blinds logoMatch racing is a sailing sport that pits two identical boats against each other head-to-head around a designated course. It’s a short and exciting matchup that tests the skill of the sailors. The Blind Match Racing World Sailing Championship will take place in Sheboygan Sept. 19-25 – simultaneously with the Women’s Match Racing World Sailing Championship – and although the sport is the same the details are quite different.

Here are a few things to watch for in a blind match race.

What’s match racing, and how is it different from any other kind of boat races?

Match racing is a sailboat race where identical boats race in heats, or flights. It is sometimes called a chess match on the water because it’s the skill of the sailors that determines the winner, not the superiority of the boats or gear. It’s all about tactics and skill, and the best crew – not the best boat – wins the race.

Who’s on board?

Each team of blind match racers is made up of three people, and all of them must have verifiable vision impairments. At registration before the championship begins, each competitor will be examined by an ophthalmologist before he or she is allowed to participate. Only the three competitors are allowed on the racing vessel. Each team is allowed a coach boat for the team’s advisers, but they are prohibited from interfering with the race.

What does the coach do?

When the 2014 Blind Match Racing World Sailing Championship was held in Sheboygan, it was the first championship sailed with no sighted observers on board. In previous championships, a sighted observer stayed on board with the crew but couldn’t communicate with them except in an emergency.

Each team’s coach will sail with the team from the dock to the course and in between races, but must leave the boat before the race begins. The coaches provide support while on the water and give sailors information about the course; for example, lake conditions and wind patterns.

How do blind people race in a sailboat?

Visually impaired sailors sail by sound and feel. The force of the wind on the sail, for example, affects how it moves and that tells the sailors what they need to know.

In any match race, the boats sail upwind, zigzagging to either side to the first mark, called the windward mark. They sail around it and head back for the second mark, the leeward mark, which is near the starting line. In blind match racing, those marks are special buoys, called the Homerus Autonomous Sailing System, which emit a sound.

The boats are SEAS’ three-person Sonar class boats, and they also make sounds to give the sailors information about which direction the wind is coming from. Using the audio clues from the buoys, sailors know where they’re headed and when it’s time to round the mark and head back the other way. The sounds that come from the boats themselves tell the crew where the other team is and the side the boat is tacking to.

So, they’re really blind?

Each blind match racing team is made up of visually impaired sailors from three classification categories. Many of the sailors who will participate in the Blind Match Racing World Sailing Championship are completely blind and others have varying degrees of vision impairment.

Many of the sailors who compete in blind match racing come from another kind of racing – fleet racing – which presents different challenges.

What should I look for when I watch a Match Race?

When you hear the warning signal from the Race Committee Boat about seven minutes before a race is to begin, keep an eye on the starting line. The two boats in that flight will enter the area from opposite ends of the starting line when there are about four minutes to go before the start of the race. In that four minutes, the boats will jockey for the best position at the start line and try to get an advantage over each other.

The race itself is fun to watch because the course is short and can be set close to shore so spectators can easily follow the action. Races are fast and the action can get furious.

Why should I check out the Match Racing World Championships? I don’t sail

Sheboygan is hosting two match racing world championships at the same time and in the same place – the first time for World Sailing this is happening. We’re making history and helping to showcase an incredible sport at the same time. Also, the sailing community in Sheboygan has committed to adaptive sailing – helping people with a variety of disabilities learn to sail and enjoy the water – so hosting the Blind Match Racing World Championships for the second time is another way to promote this important cause.

There will also be lots of other things going on throughout the event, Sept. 19-25, at the Sheboygan Yacht Club. Mark your calendar to join us for “Brats 4 Sail”, a brat fry fundraiser for the Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan’s adaptive sailing education program, will be on Friday, Sept. 23 at the Sheboygan Yacht Club. From brats prepared on the famous Johnsonville Big Taste Grill to reggae band King Solomon and fireworks off South Pier at the end of the evening, Brats 4 Sail offers a dash of fun for the whole family.