did not take place until 1960.)[10] A regional team racing championship, four-a-side format, first took place in 1950 in the New England District (now 'Conference') for the Leonard M. Fowle Trophy - a separate trophy from the new Fowle Trophy that is awarded to the best college across all 6 national ICSA championships.[9][11] National team racing for the Walter C. Wood Trophy, four-a-side format, commenced in 1960 between teams formed from colleges within a particular ICSA district or 'conference',[9] and results from 1970 are available online[12] (results for 1960–1969 are also available).[13] From 1977 competing teams have been limited to sailors from one college, and Rhode Island University was the first (1977) winner of the current 'individual college' team racing championship for the Wood Trophy.[14] Across the border in Canada, inter-collegiate sailing has also grown strong since the late 1990s.[15] The Wood Trophy now runs on a three-a-side format because of the greater ease of accommodating 6 sailors in the one car![9] Courses evolved to current formats in the 2000s.[9]

The UK equivalent of the ICSA, the British Universities Sailing Association (BUSA),[16] was founded in 1957, partly at the suggestion (in a 'Longshoreman' article) by Michael Ford of the Oxford University YC team that had toured the US in 1954, initiating what is now the biennial ICSA - BUSA team racing tour, which alternates between the two countries. BUSA focussed solely on team racing in its early years, fostering international student team racing, and later widened its interest to dinghy fleet racing, 'big boat' yachting (currently in Sunsail F40s), and keel boat match racing. The first UK universities team racing championships was held in 1957 and has taken place annually since then, three-a-side format. The 1957 knock-out event for what is now the Thompson Trophy took place on the Welsh Harp (Brent Reservoir in London) and was won by London University from an entry of 14 teams. Partly because of the influence of Oxford and Cambridge team racing, universities in the UK had sailed individual team racing matches up until that time, or had participated in local contests of three or four teams - there was no fleet racing comparable to North American practice. The first inter-collegiate team race recorded in the UK was a match between Cambridge and United Hospitals in 1935, which United Hospitals won (Cambridge medics had to do their clinical training in London until 1976, so there were several ex-Cambridge sailors on the team).[17] The first recorded team races against other colleges were in 1947 (University College, London), 1948 (Imperial College, London), 1949 (Trinity College, Dublin), and 1950 (London University) - all won by Cambridge.[17] In advance of BUSA, the Association of Northern Universities Sailing Clubs (ANUSC) had been in existence for a few years and was already running its own (Northern) team racing championship, to which London had been invited in 1956 - providing further impetus to the founding of BUSA (in which London played a major role). Dinghy racing at Oxford started in the 1880s,[3] at Cambridge in the 1890s,[2] and has continued at both universities without interruption to the present day. Cambridge also held a one-week coastal 'Marine Meeting' event for dinghies, and for larger craft in pre-WWII years, from 1903 to 1966, interrupted only by the two World Wars.[2] Oxford held a similar event for dinghies between 1946 and the 1970s.[3] London University colleges were active in sailing from the late 1920s onwards, along with United Hospitals, and London was a major force in UK university team racing in the 1950s and 60s - winning 5 of the first 8 championships.[18]

In part, Oxford-Cambridge team racing rivalry resulted in the formation of the Oxford & Cambridge Sailing Society (O&CSS)[19] by Stewart Morris in 1934 to promote team racing in the UK. Other influences were concern at the 'thrashing' (4-0) of the British Six-Metre team in the 1932 British-American Cup series, and the interest in team racing being generated by the International 14 Dinghy Class (and its Canadian variants) from 1926 onwards. The O&CSS was successful in its aims, later helping West Kirby SC (near Liverpool) in arranging a single-class open team racing championship in 1949 for what was then a very large entry of 17 teams (three-a-side format), using Firefly dinghies conveniently available after the 1948 London and Torquay Olympics. Itchenor SC from Chichester Harbour won this first knock-out event by beating the O&CSS in the final. So began what became the famous Wilson Trophy,[20] which remains a leading international team racing event.

The West Kirby initiative was triggered by the results of a joint Irish Dinghy Racing Association (IDRA) and Royal St George YC team racing event held in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland in 1948 (three-a-side format). This was the first team racing event in the British Isles to have national rather than very local entry, but it still made use of several dinghy classes, including the Firefly, because of the shortage of dinghies of one particular class. Royal St. George YC won the event in September 1948, but was almost defeated by the relatively unknown West Kirby team in the final. One of the West Kirby team, (Sir) Cyril Clarke, was a member of the Oxford & Cambridge Sailing Society, and he and the other two helmsmen (Harry Dennis and Glyn Evans) resolved to run a similar event at West Kirby the following year. After the 1948 Irish event, Dun Laoghaire and its three yacht clubs (Royal St George YC, Royal Irish YC, National YC) became hosts to an Irish equivalent of the Wilson Trophy, known as the Sean Hooper Trophy, which facilitated considerable British-Irish university and club team racing. Since the 1980s the event has been hosted by the Royal St. George YC alone.

As mentioned earlier, the International 14 Class has always had a great interest in team racing. The first recorded team race took place in 1926 when Trent SC challenged the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk YC to a three-a-side match in National 14s (international status was not granted until 1928), so initiating the Trent Inland Waters Challenge Cup.[21] The first international team racing event (three-a-side format), between Canada, the US (two teams from Long Island and Rochester),[22] and the UK took place in 1933 at Seawanhaka Corinthian YC, Oyster Bay, New York and was won (narrowly) by the UK.[21] This, which seems to have been the first recorded international dinghy team racing event, was followed up in 1934 by a second event (four-a-side format from now on) at the Royal Canadian YC, Toronto, when the UK lost just one race - to Canada.[21] After 1934, an international team racing event was held every two years, interrupted by World War II from 1940 to 1958.[23] In the 1934 event, three of the four UK helmsmen were members of the O&CSS (Stewart Morris - founder of the O&CSS, Peter Scott, John Winter), and the very close relationship between the 14's, the O&CSS, and team racing continues. Four-times World Champion, Archie Massey, is a member of the O&CSS, and the Class still holds an international team racing event before its biennial World Championships.

The Wilson Trophy at West Kirby SC has remained the annual pinnacle of team racing in the UK and, to some extent, the world - with teams coming from the United States, Germany, and other countries as team racing interest spread internationally. Team racing interest grew in the UK in the 1970s and early 1980s when the Farmoor Reservoir (hosted by Oxford SC).[24] By the next year, 1970, the number of entries increased to 352 clubs.[24] The event divided the country into various zones, with 2 teams from each zone qualifying for a National Final. The competition was sponsored at different times by Little Ship (later British) Paints and Dunhill/Rothmans, and was encouraged by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who attended some of the National Finals. After the event lost its sponsorship in 1982 it ceased for a time, and there was some decline in club interest in team racing in the UK, though not in universities, where it continued to be strong - nor at West Kirby, where the Wilson Trophy continued with unabated enthusiasm. On-the-water umpiring for team racing was pioneered by West Kirby at the 1987 Wilson Trophy, with the first 'On The Water Adjudicators' being Tony Cross, Ian Berry and Peter Price (West Kirby), Mike Bailey and John Anstey (Wembley), and Brian Heron (Hollingworth Lake). Peter Price went on to write and present the first codified instructions for "On The Water Adjudication for Team Racing" to the RYA in late 1987, and after many years as an Umpire and Chief Umpire was awarded the status of RYA Umpire Emeritus in 2013.

HRH Prince Philip said of the UK Team Racing Championship in 1969: "I very much hope that this new Team Racing Competition will give a lot of enthusiastic clubs and club members many happy hours of sailing. Team racing demands rather a different approach and different techniques, so this event may well discover new talent. It has the further advantage that teams will be able to travel to other clubs and so experience different conditions and new scenery, if only the clubhouse bar. The races are the important thing of course, but I dare say there will be much to discuss afterwards, and I am sure everyone will enjoy the social side of these encounters."[24][25]

In the US, team racing at a national level, outside inter-collegiate competition, was a little slower to develop. The first national team racing championship for the George R. Hinman Trophy was held in 1981 at Fort Worth, Texas and organised by US Sailing.[26] The winning team was from the Great Lakes region (US Sailing Area E): Terry McLaughlin and Carolyn Brodsky, Jeff Boyd and Peter Jones, Tam Matthews and Jay Cross.[27] The event grew out of a regatta initiated by Sailing World magazine that became so popular it was adopted by US Sailing, and the winner of the event is encouraged to enter the Wilson Trophy in the UK. The early winners tended to be collegiate teams but, through the influence of Gary Brodie who became Chairman of the Team Racing Championship Committee in 1992, and Brad Dellenbaugh who followed him in 1996, the event now attracts a wide entry, though the presence of post-collegiate sailors remains strong[27] - as it does in UK competitions. The first umpired event took place in 1990 at Alameda, California, and the US Team Racing Association (USTRA)[26] was formed at the event in San Francisco in 1992.[27]

In 1983 the International Optimist Class (for juniors under 16) introduced team racing at its World Championships,[28] and four-a-side team racing takes place at its national, regional and world championships. In 1995, as a result of widespread international interest, the IYRU, now the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), introduced the ISAF Team Racing World Championship - making team racing (three-a-side format) a firmly established form of dinghy and yacht racing, though dinghy team racing remains strongest in the English-speaking world. Both Australia[29] and New Zealand[30] have active team racing associations, with local and national competitions. The first (1995) ISAF World Championship was held at West Kirby and won by the UK. Since 2005 the biennial ISAF championship has included a youth (under 19) event, first won by the UK.

The initiation of the ISAF World Team Racing Championships in 1995 generated greatly increased interest in team racing at the general club level in the UK, with the old Prince Phillip Trophy from the 1980s being awarded to Spinnaker SC, who won the trials held to select the UK team and went on to win the first World Championship. The trials, the Wilson, and the Worlds were all held at West Kirby that year, with 'world' teams barred from entering the Wilson.[31] The following year the UK Team Racing Association (UKTRA)[32] was formed and in 1997 the RYA[33] and the UKTRA restarted the UK National Team Racing Championship for the Prince Philip Trophy that had ceased in the early 1980s. The RYA also organises the very popular UK annual Eric Twiname[34] junior (under 16) and youth (under 19) team racing championships. In addition, during almost every week-end of the UK university autumn and winter terms, there are university-organised team racing events, involving between 8 and 16 or more teams.

UK schools are also active with the British Schools Dinghy Racing Association,[35] which caters especially for UK private independent schools, organising annual regional and national team racing championships since 1989. The BSDRA was founded by Nick Prosser of Tonbridge, Crispin Reed Wilson of Bradfield, and Bruce Hebbert of Sevenoaks - who was also a member of the Oxford & Cambridge Sailing Society, and its competitions are open to state schools and internationally. In 1989 Winchester College won the first BSDRA event for the Whitstable Trophy and Tabor Academy was the first international winner in 1990 - to be followed by several USA victors, plus Schull Community College from Ireland.[36] The UK National Schools Sailing Association,[37] which caters especially for the state school sector, runs a national single-handed team racing event in Toppers, and a national double-handed team racing event in Fireflies.

There are a good many keel boat and other team racing events in the US, such as the Kirby Cup organised by the Sonar Class Association,[38] and the extensive programme of team racing organised by the Tabor Academy was the winner. The Baker Trophy also involves regional qualifiers.

In 2011 Bruce Hebbert, a member of the Oxford & Cambridge Sailing Society, conceived and launched (with help from a number of sailors in the Netherlands, Germany, Monaco, Italy and Spain) a European series of team racing in keel boats (two-a-side format) called '2K'.[42] The series is hotly contested and now takes place in over eight locations across Europe in varying keel boat classes.

Team Racing Boats and Event Formats

Because team racing must be conducted in equal boats the most popular boats for team racing are one-design dinghies or keel boats. The 420, Vanguard 15, Firefly, and Flying Junior are the dinghies most frequently used for team racing. The Sonar, J/24, Maxfun 24, and J/80 are popular team racing keel boats. In the UK the Firefly, a 12-foot dinghy designed by Uffa Fox, is the most commonly used boat. The Firefly is ideal for team racing because it lacks high-performance features such as spinnaker and trapeze that hinder team racing tactics, is highly manoeuvrable, and is easily handled by women and juniors.

Early team racing events were generally run on a knock-out basis, with a 'first round losers' knock-out competition being introduced later. Most current competitions involve either a 'round robin' or a 'Swiss league' system to arrive at quarter finalists or semi finalists. The Wilson Trophy preliminary rounds run on a Swiss league basis.

Team Racing Tactics

Team racing is a very tactical branch of dinghy racing and yacht racing, combining the need for adequate boat speed with superior handling, good teamwork, and sound understanding of strategies for converting a losing position into a winning one.

Consider the following situation in a 3-boat team race - the most common format. If one boat is in 1st place and its team-mates are in 4th and 6th then the team's points are 1 + 4 + 6 = 11 points, whereas the opposition has 2 + 3 + 5 = 10 points and so is ahead. For its team to win the race, the boat in 4th place will have to slow the 5th boat so that its 6th place team-mate moves up to 5th - it would be dangerous for the boat in 1st place to do anything because of the two opposition boats behind. The 4th boat can makes its move, called a 'pass back' conversion, by using the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS), including the special team racing rules of Appendix D, to position itself in such a way that the opposition has to sail extra distance to keep clear or sail in reduced wind and so lose ground.

There are two main 'moves' in team racing; the 'pass back' and the 'mark trap.' The goal of the pass back, involving three boats sailing upwind, is for the leading boat to slow the next (opposing team's) boat in order for the third boat (of the leading boat's team) to either tack away from the intermediate covering boat, or sail ahead faster than the covering boat. The mark trap is more complicated. It involves one boat stopping at a mark in a position where it can use the RRS to hinder opposing boats rounding the mark, so allowing team-mates to catch up and then sail ahead. Another tactic is for one boat to gybe onto (right of way) starboard tack when close to a downwind mark, forcing boats just behind to do the same and sail considerable extra distance, and so allow team-mates to catch up.

If one boat feels that another has breached the Racing Rules of Sailing in any situation, she may hail "protest". If the protested boat does not exonerate herself with a one-turn penalty the protesting boat may hail "umpire". An on-the-water umpire will then make a decision, almost instantly, and impose a two-turn penalty on any boat judged to have broken a rule in the incident.

Winning and Losing Combinations

An experienced team racer will know whether his team is winning or losing at any point in the race. The most common combinations of results are given below. A good crew will be able to tell the helmsman whether the team is winning or losing and advise which position to attack in order to win.

2-boat team racing

Team with the last boat loses.

3-boat team racing

The rule for winning is 10 points or less, which translates to the following detailed rules

  • 1-2-anything
  • 1-3-anything
  • 2-3-4
  • 2-3-5
  • 1-4-5

4-boat team racing

The rule for definitely winning is 17 points or less. In the case of a tie with each team scoring 18 points (e.g., 1,2,7,8 vs 3,4,5,6), the team with first place loses. This reflects the fact that the first (and second) place skippers showed poor strategy by finishing when their team was not winning. 'Last-ditch' attempts to achieve a winning conversion are to be encouraged!


  1. ^ [1] Varsity Match history page of the Oxford & Cambridge Sailing Society (O&CSS) website
  2. ^ a b c [2] History page of the Cambridge University Cruising Club website
  3. ^ a b c Atkins, Jeremy (1984). A Hundred Years of Sailing at Oxford University, Jeremy Atkins, Leamington Spa CV32 6EE. ISBN 0-9509179-0-7 (Available in some libraries and from Jeremy Atkins, Thorn Villa, Thorn Way, Long Itchington, Southam, Warwickshire CV47 9PF, United Kingdom - jeremy at bjatkins dot demon dot co dot uk)
  4. ^ Personal communication in late 2013 from Tim Street, unofficial Six-Metre Class historian
  5. ^ a b [3] Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) website
  6. ^ a b [4] Records of the Inter-Collegiate Yacht Racing Association (ICYRA)
  7. ^ [5] History page of MIT Sailing website
  8. ^ [6] Sailing history page of Encyclopaedia Brunoniana website
  9. ^ a b c d e f Personal communication in late 2013 from Mike Horn, sometime Head Sailing Coach at Harvard and CEO of ICYRA/ICSA
  10. ^ [7] A Short History of the International Sailing Federation
  11. ^ [8] Trophy section of US Naval Academy website (ICYRA --> Fowle Trophy)
  12. ^ [9] Trophy section of US Naval Academy website (ICYRA --> Walter Cromwell Wood Bowl)
  13. ^ [10] Programme notes from the 2002 ICSA North American College Sailing Championships, Hawaii, Pages 8 and 9
  14. ^ Personal communication in late 2013 from Ken Legler, Sailing Coach at Tufts
  15. ^ [11] Canadian Intercollegiate Sailing Association (CICSA) website
  16. ^ [12] British Universities Sailing Association (BUSA) website
  17. ^ a b [13] Cambridge University Janus Catalogue: Records of the Cambridge University Cruising Club
  18. ^ BUSA 1965 Championships Programme, Page 14
  19. ^ [14] History page of the Oxford & Cambridge Sailing Society (O&CSS) website
  20. ^ [15] Wilson Trophy history page of the West Kirby SC website
  21. ^ a b c [16] History page of International 14 Class website
  22. ^ Royal Canadian YC monthly bulletin 'KWASIND', August 2013, Page 21
  23. ^ Royal Canadian YC monthly bulletin 'KWASIND', September 2013, Pages 12-22
  24. ^ a b c "Dinghy Team Racing" by Eric Twiname, 1971 (Out of print, but available in some libraries and on sale second-hand from Amazon and others)
  25. ^ Preface to Royal Yachting Association Team Racing Championship Programme 1969.
  26. ^ a b [17] US Team Racing Association (USTRA) page of US Sailing website
  27. ^ a b c Personal communication in late 2013 from Liz Walker, Championships Director, US Sailing
  28. ^ [18] Team racing page of the IODA website
  29. ^ [19] Team racing page of Yachting Australia website
  30. ^ [20] New Zealand Team Racing Association (NZTRA) website
  31. ^ Personal communications in 2013/14 from Greg Ansell, a member of the victorious UK/Spinnaker 1995 ISAF World Team Racing Championships team
  32. ^ [21] UK Team Racing Association (UKTRA) website
  33. ^ [22] Royal Yachting Association (RYA) website
  34. ^ [23] Eric Twiname Trust website
  35. ^ [24] British Schools Dinghy Racing Association (BSDRA) website
  36. ^ Personal communications in late 2013 from Bruce Hebbert, co-founder of BSDRA and 2K Team Racing, and from James Unwin, Commodore of BSDRA
  37. ^ [25] UK National Schools Sailing Association (NSSA) website
  38. ^ [26] Sonar Class Association website (see Calendar --> Team Racing)
  39. ^ [27] Team Racing page of the New York YC (NYYC) website
  40. ^ [28] CJ Buckley Regatta website
  41. ^ [29] Team Racing page of the Interscholastic Sailing Association (ISSA) website
  42. ^ [30] 2K Team Racing website

External links

  • Team Racing Tactics - US
  • Team Racing Training - UK
  • Team Racing Tactics - UCC, Ireland
  • Three Winning Team Race Moves - Sailing World, US
  • Team Racing Tactics - Boating, NZ

Further reading

  • "Team Racing Companion" by Chris Atkins, Fernhurst Books 2014 ISBN 978-1-909911-11-6
  • "Contemporary Team Racing, A Manual of Team Race Tactics & Strategy" by Gavin O'Hare - Book:
  • "Contemporary Team Racing 2005–2008" - Animated CD:
  • "Team Racing for Sailboats" by Steve Tylecote ISBN 1-898660-85-9 (Now out of print but available second-hand)
  • "Dinghy Team Racing" by Eric Twiname ISBN 0-229-11542-X (Now out of print but available second-hand)
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