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Lighter, faster… probably more complex Rod Davis

Let’s be bold and have a wee peak into the future: what will the world of sailboat racing look like if we look into the mythical crystal ball? We don’t want to be too ambitious, so we will look just 10 or 15 years down the track. What will we find? Will the racing world be solely about foiling boats? Will wings replace mainsails? Will anyone remember what a spinnaker pole is for or how to put up a spinnaker?

OK, let’s, as in you and I, have a stab at what we might find if we could time travel for a quick look at 2030! A good place to start, strangely enough, is where we came from.

Take the last decade of yacht racing, and its changes. Combine that with what we know or what we think we know, add to that some crystal ball magic, and see if we can make heads or tails of where we are heading in the future.

We will start this adventure in the most logical place, where we have come from, the state of play in 2002-2007. The America’s Cup was in 80ft boats that were as narrow as we could make them and still hold the mast up. Boats that were very, very fast upwind… well, relative to any other boat at the time. It was a refinement game, where little things made the difference. In any given race the boats would carry three genoas that overlapped the mast, and four downwind sails. Teamwork was required of the 16 sailors onboard, as tacking, gybing and sail changes were often the winning or losing factor. Campaign costs were high but participation was high too; a dozen or so teams competing meant there was a big supply of superb sailors being churned out into the world. The Olympic Games had two keelboats: the Star and the Yngling. The Tornado catamaran had, or was about to be, deselected as an Olympic class. But the established classes like the Finn, 470 and Laser were going strong. The 49er skiff was the class that really defined sailing as a ‘sport’ in the eyes of the Olympic public. Big Boat Racing was strong and nowhere stronger than in the new TP52 class. But events like the Admiral’s, Southern Cross and Kenwood Cups had already disappeared, out of favour because of the longer race format. A maxi, as in the biggest boats we ‘raced’, was just 80ft. And that was considered big. Sails were hoisted and trimmed by human power; power winches were for cruising boats. The Volvo Ocean Race was just changing from 60ft water-ballasted Whitbread sloops to 70ft flyers – for the first time with swing keels. It was open warfare, where both yacht and sail designers and sailors together were pushing the envelope to eek out even the slightest advantage over their rivals. One-Design RacingTraditional classes like the E 22, 505 and Dragon were going well; Melges 24s were strong and the first Melges 32 was about to come off the production line.


The America’s Cup Hmm… well, the next America’s Cup in 2017 is on a tiny island, 700 miles from the USA, a tax haven in fact. The whole event has to be repackaged for television in a quest to appeal to a broader fan base. The lead-up series comprise two-day events, each day with a couple of 12-minute races. It’s a real travelling road show, going to places like Oman in the Middle East. ‘It’s not your dad’s America’s Cup,’ as Coutts is fond of saying – one thing we can agree on! The new boats are seriously fast, foiling up and downwind, and very technical. The systems that rake and cant the boards and rudders are an engineering and hydraulic marvel. The crew don’t change sails, or even put them up during a race; the jib you start with (which is self-tacking) is the sail you race with. Cost savings (more like cost containment as there are never cost savings in the America’s Cup) include a six-man crew and one-design components for hulls, sails and wings. And only one raceboat can be built by each team.

Radically, but not surprisingly (logically, when you think about it) the traditional feeder for America’s Cup sailors, the World Match Racing Tour, has gone to using catamarans instead of monohulls.


Not foiling but certainly flying – Buddy Melges drives Heart of America in Fremantle. The America’s Cup has always been very, very hard to win. Fundraising, sailing and, probably even more important, the insight and skill to prioritise well; the last being the single most decisive talent of great players like Conner and Coutts (though they were pretty good at sailing). Even Melges failed to make an impression on the Cup until teaming up with the might of Bill Koch’s America3

to win in San Diego in 1992

This in a quest to stay relevant to the Cup. The Olympic Games 2016 classes include a catamaran and women’s skiff to match the men’s 49er. Traditional classes remain like the 470 and Finn, and of course the Laser and Laser Radial. Windsurfers dodged a bullet when the Kiteboard was, controversially, in and then out again in ISAF’s class selection. These same classes are ‘locked in’ for the next Olympics in 2020 as well. Big Boat Racing TP52s have grown into the premier big boat racing class after some lean years. J Class yachts (yes, the boats that were replaced for the America’s Cup 80 years ago because they were too expensive) have some of the best racing in the world – the current fleet stands at eight boats! 130ft long, heavy, old-fashioned and expensive… and very much in vogue.

In fact, racing boats from 100 to 200ft is very popular. And growing… (go figure). Mind you, it’s not your daddy’s 150-footer (have I heard that somewhere before?). The winches are push-button, no grinding necessary. The mast and boom are carbon fibre, and the sails carbon too, a fraction of the weight of the old sails. The Volvo Ocean Race Nowadays it’s in one-design 65-footers with one-design sails, all in the name of cost cutting. The race goes to the Middle East and China, two massive markets for the main sponsor. The racing is close and physical, but with a different spin on the game than before. One-Design Racing Huge growth in classes like the OK Dinghy, Finn, Dragon, and many local classes around the world. It’s as though ex-sailors decided en masse, ‘I used to love racing sailboats for fun and camaraderie, so I am going to do that again!’ 40, 50 and



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