Would you like this to happen at your club?  

Increase your fleet size four-fold.
Better integrate new members and beginners.
Improve the racing and the social side of your club.
Give your members more for their membership.
Give the underdog a chance!  

All this, without spending any money, running any more races or having to add any extra duties. According to Gary Smith, that’s exactly what’s been going on at Eastbourne Sovereign Sailing Club in recent years. As you may have seen on yachtsandyachting.com, Gary’s brainchild - PRATT Racing - has won the first cash prize award from the #GetOutAndSail initiative dreamed up by website editor Mark Jardine and supported by a group of commercial partners who are all delighted to support great ideas that get more bums on boats.  

I’ve been a distant fan of Eastbourne’s PRATT Racing for some time, and so it was great to catch up with Gary and find out more about it. The concept is not so different from the way amateur golf is played, except that PRATT Racing doesn’t take itself quite so seriously. “It’s a personal handicap system with a few twists in it, so depending on how good a sailor you are you get awarded a PRATT rating, which is just a guesstimate, to be honest. That rating is either a plus or a minus number which takes minutes off your corrected handicap time. So you can join in any club race that’s being run, or any handicap race that has a set of corrected time results. At the end of it then you can just add the PRATT rating to that.”  

PRATT, by the way, stands for Personal Rating Against Time Taken. It doesn’t take any more time to administer than your standard club racing. “You don’t need to run any more races or roster any more duties or anything other than what you’re normally running,” says Gary. “You just need one person to work the results out afterwards. So we get our normal Wednesday evening results and then we apply to the finishing order and the corrected time at a person’s finish their PRATT rating. So if your PRATT rating was +1, you get 60 seconds added to your time and do that to everyone and then you have then got a 1st a 2nd and a 3rd all the way down to whoever came last, depending on how harsh their handicap.”  

Criteria judged by the Prattmeister and his committee include stuff like:  

How long you have been sailing.
How well you can sail a Laser.
The age of your boat.
Your racing track record.
Age and fitness.  

Gary offers these examples:  

Harry Hotshot has a new boat is blooming good and always wins = +5
Billy Bloggs has a rubbish old boat, smelly wetsuit and is always last = -5
Somewhere in the middle is Joe Average who of course = 0  

Gary has introduced a Top Gear-style leaderboard with magnetic strips, full of PRATTs from top to bottom. It should also be noted that when the current club commodore switched to a garish, multi-coloured radial sail, he would be known as Susan. Clearly the PRATT collective take this less serious approach to racing extremely seriously. “Well, I’ve been sailing a long time and I’ve always enjoyed the racing,” says Gary. “But there are times when it can be a bit too serious. I found myself taking the sailing too seriously, it meant too much to me and I thought ‘well, hang on, this is supposed to be fun!’ I could see a lot of people at the club getting disillusioned, coming last all the time and not wanting to put the effort in to be better. There’s a lot of effort involved if you want to improve. You’ve got to practise, you’ve got to train, you’ve got to be fit, you’ve got to be the right size for your boat, and I thought these people are going to get fed up and leave the club, leave sailing. That was the primary reason really, for PRATT Racing. To give the underdog a chance.”  

Gary clearly has a talent for these kind of initiatives. He’s also the founder of the Cardboard Boat Race, which for some years was Eastbourne’s answer to the Birdman competitions further along the south coast. As its name suggests: “Your boat has to be made of cardboard and you can paddle it, sail it or do whatever you want, and that’s always a good laugh. That drew quite big crowds on the beach.”  

As for the future of PRATT Racing, I wondered if Gary had approached the RYA about adding a PRATT certificate to the existing RYA curriculum. “I think they had a publicity drive a few years ago called ‘Push the Boat Out’ or something? Anyway, I sent an outline of PRATT Racing to them, and I got a rather sniffy reply back saying they couldn’t imagine people could aspire to be the utter PRATT of 2011, so I felt they weren’t very interested to be honest.”  

What has failed to grab the RYA’s interest has still caused a number of other sailing clubs in the UK to contact Gary about replicating the idea, and there’s even been an enquiry from Dallas, Texas. With the sad demise of that fictional prat in a stetson hat, J.R. Ewing, maybe it’s time for some real PRATTs to strut their stuff in Dallas. And pretty much everywhere else where there’s dinghy racing. If personal handicapping is good enough for golf, it should be good for dinghy racing too. Gary’s got an idea that deserves to go global. If you want to find out more about making a PRATT of yourself, drop the Prattmeister a line at http://sailing-at-eastbourne.co.uk/