In 2017, the YRALIS awarded IHYC member David Seabrook the Roger H. Shope trophy for “outstanding achievement in race management.” The citation stated that “A computerized Cox Sprague scoring system has been one of the biggest improvements in race management in many years.”
Photo: David Seabrook (center) with YRALIS past president Bernie Armstrong (left)
What the heck does that mean?
Scorers don’t get a lot of love. But without scorers much of the motivation for sailboat racing disappears. And scoring a long series of races can be a challenge. Series can consist of twenty racing days in a season with as many as eight races a day. That’s 160 races to score. Multiply by that by the number of competitors (say 10), and that’s 1600 data points. And we’re just getting started.
Then you have to identify the competitors. Easy enough for big boats, but with club-owned boats (like Ideal 18s) the same sail number can be used by a different skipper every week. Couple that with race committees who misspell competitors’ names, some who send smudged notes hand-written in the rain while aboard a rocking RIB, and you have quite a headache. Is the “Smith” who raced in week 4 with sail number RYC1 the same person as the “Smit” who sailed in week 11 with sail number 259? In 2017 the Sunday YRA Ideal 18 races had 38 different competitors and 16 different race committees from four different clubs, which meant that there were many opportunities for screwups.
Then there’s the question of how to score fairly. Different numbers of boats show up each race day. If one week there are 5 boats and the next week there are 15, should the winner of the smaller race get the same points as the winner of the larger race?
Fairness extends to ranking within races. In many scoring systems, improving from 3rd to 2nd gets you one extra point. Similarly, improving from 10th to 9th gets you one extra point. But it’s much more difficult to improve from 3rd to 2nd than from 10th to 9th. Shouldn’t the person who moved from 3rd to 2nd be rewarded more?
The Yacht Racing Association of Long Island Sound has a scoring system called “Cox-Sprague” that is designed to be fair. For example, it rewards a person who moved from 3rd to 2nd more than someone who moved from 10th to 9th. It rewards the winner of a large race more than the winner of a small race. While it’s fairer, it’s more complex to score. Scorers have to look up a table to figure out how many points to allocate based on the placing and the number of competitors.
But wait, there’s more! There are “throwouts,” where competitors are allowed to discard their worst few scores of the season. But how do you figure out which ones to discard? If Smith came in 3rd out of 4 boats in one race and 11th out of 15 boats in another race, which score is worse? The scorer has to look at every race Smith sailed to calculate which race has the worst impact on the overall season score. And this needs to be recalculated after every race for every skipper.
David Seabrook realized what a pain this scoring process was, and devised an automated way to do it online using Google Sheets and Google Apps Script. His motivations were selfish: he was Focus on Sailing co-chair back in 2012 and wanted accurate scoring for the Captain Harbor Sunday YRA Ideal 18 competition. This scoring solution was soon adopted for the Captain Harbor Friday Night Series. Then Riverside Yacht Club heard about it and adopted it for their Thursday night Ideal 18 series.
While few people understood what this automated scoring solution meant, the YRA of LIS did. Finally, a little love for the scorers!
Photo: Roger H. Shope Perpetual Trophy