Two of the biggest developments in high performance
sailing of the past 10 years have been hydrofoils and wing rigs. Not to say
that these are brand new ideas, but when Rohan Veal started winning
International Moth World Championships with his T-foils it spawned a revolution
in foiling that continues today.
When BMW Oracle Racing won the last America's Cup with
its wing rig, fundamentally the concept was not new, just the sheer scale of it
was what was impressive. The mass media coverage - along with Oracle's
superiority over the soft-sailed Alinghi - created a new level of interest in
an old idea. Instantly the Moth world was all a chatter with applying the wing
concept, with Weymouth sailor and egg head (Adam loves it when I call him that)
Adam May was the first to get his wing on a Moth.
To my knowledge, Adam was also the first to get a set of
T-foils on to an Optimist too! And meanwhile on the other side of the world in
New Zealand, the Kiwis working for Oracle Racing have plonked a wing in an
Optimist. But has anyone done the double, created a T-foiled, wing-rigged
Optimist? Now that would be worth seeing.
One of the concerns about a wing rig on a Moth was
whether it would cope with the capsizing and the pitchpoling. As it turns out,
the pitchpoling wasn't a problem at all. Charlie McKee told me he did plenty of
unwanted testing during the Moth Worlds and the rig never buckled under the
strain of the pitchpole. It was the back flap of the wing that became
vulnerable when the boat was on its side with waves washing the wrong way
across the delicate aft sections.
Since then we've seen what wing rigs can cope with on
the AC45 catamarans, not least on that spectacular crash in San Francisco Bay,
with Russell Coutts falling off the helm and through the wing and out the other
side into the water. Those crash helmets are not just for show, it turns out.
So maybe these wings are more resilient than we first
thought. Maybe there is a wider future for the use of wings in sailing than in
the rarefied worlds of the America's Cup or the Little America's Cup, the
C-Class catamaran regatta.
One class that was just beginning to experiment with a
combination of foils and wings is the R-Class doublehanded skiff based in New
Zealand. A bit like a 12ft skiff, but with more open rules, the R Class
enthusiasts have been mucking around with foils for a while, and were just
getting into wing experimentation when a bigger challenge arrived in
Christchurch... that earthquake on 22 February. The epicentre of the 6.3
Richter Scale quake was just a few miles from where the yacht club is situated.
Not surprisingly, secretary of the R Class Squadron Paul
Roe says developments in the fleet have slowed up somewhat in the past few
months. Since the big earthquake the Christchurch community has been through
more than 7,000 aftershocks, including another 6.3 Richter Scale quake in June.
The saving grace was that the second major quake was further way from the
centre of Canterbury. Even so, Paul says some boats were lucky to survive unscathed
What sailing he has managed, has come as a welcome
distraction from the harsh realities of life in a South Island still struggling
to come to terms with the aftermath of New Zealand's greatest natural disaster.
Paul has been enjoying getting used to foiling. "We've
made reasonable progress with setup and have been improving the overall pace.
We can more consistently keep the boat at top speed and understand a lot more
about what's going on.
"Better setup has made the ride more stable and faster. We increased
the angle of attack on the main foil which made a big difference. But it meant
that, off the wind, we had trouble staying on the water. Crews don't like that!
So we added a ride height adjuster and an adjustable wand.
"Half of the boats now have footloops for upwind as well as downwind,
as it's damn hard staying near the boat when wiring with it well over to
windward. A lot of things we're doing are obviously following in the Moth
fleet's footsteps. But we've learnt a lot through not having all the
refinements at once."
Three of the boats have now fitted smaller, flatter gennakers to cope
with the high apparent wind. "Hopefully as we improve our downwind setup we'll
be able to push a lot harder," he says. "The
philosophy of the R Class is to go as fast as you can with a certain amount of
sail area, and the limited length of the boat. Apart from that, it's do what
you can to go faster, so its whole ethos is based on development."
And the next obvious development is the wing rig. "People are keen, main issue we have is budget, as we're all cagey
about spending money. Not that it'll be all that expensive, just doesn't seem
good to be spending on hobbies at the moment.
"A wing is definitely achievable, we've done some quick estimates and
it all looks pretty promising and would have some additional benefits apart
from the obvious aerodynamic ones. We'll probably try out the soft wing again
at the start of the season to see what that's like." Best of luck to Paul and
his gang of R Class pioneers in Canterbury.
It certainly would be nice to have a sociable foiler, ie a
doublehanded alternative to the Moth and the foiling 600. The foiling
experiences I've had on the 600 in the Solent have been sensational, some of the
best sailing I've ever done. But it would be nice to have someone to share
those moments with.
The International 14 fleet has discussed the possibility. Full foiling
is the obvious next step from the T-foil rudder. But would it have the same
effect as it did on the Moth, ie exponential growth in the class? Possibly, but
in my view, unlikely. For the British fleet it would be a massive risk. The
stronghold of 14 sailing in this country has long been Chichester Harbour, and
the moment the class went full foiling you can bet the harbour master would
give the 14s their marching orders. And that would probably be that. Sometimes
development doesn't always equate to progress.
This was a subject I touched on in a recent Roll Tacks when I reported
on the 505 class's experimenting with a bowsprit and gennaker. Fireball champ
Vyv Townend pointed out to me that the Fireball class had mooted the same
modification back in the early 90s. Vyv writes: "At the time the UK
sailing scene had just been hit with the trendy new classes, the ISO and Laser
5000 were everywhere and it seemed that the future lay in asymmetrics. In
the end the Class decided not to go down the asymmetric route as it was felt
that we would lose any differentiator with the new classes. I think
if we had gone down the asymmetric route the class would now be dead.
Instead the new classes gave us the kick up the arse we needed and we
were the first of the traditional classes to be ‘Winderised'." Winderised being
the desirable effect of having a reliable and consistent product build by the
Interesting point of view, and one that the 505s would be well advised
to consider. Fan though I remain of asymmetric boats, every year the National
Championship Attendance Table on yachtsandyachting.com hammers home the fact
that very few of the 90's asymmetric revolution classes have really made a
lasting impact. When the builder (and marketer) of a single manufacturer
one-design loses interest, it's down to the enthusiasts to keep things going from
there. The asymmetric revolution was what forced the Fireball Class to pull
itself up by its bootstraps, and it hasn't looked back. The fact that there are
other builders looking to take on the might of Winder in constructing new
Fireballs is amazing. How many classes still muster sufficient interest to
create competition between different builders? Not many that I can think of.
Talking of success stories in old classes, how about the Finn Masters
Worlds in Italy with an entry list of 282 boats? And Great Britain's Allen
Burrell finishing 2nd overall, even if Czech sailor Michael Maier did win with
a clean sheet? Give it another six years though, and Michael will have a
middle-aged Ben Ainslie to contend with!