The cat is out of the bag

Dutch training partners USA trialling their upwind gennaker.
Troels Lykke

The Dutch Sailing Team announced today (Sunday) that Mitch Booth has registered his highly controversial Code O Tornado gennaker with the measurers at the Olympic regatta at Qingdao and that they have accepted it, subject to measurement, as a legitimate sail for use in the regatta. At time of press, the sail had not been measured but Booth believes this should present no problem.

This sail, which he has spent several months developing, is considered by many to define where the medals will go, depending on the weather conditions.

Booth believes that the sail has a considerable advantage around the course over a normally rigged Tornado with a standard asymmetric spinnaker in winds of up to 11 knots. Only then, in stronger breezes, does the normal rig prove faster – the greater area of the standard gennaker produces more horsepower downwind and the jib is sufficiently powerful upwind.

While the arguments for and against this sail rage around the Tornado docks, Booth explained the reasons behind his developing this sail: 'The advantage upwind makes up for the disadvantage downwind. For every Olympic Games the designing process of the best possible equipment starts all over again.

In Qingdao the current has a big effect on the race course. We already know quite accurately what the current will be. And with the predominant wind from the south east, it means that in terms of percentage the upwind leg will take a lot longer than on a normal course without current. The lighter the wind gets, the bigger the change in percentage upwind/downwind will be.'

If the weather forecast points this way, the Dutchmen will definitely use the Code Zero. Booth added: 'But if the wind comes from the opposite direction then the numbers will reverse and we might reconsider our strategy.'

He made that statement a day before he was scheduled for the measurers’ table, but had no hesitation in making the call for the smaller, flatter sail.

Having made his choice, he will look at the others who have also developed similar sails and do not have to make the choice until later when they can be more sure of the weather forecast for the entire regatta.

Among them will be the Americans, John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree, and the Australians, Darren Bundock and Glenn Ashby.

As Booth was in with the measurers, Lovell and Ogletree were out on the Yellow Sea testing their version of the sail that could change the face of the Tornado class. It was a red, radial-cut sail and the two were reaching with one man inboard and the other on the trapeze. Shortly after, a standard rigged Tornado, sailing the same line, had both men on the wire.

USA Tornado light air gennaker
Troels Lykke
Michael Jones, the Manager of the Australian Sailing Team, declared: 'Mitch Booth, the master of mind games, based his decision on the weather forecast.

He is a clever guy and the removal of the ‘six-knot rule’ that banned the starting of races for this class, allows the exploitation of the loophole (where there are no minimum sizes in the measurement of the gennaker).'

Mitch Booth (NED) Tornado competitor 2008 Olympics
Jose Luis Roca/AFP/Getty Images
Jones believes the Dutch team’s training partners, the Americans, will have benefited. It was confirmed that Lovell and Ogletree are in possession of one of these sails.

They will also have had the opportunity to try the sail and clarify the handling systems, unlike the French, who only ordered on a few weeks ago.

Bundock and Ashby together with 'Coach', Mike Fletcher, discussed the idea over 18 months ago and know that it could generate a lot of horsepower at low speed.

Ashby, a sailmaker, soon had one designed on his laptop, which they built. In addition they constructed the special snuffer and reinforced bowsprit within the class rules, and are thus ready to match the opposition.

Bundock commented: 'It takes quite a bit of time to work out the sail handling.'

Booth has led, the question remains, will anyone follow? Watch this space.

Mitch Booth & Pimm Nieuwenhuis sail testing - - 2008 Qingdao Pre-Olympics