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Nacra 17- ISAF's experiment gets big tick from top crew

by Richard Gladwell on 1 Jan 2014
Darren Bundock and Nina Curtis (AUS) win the Nacra17 at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne Jeff Crow/Sail Melbourne

The Nacra 17 is enjoying a stellar rise amongst the sailing and multihull community, both because of its design pedigree from US design team of Melvin and Morelli, and the fact that mixed gender crews are offering a new dimension to Olympic sailing.

The great experiment has worked.

Since the introduction of the mixed gender crew concept, and then the trials conducted by the ISAF to select a purpose designed boat for the 2016 Olympic event, the sailing world has been pondering the options.

Now these are starting to emerge, but as yet no best combination of roles in the boat, weight and height combination, or set up have really emerged.

All crews in the Nacra 17 at December's ISAF World Sailing Cup Melbourne acknowledge that they are on a steep learning curve and are learning with each race sailed.

A new crew having racing their first regatta together at Melbourne, are Olympic Silver medalists Darren Bundock and Nina Curtis.

Bundock (42) oozes multihull experience – a former World Champion in the Tornado class, and Olympic Silver medalist in the same year, 2008, the tall, slightly built Australian is acknowledged as one of the top racing multihull sailors in the world.

Curtis is shorter, almost 20 years Bundock’s junior, and after exiting the Womens Match Racing after the event was dropped following the 2012 Olympics, she has sailed in the 49erFX, the new Womens Olympic skiff and the Nacra 17.

'We did 8-9 days together before this regatta started', explained Bundock. 'We are brand new team. Obviously Nina has had a bit of experience having sailed the Nacra and FX. But I have stepped in really raw.'

'After the America’s Cup I knew that I wanted to get back in and do the Olympic classes again. Nina had stopped sailing with her Nacra 17 team, and she was available. Her brother was working with Oracle Team USA, and she was over for part of the America’s Cup – so we put two and two together and off we went!'

Curtis is not as tall as Bundock, and is non-committal as to whether two sailors of Bundock’s body shape and height will win through at Rio in 2016. 'I sure the height will be an advantage, and we may see that come through in the last year before the Olympics. But now there is so much more going on in terms of progression in the boat, that we are just not noticing it at this stage.'

Curtis says the learning curve is not even day by day. It is race by race, at this stage. 'The difference for us between Race 5 and 6, yesterday, was quite a jump. We are learning every day we sail.'

'The boat is a lot different to any other boat', explains Bundock. 'It has got the curved foils, and also the double trapeze downwind – where the Tornado and F-18’s only had a single trapeze.

'We are getting used to having the helm on the wire, plus the lift that is coming off the centerboards. You need to control that lift, trying to get the boat out of the water – but if it comes right out, the boat goes sideways, stops and you have to build your speed again.

'It is vital to control the amount of flight that you can get from of the boat and out of the boards. Ideally the Nacra 17 would have little t-foils on the rudders and she would be away. We might see that change in 2020, I guess.'

Bundock was one of the original proponents of the Viper 18 in the ISAF Trials to select the new Mixed Multihull. 'We could have had 100 sailing in the first World Championship,' he says. 'But now that I have sailed the Nacra, I reckon it is a great boat. It’s perfect for the mixed sailing, the curved boards are great, I’m really enjoying the double trapeze downwind. I can’t really say anything negative about the boat except that it should have had some t-foil rudders on it as well.'

The AC72, used in the last America’s Cup has introduced the sailing world and general public to the world of foiling catamarans, and what is possible. Expectations are high that this spectacle can be carried on into the Olympics.

Bundock puts a dampener on this notion. 'We have had the Nacra 17 fully foiling. In fact we did it downwind, on the first weekend we had here for training. We were completely out of the water for about five seconds, with about 30cms of rudder in the water. But this Olympics, the Nacra won’t fully foil, unless you put some lifting rudders on the boat.

'There isn’t a problem with the boat nose-diving, but there is a problem keeping the boat in the water,' he adds.

Most sailors comment very favourably on the addition of the new carbon rig to the Nacra 17, replacing the original aluminum rig.

'The boat feels lighter,' explains Nina Curtis, who has sailed the Nacra 17 with both rigs.

'Obviously the lift is amplified again with the mast being quite a bit stiffer. Because is had a time out of the class, I didn’t notice any difference in the loads, but other crews have commented that the loads did increase with the new rig.'

Getting into physical shape to sail the Nacra 17 is another of the challenges facing all the crews. Bundock says he will stay with his normal training regime – to maintain current body weight and strength.

'We’re going to turn Nina into the prettiest looking bloke that you have ever seen,' he quips - a reference to the need to improve his crew’s strength and stamina to handle the demands of the sheet loads in the new class.

The dichotomy facing all crews in the class is that it is easier to find male helmsmen, therefore requiring the crew to be female and needing the strength to handle the loads of the gennaker and maybe mainsheet.

'We saw it yesterday with Jason Saunders (Gemma Jones’ crew) coming in off the wire, quickly hoisting the kite and being away,' Bundock reflects. 'It obviously makes a difference having a guy on the front. But then there are some advantages to having the guy down the back as well,' he adds.

Coming from the trimmers position in the Olympic Match Racing keelboat, one would have thought that Curtis would be close to matching the template for a good Nacra 17 crew, but not so. 'We’re going to make Nina nice and strong, and get the best of both worlds!'

Nina Curtis is not quite so flippant, being the one who has to put in the hours in the gym. 'It has been quite a big shift going from campaigning with three girls to one guy. I am really enjoying it. The guys are pretty simple, they say it how it is. There is a lot less BS to shift through.

'The Nacra has attracted a lot of down to earth girls, and it is quite a good class to be around.'

'I’m loving being up the sharp end of the boat', she adds. 'It’s really exciting.'

'I was trimming and sitting in the middle seat in the match racing boat, handling the mainsheet and spinnaker. The only transferable skill I have is holding onto a mainsheet,' says the 2012 Olympic Silver medalist.

'I have had to learn to walk again with trapezing, and all the principles with the rigs. It is so exciting having the new toys to play with regards the controls and rigs. I have had a steep learning curve with a lot of the factors in the Nacra equation.

'My legs are getting closer together as we trapeze! It has been a big year with lots of learning.'

Turning back to the physical demands placed on a female Nacra crew, Curtis says she had a year off gym-work last year to allow her body to recover and settle down after the 2012 Olympic build up and regatta. 'My role in 2012 was very physical, but in different ways. The best thing was to take a year off and clear out so you can be excited to train again. I am now officially three and a half weeks into training – it is still very early days. I could fell it in the third race, yesterday.'

'I know that I am nowhere near my full capability. I will have a good build up and will hopefully peak in Santander next year. I hope that in the end I will be able to get the kite up as fast as the boys!' she says.

From here the duo have a busy regatta schedule planning on sailing in the ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami (USA), followed by more World Cup events in Palma (Spain), Hyeres (FRA). Then it is off to Garda (ITA), Rio de Janeiro (BRA) for the Pre-Olympics and back to Santander (ESP) for the 2014 ISAF World Sailing Championships and the first round of 2016 Olympic qualification.

Logistically Nina Curtis says she learned a lot of from running a two-boat campaign before the 2012 Olympics. 'I really love the campaign life style – I’m looking forward to it.'

'That’s quite a full on program,' says Bundock. For now his America’s Cup plans are on hold. 'My focus is on getting back sailing again, and not talking about sailing,' he adds, apparently pleased to be hanging up his coaching kit for the time being.


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