A match race consists of two identical boats racing against each other. This is a one-on-one duel of strategy and tactics and the objective is simple – to be the first to cross the finish line.
A match racing course is always a windward / leeward course with variable start and finishes, and each race takes approximately 8-12 minutes to complete.
A match race begins two minutes before the starting time when each boat must enter the starting area from opposite sides of the start boat. As soon as they enter the starting area they will engage in a pre-start battle as each one tries to gain an advantage over the other. They will both be trying to cause the other boat to infringe a rule and so receive a penalty or to simply get the most advantageous position on the starting line for themselves so that they are in control of the race.
Match racing is officiated by umpires on the water who follow the boats and make instant on-course decisions about whether a penalty is given. The umpire boat will use yellow and blue flags to indicate which boat has been given a penalty or a green flag if no penalty is given.
When a boat is penalised it must complete an immediate penalty to slow it down behind the opposition boat. If one boat has a penalty and the other also gets one before the first has taken theirs then they are cancelled out. If a boat receives three penalties in succession then it is disqualified.
Match racing event
With 12 teams at an event, and the racing style being one-against-one, there are a lot of races to complete. A qualifying stage of fleet racing sees 12 teams split to two groups of six, with the top three in each group progressing directly to the Quarter Final stage. The three bottom teams from each group will battle it out to take just one team forward from each group to the Quarter Final stage.
From this point until the final it is simple – win and progress to the next stage or lose and go home. From the Quarter Final teams progress to the Semi Final stage and then the Final. The losers of each Semi Final will compete in a Petit Final to define a third place podium finisher.
The most renowned match racing event is the America’s Cup in which one yacht challenges the defender of the Cup but this event does not require the yachts to be identical. The first match race to be sailed in one design boats was the Bermuda Gold Cup in 1937 and this event was won by Briggs Cunningham (USA) who also went on to win the first America’s Cup sailed in 12-meter boats.
In 1989 the IYRU introduced a ranking system for match racing skippers and in 1988 the ISAF Match Racing World Championship was born; it has taken place every year since then. Since 2006 the winner of the World Match Racing Tour is also named the Match Racing World Champi-on.
A Women’s World Championship has been organised since 1999 and in 2007 women’s match racing was selected for the women’s keelboat event at the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Women’s match racing was therefore also included on the programme for the World Sailing World Cup from 2008 to 2012.
The World Match Racing Tour was acquired by Aston Harald Sports in 2015, ahead of the 2016 WMRT season, which introduced the M32 multihull to the Tour for the first time. A USD1million bonus was awarded to the 2016 Match Racing World Champion, Phil Robertson from New Zealand.
In 2019 the Tour changed hands again to new owners and the 2018/19 Final was staged in Marstrand Sweden at the GKSS Match Cup Sweden event. Phil Robertson defended his title making him a two-time Match Racing World Champion.