Back in 2006 I did what academics do when they want to see if something is a good idea: they get a student to try it out first! I offered to undergraduates, as a final year project topic, the problem of finding a simple linear regression model for predicting sailing handicaps.
It was fortuitous that a student stepped forward who was very able and a sailor. He obtained data on 50 boats in the Caribbean Sailing Association (CSA) and showed that a simple formula using waterline length, beam and sail area gave a respectable approximation to the CSA performance ratings.
My target was closer approximation, but the project demonstrated the potential.
(The student, by the way, won a national prize for his work.)
It is some years now since I had my arm twisted into looking at the possibility of developing a simple and statistically sound formula for producing a yacht handicap based only on basic boat measurement data.
Why did I need to be persuaded? First of all, I know that this is the stuff of much argument in the common rooms and bars of sailing clubs. Second, how do we know what is the perfect handicap rating for a boat? The vast majority of handicap setting is based on performance data. The problem with this is that too few data are available for each of the many hundreds of different types of boat out there, and what there is will be contaminated by factors due to crew, weather and sailing environment.
In spite of the reasons for not getting involved, in the end I could not resist the challenge of this enticing, but very frustrating problem.