The Great Lakes explained, by Andrew Craig

Achieving fair racing across a range of different boats of varying size and speed is the holy grail of handicap racing. The Great Lakes group in the UK is attempting to achieve just that with some detailed and dynamic analysis of dinghy racing in the UK.

Chairman of the Great Lakes, Andrew Craig, explains in this conversation with's Andy Rice....


Here are a couple of excerpts from the interview....

SailJuice: Some of the handicap numbers and the Great Lakes have moved a lot and others have hardly moved at all. Can you explain the process by which the Great Lakes committee has readjusted the numbers?

Andrew Craig: We started the process at Queen Mary with the Bloody Mary and using data that we had borrowed from a couple of clubs. By combining the other venues in the winter series, the whole process has become much stronger. The first thing we did when the RYA system was up and running this summer, we backloaded the last three - and in some cases - five years results from the winter championship series - about 90 races in total and over 2,500 results. From these, the major classes such as the Phantom, the Merlin and the Laser, it gave us a pretty good idea of what handicap changes would be needed to equalise the average performance of these classes. That is what we are aiming to do at the moment - but before we do that, we do discard the poorest performers. So people who are new to the boat, new to the sport or really having a bad day such as being late to the start don’t have undue influence on the results. We only discard the poorest and then we average the performance of the classes using this technique.

SailJuice: Two or three years ago, the Merlins and Phantoms were dominating the top 10 of many handicap events. Now we see a broader set of classes having a chance of winning....

Andrew Craig: That is our aim. The aim in our handicapping is to give the top sailors in each class an equal chance of winning. There are a lot Phantoms and Merlins and Fireballs that turn up to these winter championships events. We have got over 200 results from the Phantoms, over 150 for the Merlins and the Fireballs, but there are also 160 Lasers in the results data and where were the Lasers in the prizes? Just nowhere. So what I am pleased about is making these adjustments, now the top Laser sailors are getting into the top 10 and top 20 but still the top Merlins and Phantoms sailors are up there in that top 20 list, but isn’t now dominated by midfleet sailors who previously were getting into the top 20. Now they are relegated to midfleet [of the handicap events], which I think is appropriate. Certainly I went to as many of the winter championship events last year and talked to as many people as I could and the overwhelming feedback was they thought that was appropriate too.

If you have a question for the Great Lakes committee, go here:


To find out more about the GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series, which uses the Great Lakes numbers, go to:

Bloody Mary
© Ian Roman: Bloody Mary

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