It’s back to the fu­ture for the Amer­ica’s Cup

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Per­haps the most “cut­ting-edge” sail­boat I ever met was in a ma­rina in south­ern Spain in the early 1990s, not long after the Soviet Union fell apart. It was a Rus­sian boat, a quin­ta­ma­ran, a five­hulled mon­ster with a cen­tral main hull and four amas that looked some­thing like a mas­sive mis­sile-bear­ing spi­der. The re­cently de-Sovi­etized crew, just ar­rived from a Rus­sian naval base on the Black Sea, was very proud of her and whis­pered be­hind their hands that she had lots of se­cret Soviet mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy aboard.

Their brash con­fi­dence was based on a con­ceit that more hulls must al­ways make for a bet­ter sail­boat. As in: if cata­ma­rans and tri­marans are faster than mono­hulls, then a quin­ta­ma­ran must be faster still. Those of us who gath­ered on the pon­toon to gawk at this odd­ity were too po­lite to point out the ob­vi­ous—that at least two of the five hulls on this boat were just dead weight. We also now had a much clearer idea of why the Soviet Union was doomed to col­lapse.

There has been a sim­i­lar con­ceit at work in the last few cy­cles of the Amer­ica’s Cup—that mul­ti­hulls must al­ways make for more ex­cit­ing rac­ing than mono­hulls. Yet in­for­mal polls of the sail­ing pub­lic re­veal that a large ma­jor­ity of those who fol­low the Cup would rather see mono­hulls rac­ing.

Not at all co­in­ci­den­tally, the newly tri­umphant Cup de­fend­ers, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, have just con­firmed as the dead­line for this col­umn ap­proaches that the next Cup com­pe­ti­tion will be sailed in sin­gle-hulled boats. But there’s a twist! The new boats, like the catama- rans that pre­ceded them in AC35, will carry foils.

Hav­ing re­cently re­searched and writ­ten a bit on the sub­ject of foil­ing mono­hulls ( The New Fron­tier, April 2017), I can tell you this truly is the cut­ting-edge of sail­boat de­sign. The num­ber of mono­hull de­signs car­ry­ing foils has very re­cently metas­ta­sized, from IMOCA Open 60s run­ning in the Vendée Globe, to the new Fi­garo 3 one-de­sign class, to the lat­est su­per-com­pli­cated no-holds-barred Mini 6.50 pro­to­types, to user-friendly day­sail­ers, to lux­u­ri­ous per­for­mance cruis­ers. And though it is clear that foils can make sin­gle-hulled sail­boats faster, and can also in­crease com­fort and sta­bil­ity aboard, there is no con­sen­sus at all on how they are re­ally best uti­lized.

Afi­ciona­dos of­ten like to de­claim that the Amer­ica’s Cup should be a hot­bed for new de­sign ideas, but in fact, this rarely hap­pens. Iron­i­cally, the most fer­tile pe­riod of Cup in­no­va­tion in liv­ing mem­ory was prob­a­bly dur­ing the era of the 12-Me­ters, when the world’s bright­est yacht de­sign­ers la­bored for decades over how to ex­ploit an an­tique de­sign rule to make go-fast rac­ers. The re­sults were en­ter­tain­ingly sporadic. We had spec­tac­u­lar fail­ures (re­mem­ber the ill-fated Mariner, with her abruptly squared-off back end, which prompted Ted Turner to com­plain to Brit Chance that even turds are ta­pered?) and also break­through suc­cesses, like the wing-keeled Aus­tralia II that changed Cup his­tory.

But given a care­fully crafted de­sign rule, the Amer­ica’s Cup might now play an im­por­tant role in the de­vel­op­ment of yacht de­sign by ac­cel­er­at­ing our ex­plo­ration of the vast terra incog­nita of the foil­ing mono­hull. I’ve seen some chatter on­line about the next gen­er­a­tion of Cup boats be­ing IMOCA knock-offs or per­haps over­sized Moths, but I’ll be sur­prised, and dis­ap­pointed, if the new boats are sim­ply de­riv­a­tive. Hope­fully, the new rule will al­low de­sign­ers to ex­er­cise their imag­i­na­tions, and we’ll be treated to some in­tel­lec­tual com­bat as well as some in­ter­est­ing rac­ing.

An­other thing I’m hop­ing is that foil­ing mono­hulls will bring back some of the more tra­di­tional as­pects of Amer­ica’s Cup rac­ing. As­sum­ing the new AC boats are large enough to need bal­last, it seems likely they won’t al­ways be fly­ing on their foils, as the last gen­er­a­tions of cats did, and such ar­cane ma­neu­vers as sail changes, etc., may once again be­come de rigueur. Add in the new na­tion­al­ity rule the Ki­wis have sworn to im­pose, and we might end up with the unlikeliest Cup com­pe­ti­tion of all: one that most sailors are ac­tu­ally in­ter­ested in. s Ed Note: For the lat­est on the pro­to­col for the up­com­ing 36th Amer­ica’s Cup, visit sail­magazine.com/rac­ing

Yacht de­sign­ers for AC36 will un­doubt­edly ref­er­ence foil­ing Open 60s, like Hugo Boss

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