One-design sailors know that there's something special in competition among boats that are essentially equal in speed and performance. Many of them believe it's the finest and most exciting kind of racing.

One-design racing is a contest between skippers and crews as they race each other rather than a clock. They strive for the best boat speed and handling, and tactically work on actual positioning instead of trying to make up or save time on boats with different handicaps.

In one-design racing, the first to finish is the winner, since time corrections on handicaps don't figure into it. Nobody gets stabbedin the back, finishing well only to lose to a later finisher with a larger time handicap.

In handicap racing, sailors can work at peaklevels for hours or even days, only to find out, sometimes long after finishing, that another team on a boat with a larger handicap rating has slipped in front on correction. Different tidal conditions, a different wind at a certain point on the course later in the day, or doing a shade better against the conditions and the course can mean the difference between winning and losing.

This can be disappointing, to say the least. It is not uncommon at the finish of major long-distance races to, say, Bermuda or Newport to see sailors who arrived early shift quickly from the elation of their success to a state of anxiety as they wait out the arrivals of their slower competition.

For these sailors, it isn't over until it's really over.

Two popular international handicap rating systems are in use on the Chesapeake Bay, IMS (the International Measurement System) and PHRF (the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet). The PHRF system is the larger and more forgiving in terms of the range of boats that can qualify for a ratingcertificate and take part in competition.

Locally, however, as inmany other parts of the country, there are substantial numbers of boats clumped around several ratings nodes in the PHRF rankings.

Informal boat-for-boat competitions and strong rivalries within these groupings are nothing new. One that gained a lot of attention last year, not only from fierce competition on the race course, but also from equally fierce contests for the most inventive practical jokes ashore, was the group of PHRF B boats ranged around the 114 rating.

Because of this group, and in response to growing interest in level-racing among similarly handicapped boats, the Eastport Yacht Club is planning the area's first PHRF level-racing regatta May 9.

It is being organized by Annapolitans Larry Kumins, of PollyWannaCracka?, and John Yeigh of Fast Track, who sailed in last year's PHRF B 114-120 rangesubgroup and sometimes seemed to care more about beating each other than about overall fleet standings.

A valid PHRF rating certificate will be required of all competitors, but no handicaps will be used in the event, which will consist of up to three short-course events for four groups of competitors.

Starts will be given for boats rated 84-90, 99-105, 114-120, and 132-plus.

"The concept was that we didn't really want to exclude anyone," Kumins said. "We wanted to target big clusters of boats, and each group includes other boats adjacent in rating by no more than six seconds' (per mile) difference."

By way of example of the ratings clusters, Kumins pointed out that there are at least 75 boats rated 132 registered with PHRF of the Chesapeake, with 50 or more 114s on the rolls.

"The concept is very popular and very successful in other parts of the country," Kumins said. "We think it should work very well here, too."

With the new PHRF splits that went into effect for 1992, some classes for the regatta cross official PHRF division lines, drawing from the bottom of A-1 and the top of A-2 for the first group of 84-90s, and from the bottom of A-2 and the top of B for the third group rated 114-120.

The regatta, a just-for-fun event, is not sanctioned for CBYRA High Point. It has the added benefit of reuniting some old foes now separated by the new official splits. It also will offer sailors a chance to compete against some others they won't meet on the CBYRA-sanctioned courses this year.

Although the regatta is set for the same weekend as the Sailing Club of the Chesapeake's long-established two-day Spring Regatta, nobody will have to miss out on that event to try the new level-racing regatta.

Race patterns have been reversed this year; CODs and PHRF C classes will start on Saturday and PHRF A and B will start on Sunday.

"The level regatta is open to anyone who has a valid PHRF certificate," Kumins said. "People who think they might be interested in participating should be encouraged to contact us early on to share their thoughts. We'll be coming out with the special sailing instructions pretty soon, instead of just before the regatta, and we'd like to have their input."

For more information, or to express interest in competing, contact Kumins, 626-0869, or Yeigh, 267-8048.

Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.

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