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The other kind of airfoil—Sailing News from the U.S. and Beyond

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 17 Dec 2012
Sunset in the Southern Ocean © Dominique Wavre
Given the lovely weather that we’ve been 'enjoying' in Seattle as of late (read: liquid sunshine, and lots of it), my family and I spent the morning checking-out a different kind of wing than the America’s Cup variety, namely the ones that Boeing manufactures and assembles at their Everett, Washington facility. Here, we saw wing sections for 747s, 787s and 777s being assembled and attached to their fuselages in the world’s biggest building. I couldn’t help but smile when the tour guide referred to the supporting members that run internally down length of each wing as 'spars.'


I also couldn't help but consider that the scale of an AC72’s wingsail won’t be too far afield from what I was seeing on the massive assembly floor. Even mightier was the thought that BMW Oracle 90 used a wing section that dwarfed that of any commercial airliner ever built.


In another parallel to Grand Prix sailing, the new 787 is built using substantial amount of carbon fiber and composite materials. Also according to our tour guide, the 787’s wings (which use a lot of carbon) are designed to flex more than 20 feet, purportedly to act as 'shock absorbers' (his parlance, not mine) to make flying through rough air a smoother experience. Yet talk to any skipper in the alone-and-around-the-world-nonstop Vendee Globe Race, and I strongly suspect that they wouldn’t think of their carbon-fiber racing shells as having much in the way of shock absorption, especially now as they skim and skip along the often storm-tossed Southern Ocean.





At the time of this writing, Armel Le Cleac’h ('Banque Populaire') and Francois Gabert ('MACIF') were playing leapfrog for pole position, their next closest competition-Jean-Pierre Dick ('Virbac Paprec 3')-some 450 miles astern. According to reports, the fleet of 13 IMOCA 60s that are still left standing (out of a starting class of 20) are dealing with the extremes-either too much wind or not enough-thanks to Cyclone Claudia, which has been stalking parts of the racecourse.





Skipper Mike Golding ('Gamesa') had an interesting recent moment of reflection when a sudden and strong puff broke a furling line, unleashing a massive flogging sail (at 0400 hours, of course). While the experienced British-flagged skipper reacted quickly and remedied the problem, Golding couldn’t help but consider that this incident took place within 300 miles from where he was dismasted in the 2008/2008 Vendee Globe.


'I am reasonably sorted now, I am not going to go mad,' reported Golding after dealing with the sail. 'I just have to consolidate with the boat a bit and accept that I won't have my best day. Otherwise there is the propensity to get right into that downwards spiral and that’s when bad things start to happen.'





On the other side of the conditions coin was Francois Gabert ('MACIF'), who added another impressive record to his resume several days ago when he broke the record for the fastest passage from the Cape of Good Hope to Australia’s Cape Leeuwin (his un-ratified time is 11 days, six hours and 40 minutes), besting the old record (which was held by his mentor, the legendary Michel Desjoyeaux) by nine minutes. Even more astonishing is the fact that the 29-year-old Gabert has also chalked-up two other jaw-dropping records on his first Vendee, namely setting the (ratified) record for the fastest passage from Les Sables d'Olonne, France to the Cape of Good Hope (34 days 10 hours and 23 minutes), as well as bagging the most solo miles sailed in a day aboard a monohull (545.3 miles; unratified). Get the full Vendee news blast, inside this issue.


May the four winds blow you safely home,

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