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Prototype for Olympic Womens Skiff trials has great pedigree

by Richard Gladwell on 27 Oct 2011
Mackay Womens High Performance Skiff Trials entrant - Takapuna October 2011 © Richard Gladwell

A New Zealand developed prototype is being test sailed in Auckland ahead of the proposed evaluation trials for the Olympic Womens Two-Person Skiff.

The boat utilizes the 49er hull, foils and boom with a new sailplan designed to suit the ISAF specified target weight of 110-130kg.

The team behind the Mackay Boats' prototype oozes talent and has a track record of excellence

Two New Zealand sailors the diminutive Alex Maloney, an ISAF Youth Silver medallist on the 29er class, and Molly Meech a top female youth sailor in the Laser Radial class have been working through the test sail process under the eyes of David Mackay and John Clinton.

Mackay and Clinton, now work together at Mackay Boats, recognised as one of the top builders of Olympic boats in the 470 and 49er classes, and the company was recognised in 2008 with a award from yachting New Zealand recognising the company’s achievement in building all three medal winners in the Mens, Gold and Bronze in the Womens 470, plus the gold in the Mens 49er class.

Clinton was previously with Southern Spars, overseeing much of the development of their dinghy spar technology. He is also part of yachting NZ's Olympic coaching team.

Below the maststep, effectively the Mackay prototype is a standard 49er hull, boom and sprit, with a reduced rig. 'The rig will just pop straight on a standard 49er hull,' says John Clinton. 'Theres another turning block in the gennaker to take the load off the sheet, but that is the only change.'

The criteria published by the International Sailing Federation ahead of the trials to select a boat for the new Olympic Womens Two-Person Skiff, which will be staged in European Spring of 2012.

One of the strictures is the specified weight band of 110-130kg of which Maloney and Meech sit dead centre at around 120kg.

New rig for established class
Surprisingly the Mackay boat is not some new creation developed as the ultimate Womens HP Skiff - rather it is the same 49er hull used for the Mens event, but with a smaller rig. A similar concept to the Mens Laser and Womens Laser Radial, if you will.

Dave Mackay says that they have talked to many women crews who are thinking about sailing a womens skiff and a common line has been 'what about the 49er with a womens rig?'

'The builders and designers have all got their preferences but this is about the girls. Let them decide what they want to sail. It would be absurd not to give them this as an option,' Mackay remarks.

The commonality of equipment concept, with the well-established Mens 49er class which made its debut at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, is is vital to the Mackay prototype, and gives the boat some major competitive advantages.

First of these is that there is an instant availability of boats - with second hand 49er hulls being readily available and at a relatively cheap price - so the entry level costs are reduced. Add in a new rig and sails at the costs of about EUR5500 and you are ready to go sailing.

Second is that the tooling up costs for building are eliminated as standard 49er moulds are already used, and from an existing builder network already used to building a quality, and Olympic tested product. same song second
verse for the measurement.

Thirdly with an existing International 49er class structure in place the Womens boat has a strong and cost effective organisation structure in place - similar to the single handed Laser, doublehanded 470, Mens and Womens Windsurfer the RS:X which also straddle both sides of the Olympic gender divide.

The boat goes a long way towards fulfilling one of the ISAF Olympic Commission Reports Recommendation to have as much shared equipment as possible between the genders. It's big benefit is that through the ready availability of second hand 49er hulls, developing countries can quickly get a program together at a low cost, and let their sailor's go up the learning curve without damaging new gear.

At first take the Mackay prototype would seem to be a daunting prospect for two female sailors - but no so say Maloney and Meech.

'It feels really nice to sail we’ve sailed the 29er and the 29erXX and another development 14 ft skiff. For me this one feels nicest in all conditions,' says Alex Maloney.

'It definitely feels the best all round. We have it out in 20kts it goes very well we just need to work on our technique, ' chips in Molly Meech, who stepped into the skiffs straight from the Laser Radial. Alex and Molly recently finished second in the US 29erXX Nationals

'It is just a matter of getting used to the size, running across the boat instead of stepping,' adds Maloney. 'It is easier than we thought to sail.

'Capsizing is not really a problem, weve managed to get the boat up ourselves every time it is just a matter of having the right technique.'

The boat has been sailing for over two months in a full range of conditions.

On the previous weekend the prototype competed against 49ers in the Stack Interiors WinChamps at Murrays Bay Sailing Club hitting out against the 49ers. 'The speed difference wasnt too significant, so we were competing with them,' says Maloney.

'We had really gusty shifty conditions. We were coming in about the middle of the fleet. We expect to be just as fast or faster than the 49ers in the breeze', she adds.

Coach Clinton makes the point that the small performance difference between the two boats would allow one coach to easily cover the Mens and Women crews -providing a similar level of compatibility and synergy that exists in the
Mens and Womens 470.

Lower rig, better stability
'The rig uses the same mast section and fitout as the mens 49er, but is around 10% shorter', says Clinton putting on his spar and sail designers hat.

'The main and jib have about 15% less area than the mens 49er which results in the 120kg crew being fully powered up at the same wind speed as the men.

'The sailplan is influenced by the recent wide head 18ft skiff mainsails, requiring a straighter rig than the mens 49er', he adds.

Maloney and Meech say the big surprise with the Mackay prototype is its stability. 'With the 29erXX your boat handling has to be a lot quicker,' explains Alex Maloney. 'In some ways the two are hard to compare as they
are a lot different.

'In the breeze the 29erXX is more unstable, and the first few times out in the Mackay, we said that if we had tried that trick in an 29erXX we would have capsized.

'The difference is in the wings and beam in the 49er hull which give you more leeway for error. The 29er XX is a harder boat to save when you make an error, but with the 49er hull you can get on the wings and pull her back.

Details of the trials have not yet been announced by the ISAF. Several boats are expected to be entered from UK, being a combination of existing classes, prototypes and the RS-900, which Meech and Maloney have not yet sailed.

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