Bat-wings, Inflatable Battens
and Lots of Roach
by Vicky MacFeidh
Seattle sailors Jonathan (left) and Charlie McKee preview some new things we might see at the upcoming Louis Vuitton and America’s Cup.
It’s been four long years since the Swiss America’s Cup team, Alinghi, won the America’s Cup in March of 2003.
Removing the cup from New Zealand, a tiny country with a big love of sailing, opened the door to unknown possibilities.
Now, in just ten weeks, the next chapter of America’s Cup history will be written and for the first time the event will take place in Europe, a big region with an untapped interest in America’s Cup racing, from a host perspective.
Seattle sailing brothers Jonathan and Charlie McKee, formerly with Seattle’s own OneWorld Challenge, have ridden the tide of change and are now sailing with the Italian syndicate, Luna Rossa Challenge.
On the eve of the launch of Luna Rossa’s new boat, ITA94, and from their current “home” in Valencia, Spain, the site of the next America’s Cup, the McKee’s took a few moments to bring the folks back home in Seattle up-to-date:
What’s new and interesting in the world of America’s Cup racing - and what might we see trickle down to the club racer in the future?
JMcK - Sail plans have evolved the most – both through changes in the rules and through evolution. This time around you will see much bigger spinnakers which will make the downwind legs more interesting.
This is the first time roach has been allowed on the genoas which has led to need for battens in the head sail. The bigger roach makes it much trickier to tack but increases performance.
The mains are also now bigger in the head and smaller in the boot, with more sail area higher up and better twist in the profile. Again, the result is better performance.
CMcK - We started to see the trend towards bigger roach mains last time but now they have gotten much, much, bigger. You can have a much larger working sail area with the same height of mast. More wind aloft equals more power.
JMcK - Both of these things will probably be seen in more boats in the future. The permanent backstay is a restriction on regular race boats but I think you will see more boats in the future without backstays.
You both mentioned “inflatable battens” When and where are these being used?
CMcK – The change of rules for the genoas now allows battens. Again bigger sails means more power – but they are a much bigger pain in the butt to handle! They get hung up on the mast and are more difficult to get in the bow hatch.
JMcK - Some teams are using inflatable battens for the genoa roach, although some teams are still using fibre-glass. Inflatable battens are nice as they make is easier when tacking -- and for packing when not in use. The downside is they don’t work too well when they become un-inflated…
There seems to be a lot of chatter about “jumper-less” masts. What is all the fuss about?
JMcK - A lot of teams have been experimenting with this. The jumper-less rig is nice both in terms of less windage aloft and when gybing the gennaker in light air. But there are trade-offs. The reason you have the jumpers in the first place is to keep the tip from falling off to leeward. You can also make the mast smaller (thinner/lighter) when you have cables to hold it up. Whether or not the winning team will end up using a jumperless rig will remain to be seen.
CMcK - It’s an interesting development – it’ll be interesting to see if they actually use a jumperless rig when it comes time to race.
We also hear about development in the area of the upper spreaders: “pushers,” “bat-wings” and “flippers.” What are these used for?
JMcK - Some teams have extended the direction of the genoa so that the genoa actually sits on the spreader. These help with the bigger roach shape.
Anything new in the area of booms or spinnaker poles?
JMcK - Some of the booms, such as Mascalzone (Italy), have a truss structure which looks a little bit like a suspension bridge. Again you want something that is strong enough but light. They look kind of cool but we (Luna Rossa) aren’t using them so I can’t really comment on them.
There are also some different configurations of spinnaker poles out there. Nice part about that is that when you put it on the deck it doesn’t want to roll. But I think in the end you will see most teams still using a round pole because of the structure – round poles are still stronger.
Many of the teams are just now launching their second boat. The current rules allow teams to keep the hulls skirted until the official “unveiling” day (April 1, 2007) – should we expect any surprises underneath?
JMcK – The difference between the last few years and this year is that most everyone was still sailing old (2003) boats. This year it’s almost like starting over. The design teams will have a much bigger influence on the performance of each team.
In the area of hulls and fins I think the boats will look more similar than ever before. Again this is a result of evolution. Designers are figuring out the best area of the design window to be in.
Structurally, the way the rule works, more weight out of the hull and deck allows for more weight in the bulb. You won’t really see anything but it will make a difference in stronger wind.
The structure of the hulls has been really scaled down. It will be interesting to see how it plays out… obviously everyone is hoping their boat will be fast.
How much of factor will the wind be in Valencia?
JMcK - The normal sea breeze is pretty benign, although when the wind is North or Northeast it has quite a long fetch and can develop into quite steep waves, 3 meters or more. These type of conditions would probably be seen earlier in the season --- and may draw attention to any structural “problems” or deficiencies.
With such a large emphasis on the design element of a successful campaign, how much of a factor do you think the crew will be this time around?
JMcK - From a crew standpoint most everyone has been here in Valencia training for 1, 2 or even 3 years, so we should see a very high level of crew work. Of course, the better you get the more tricky you can get – and the boats will be closer so crews will be pushing harder – which in turn could lead to more screw-ups.
The NOR’s (Notice of Race) just came out with two races a day for the Louis Vuitton Round Robin series (10 minute warning at 2:05 PM/5:05 AM – Seattle time) and one race per day for the Semi-finals and Finals (10 minute warning at 2:50 PM/5:50 AM – Seattle time). Any big changes?
JMcK - One big difference is the use of a leeward mark gate – for the racing teams it makes it trickier as you can’t plan ahead as to which side the spinnaker will be coming down on!
The course configuration will be pretty similar to what was seen in Auckland – twice around, windward/leeward with a downwind finish. Each leg will typically be around 3 miles long unless there is more than one race a day. The course will be slightly shorter when there’s two races a day.
There will be time limits for each leg but there are no real wind limits. We can get a start off in around 7 knots. There is no upper limit – if we have smooth water we should be able to race in more than 25 knots!
CMcK – The gate at the bottom is a significant change as it gives the boat trailing more opportunity to pass; it can round in clear air, then maybe catch a different shift. Overall we are expecting the races to be much closer. The class rules have been tightened up and are now more narrow and boxier with tighter parameters. I expect the boat speed differences to be tighter with more opportunities for upsets and closer racing.
Some teams have traveled (Team New Zealand & BMW Oracle to New Zealand, Alinghi & Victory to Dubai…) for the winter, while Luna Rossa has decided to stay and work through the winter – your thoughts on this?
JMcK - The equation is different for each team – budget, testing goals. And remember that the two teams in New Zealand (BOR and TNZ) have a majority of team members who are from New Zealand.
For sure the winter conditions for Valencian are not fantastic but, having said that, we have been able to get in a lot of good sailing. And logistically it’s not as disruptive. For a team of 100+ people, it’s a pretty big thing to move everyone.
As for Dubai – the conditions may be okay but I suspect there may have been other deciding factors there.
CMcK - It’s a logistic hassle – and the travel time and disruption detracts from your program. The trade-off is better wind – hopefully. For us, I think we made the right decision.
Paul Cayard has reappeared on the AC scene and will be working with the Spanish (Desafio Español), who hope to hold on to their current spot in the “top 4” challengers – do you think he can make a difference?
CMcK - I think he will… obviously Cayard is a great sailor with a great amount of experience. I expect he will raise the level of their team!
JMcK - Yes, when you add someone of that caliber, it will for sure have a positive impact on that team. He’s a smart guy and it’s always good to have someone come in with a fresh perspective.
But it’s not easy to instantly change a program… the quality of the end result has to do with the sum of all the little decisions made along the way. Whether or not it will be a decisive factor remains to be seen.
Alinghi has just announced that they have been allotted their second hull number – #100. Will we see 101 in the next America’s Cup (33) or will a new design be introduced?
CMcK - I’m sure this will be a topic of discussion… The boat design is not cutting edge, the boats could go two or three times as fast off the wind, although the boats themselves are amazing from an engineering standpoint. I hope they deside to do something new, but…
JMcK - The design is almost 20 years old. Sailboat racing and the technical development has changed a lot in that time. Certainly there is a lot that could be changed and improved. They aren’t bad for match racing but downwind they aren’t particularly exciting.
Whoever wins has a competitive motivation to stick with the same design because they obviously have it figured it out. It’s hard to say how much the boat itself has an impact on the spectator motivation. Personally I would love to see a more performance oriented boat. It’s probably time for a change – but I don’t know if it will happen…
Alinghi will be racing alongside the 12 challengers in Act 13 fleet racing (April 3rd thru the 7th), before the Louis Vuitton elimination series begins on April 16th. This will be the last opportunity we will have to see all 13 syndicates lined up side-by-side. How do you feel about this?
JMcK - Well, it’s always been a bit of a stacked deck for the defenders. Basically for them, they will have the ability to see where everyone is, and it’s still early in their design cycle. It’s a bonus for them. Our bonus is getting to race more races!
The teams themselves seemed to really enjoy the traveling “road shows” of 2004 & 2005 – what did you think? Should there be more of these in the future?
CMcK - I think it’s been good for the sport and good for the event. It’s more like going to a real regatta. There has been more interaction and mingling between the teams. It’s led to more informal racing between teams. And of course it has been more interesting for the sailors themselves – much better than just two-boat testing which becomes very monotonous.
JMcK - I think we will see more of this in the future… I think is was great from the sponsor standpoint, it was a good way to get the America’s Cup exposed to more people and it was nice to get in more racing. I still like the idea of it culminating in one big event but think that the more exposure the better – having the event travel created interest in a lot of levels.
Larry Ellison/Oracle has just come out saying he supports having the event take place more often, say every two years. Some say this will promote and maintain interest, others say this will make it more difficult for new teams to get involved - your thoughts?
CMcK - That’s a trade-off alright! It would be better for the event…. and it could be coupled with more of a transition to a traveling event. If you were going to get involved you would have to be ready right away, after this one ends. I think it would be good for the event.
JMcK - I think it is for sure too long right now. It could be more of an on going thing, more continuous. It probably won’t be four years again.
Anything other thoughts you would like to express?
JMcK - There are a lot of people that complain that there is a loss of nationalism. From a sailors standpoint it’s raised the quality of the event and provided more opportunities. Any sailor from any country now has an opportunity to participate. I think it’s great that we can form teams with sailors from any county and have the opportunity to work with a group of like-minded people. Certainly for me it’s been a great experience and opportunity!
Also, I would encourage anyone who might be thinking of coming over to make the effort. It’s a beautiful country and culture – with a lot of other great cities to visit while here.
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