art match racingWith less than two weeks until the Women’s Match Racing World Championship and the Blind Match Racing World Championship set sail in Sheboygan, one question is being asked more than any other: What, exactly, is match racing? To answer that question and help spectators get the most out of watching the tandem tournaments, we’ve compiled a Match Racing 101 guide.

The Beginner’s Guide to Match Racing

What is Match Racing?

Match racing is a sailboat race where identical boats with crews of varying numbers race in heats, or flights. This year, two prestigious match racing events will be held in Sheboygan over the same seven-day period: the Women’s Match Racing World Championship and the Blind Match Racing World Championship. Each of these is a little different.

Match racing 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.

What happens in a Match Race?

In a 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, which is near the starting line. The boats round again and race through the course a second time. The first one across the start/finish line is the winner. The whole race takes roughly 15 minutes.

In a championship event, there are between 9 to 12 flights, 4 races per flight, per day.

Also on the water are boats carrying umpires, race committee, other race personnel and spectators.

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.

In Blind Match Racing, the rules are a little different and each team has a spotter boat, though there are no sighted people aboard the racing boats. In addition, the buoys give off audible signals to help the sailors stay on course.

Who’s in charge of Match Racing?

Throughout the world all sailboat racing, including fleet racing, ocean racing, windsurfing and match racing, is controlled by World Sailing. That includes promoting the sport internationally, managing sailing at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, developing rules and regulations for all sailing competitions, training judges, umpires and other administrators, and representing the sailors in all matters concerning the sport.

Who’s racing?

Nine to twelve teams will compete in the Women’s Match Racing World Championships: Two teams from the United States, two from France, two from Sweden, one from the Netherlands and one from Ireland. Athletes will be on the grounds throughout the event. Invitations to participate in the World Championship were sent to the 16 top-ranked teams, so sailors had to earn their participation in the event.

The Blind Match Racing Championship is organized differently since blind/visually impaired sailing teams aren’t ranked the same way the women’s teams are. As the host country, the United States can race up to six teams and other countries can send two teams. Blind match racing teams have more time to sign on to participate.

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.