Roll Tacks June 2011

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 after rockfalls.

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 boatbuilder Winder.

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!






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