JOBS ON REPORT
AC35 is done and dusted, so what’s next? It’s monohulls and passports.
With Team New Zealand in charge once again, there’s a welcome return to the Deed of Gift.
“The live dynamic between the helmsman and tactician, and perhaps one other crew member, needs to be a key production tool,” says Mason. “And wearing the latest high-quality microphones must be mandatory.”
Mason also suggests abandoning the trend of running races close to land. “Spectators really don’t see much,” he says. “The racing — and production — is better in open water.”
I would add that the virtual course boundary lines be dropped. The purpose of these boundaries is to keep the racing close, but they reduce the opportunity for the following boat to pass the leader.
Hall of Fame Sailor, Stan Honey, who created the graphics used for the America’s Cup television broadcasts in 2013 and 2017, has watched the evolution of the Cup with great interest. He suggests Cup organizers consider a monohull that is slow enough to require a gennaker for the downwind legs. “I would, of course, have a strong ‘build-in-country’ rule,” he adds, “and a strong crew-nationality rule. I would also require manually powered winches. The monohull would be slower than the cats, but it would look fast because there would be lots of spray.”
For training purposes leading up to the next Cup match, the Maxi 72 Class could provide a viable training platform for the race crews. These highly competitive and technical monohulls are a good template for the new Cup yachts. Maxi 72s allow for a maximum of 20 crew, with no weight limit. Ideally, the Cup boats would race with fewer crew. Fifteen crew on an 80-footer seems about right.
Historically, the America’s Cup has been a design contest with many important innovations that have benefited the larger sport of sailing. There is always the inevitable discussion of whether to make the yachts one-design or open. Even within class rules like the 12 Meter, J Class, ACC and AC50 cats, there was room for creativity. The more exotic the design, the greater the chance the boats will be well-separated on the racecourse. Competitors and fans prefer close racing, frequent lead changes, and lots of drama in the heat of battle.
As designs evolve over several Cup sequences, the designs will narrow in scope. In 1992, when the new IACC rule was introduced, there was a wide range in speed across the fleet. Fifteen years later, in 2007, all the boats were remarkably even in speed. It is a tricky balance. Naval architects should have the latitude to create breakthrough designs. The quest for speed is a great motivator.
However, it is worth debating the use of advanced electronics on Cup boats. What we saw in San Francisco and Bermuda was sailors relying heavily upon computers to guide their tactics and performance at every stage of the race. At times, it was very much like playing a video game. I am an advocate of empowering sailors to make judgment calls, and my suggestion is to limit the use of sophisticated computers in favor of limited instruments, such as a compass, speedometer and wind instruments, which will force the sailors to make intuitive tactical calls. It will make them better sailors, and provide for exciting moments and lead changes.
Traditionally the defender enjoys its hard- earned hometown advantage, but when the Golden Gate YC in San Francisco moved its defense to Bermuda, the home-court advantage went away, along with hometown interest. New Zealand will hold its races on its own waters, and no doubt the entire country will support the team with fervor. Wresting the Cup away from Team New Zealand will not be easy, but recent history helps us understand what might happen in the future. Since 1983, challengers have won six of 11 times.
Four of those successful challengers were able to defend and then subsequently lost the Cup. This was true for the San Diego YC in 1987 to 1995, the Royal New Zealand YS from 1995 to 2003, the Societe Nautique de Geneve in 2003 to 2010, and Golden Gate YC from 2010 to 2017. Will the pattern repeat? It’s impossible to know, but it will be great fun to watch. For now, we can hope that the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and the Challenger of Record, Circolo della Vela Sicilia, will set up an America’s Cup that will recapture the hearts and minds of sailors and nonsailors alike. It’s time to get back to what we know. Q
TIME stops when the sails fill on a J Class yacht. Then she comes alive. Acceleration is smooth, reeking of power. The rail dips to kiss the water. It seems so easy, and a nonsailor might romanticize it just that way. A little trim on, a little trim off. The boat charges along — until it’s time to tack. The jarring cry of the loaded genoa sheet as it’s eased around a 14-inch drum shudders through the boat. There is no missing the message that every inch and every pound of this beast is wound up tight. Communication — bow to stern and stern to bow — is critical, and the other end of the boat is seriously yonder. Nothing happens on the instant. And that’s not to mention the life of the foredeck team, in the way of old, managing monster sails on a sliver of a deck. But nothing compares to the view from that deck. Another tack, the headsail booms as it luffs and sweeps across stainless rigging. Across the way, the competition is a picture of grace, boiling through the water. You’re there to answer the guns, and you have no one to envy in the world of sail.
This was the scene in Newport, Rhode Island, in August, when six Js raced their World Championship. For the first time in years, I heard the word “majesty” connected with boats and sailing. Eighty years after Ranger won the last J Class race for the America’s Cup, 80 summers after Ranger’s owner-skipper Mike Vanderbilt mused, “I wonder how long it will be before five J boats meet again,” the improbable answer came loud and clear. Half of the J’s that raced the Worlds were owner-driven, like Ranger. Owner-driver Harold Goddijn, whose fortune was launched on sat-nav devices, has been at it with Lionheart and the same core crew since 2011. With seven-time Volvo Ocean Race veteran Bouwe Bekking whispering in his ear, Goddijn won the Worlds on consistency.
To state the obvious, this is no ordinary fleet. The J’s berthed at Newport Shipyard, and each spoke for itself. A mast reaching for the sky. The grace of a bygone era expressed in bold overhangs, a delicate sheer. A teak deck as a work of art. Dozens of people busy on deck, where a battery of high-tech machinery hints that inner dragons wait to fly. For the three owner-drivers — the pros too, for that matter — we hold the thrills to be self-evident. If this isn’t living the dream, what is?
Race 1 of the Worlds took the fleet under the bridge that connects Newport to Jamestown, and it stopped traffic. Literally. Stopped. Dreamers are everywhere. Aboard Svea, all 176 feet of carbon mast cleared the span by plenty, but of course that’s not how it looked. What I learned in three days aboard Svea, the newest and, at 143 feet, the longest J ever built, is that while majestic, it is still basic sailing. But it’s a heap of basic sailing. And it’s unforgiving. Svea’s hydraulic-powered primaries inhale line at 660 feet per minute, but a sail change is a sail change. Svea’s crew were climbing the steep slope of the learning curve of a complex new launch. Ken Read, the hired gun of Jim Clark’s Hanuman, has eight years under his belt as skipper of the dark-blue beauty. “No other boat matches the J’s demand for choreography,” he tells me. “Get one person out of synch, and it is chaos. And the loads keep increasing because we keep pushing harder.”
Did someone say loads? The gee- whiz game goes like this: Headstays carry loads to 36 tons. Runners might carry 30 tons, or a jib sheet, 9 tons. Svea has power takeoff ( PTO) hydraulics that deliver computer- controlled flow rates allowing each winch to be customized for each maneuver. From a driver’s point of view, it matters big-time that the long-keel attached-rudder concepts are 80 to 90 years old. The wheel is work. The boat won’t go where you want it to go until you show the old girl you mean business. But, as Svea’s Francesco de Angelis remarks: “It’s amazing what the original designers accomplished. They didn’t have computers. They didn’t have hydrostatic calculations. But their boats are beautifully balanced.”
Svea (literally, Sweden) was designed in 1937 to be Sweden’s first Cup challenger, but the boat was not built. Under a new vision to join the modern fleet, construction began at Claasen Shipyard in the Netherlands, and the bare hull was completed in 2013, but the project was abandoned. That is where things stood until Tom Siebel, of San Francisco, encountered those seductive aluminum