The sailing world has been abuzz since it was discovered that 2009 World Champion Bora Gulari (USA) was going to arrive at Lake Macquarie, Australia with a solid wing sail on his Mach 2.
The now measured sail has been designed and built by Canadian C- Class wing builders Object 2 Skiff Works.
But Bora is not going to use the rigid wing sail.
However prior to the Australian titles, dual Olympic medallist, America’s Cup tactician and Moth sailor, 48 year old US sailor Charlie McKee began sailing his Mach 2 with the rigid wing.
In the six race Australian titles, McKee sailed with the rigid wing placing 42nd in the 102 boat fleet.
Not a promising start you think? But Charlie is over the moon and on the eve of the Worlds. In this Sail-World.com exclusive we discovered why.
‘Over my sailing career I have had a predisposition to this sort of thing, the high performance sailing, and honestly I throw all of the skiffs or moths or cats it is all that same high speed high angle different sort of constraints on tactics and things, into this basket.
‘18 footers, 49ers, moths, I do the extremes. While I have done six years of intense analysis of the tactical match racing on the big boats in the cup, my natural predisposition is tactics on high speed small sailing craft. This has been pretty cool for me.
‘Bora Gulari and George Peet worked with the designers and builders (of the rigid wing) Object 2 Skiff Works led by Ron Caldwell. They helped build it and sailed it and just ran out of time to figure it out and get to the point where they could race and feel like they would have a chance to win with it.
'Bora is a contender to win the Worlds and I don't put nearly that amount of time into the Moths.
'I sail the Moths for fun and to keep my hand in the aspect of this sport that I really love. I just thought it is such a cool thing and such a positive thing that it is good for everyone and it is good for the class that the wing gets sailed.
‘Bora and George ran out of time to use it and feel like they could be competitive to win the Worlds and I guess I am just a good enough sailor that they entrusted me to sail it and they felt I would be someone who could help figure it out technically.
‘I am not a threat to anyone in the top ten. We are all going to know a lot more by the end of the regatta than previously.
‘I do this for fun, I sail Moths for fun. It's a credit to all the people who have designed and built it and made it work, that someone like me can come in and can get on and say 'right I have five days to learn to use a wing on this platform that is obviously very difficult to sai'.' Moths are extremely finicky beasts.
‘I am just incredibly happy and excited to be doing this and be part of it. I have learned so much about the whole thing. I ran into Rohan Veal, (the foiling pioneer, the 2005 Moth World champion) earlier in the week and we were talking about the early days, when they were just trying to get moths up on foils.
‘We know this rigid wing can’t win at this very early stage of its development; we are on this incredibly steep part of the learning curve where you just know there is so much left to do but there is also so much potential.
‘Every day that I come in from sailing with the rigid wing, I know I am so much better than when I went out.
‘You go out and you think about it and you come in and think 'I am going to try this tomorrow' and it´s invigorating to have the intellectual exercise trying to figure out how it works on this platform.
‘There are some things about Moths that make them quite different from other boats. One of the main things is heeling to windward rather than the leeward.
‘That in itself, makes a lot of subtle differences in techniques and trimming and probably angles of attack and twists and all those sorts of things. Then you are trying to do this on an incredibly small, unstable platform.
‘It has just been great, I am like a kid in a candy store.
‘I've heard my Luna Rossa teammate James Spithill is coming up to watch the Moth Worlds. We have done a lot of sailing together and he is someone who, when there is a new aspect of the game, takes it on and throws himself into it. That type of attitude is inspirational to me and that is what I have tried to do with this wing. I knew that it was too late and I said from the very beginning there is no way that the first time out that a wing is going to go win the world championships but it is the future of the sport. It is the direction that it's going.
‘What a great the opportunity for me to learn and be a part of the development and get re-energised about the cool parts of sailing. I feel very fortunate.
‘There are three wings here (Lake Macquarie). There's the prototype that was built and two more that were built in an extremely compressed timeframe.
‘The developers built wing two and three just in time to put them into the container and send down to Australia. What should have been an 18 month project was a six week project. From my outside perspective I felt ' no way.'
‘The fact that they have come so far and that the thing works is amazing. It would be one thing if you were putting it on some two dimensional platform where you bolt the sail on, put the shrouds on and go but you are trying to integrate it with this foiling moth that has all these other things going on. It is amazing that it works so early on in its development.
‘The Moth has always been at the forefront of development and I felt it was a really good thing for the class to have the rigid wing out there and racing. I didn't want to be in a position where I said 'I will use it if it is faster but switch back to my soft sail if it is light wind or if I can´t get foiling'. I just said 'if I am going to do this, I am just going to go for it and do it'.
‘I am measuring in the other two wings. I am going to race with the wing and whether I get 30th or 80th I am just going to keep persisting and keep going for it.
‘So far I’ve mostly been in the middle of the 100+ fleet, but I’ve had a few flashes.
‘I did round one weather mark about tenth, I had a good beat.
‘The marginal foiling is very difficult at this stage. It is very hard for me as I haven't yet figured out how to get up on the foils as quickly, in the marginal stuff.
‘That makes it very tough on the starting line and very tough when the wind is unstable, when you tack and you might not have enough wind to get back up on the foils.
‘My big weakness is on starting; downwind we don´t have it figured out yet so it's not as fast, so I usually lose about five boats each downwind if I am sailing reasonably well.
‘That is something, that in the long run, is clearly solvable but we just ran out of time on that aspect.
‘When the breeze is up and I am doing things right and I get it dialled in, it feels great.
‘In the lead up to the regatta I had times where upwind I was right on the pace with people who sail Moths a hundred days a year, and I sail twenty.
‘I know that they are on the right track with the wing and there are aspects of it that are pretty cool. It balances really nicely the main sheet load ... it works.
‘My goal is to make the it into the gold fleet somehow, keep up on the foils, and if the normal Lake Macquarie sea breeze comes in I am hoping to show some flashes of brilliance and show what the wing can do.
‘So far the most we've have had the wing out in is about 18 knots.
‘It was very pleasant to sail in that breeze and the wing functioned really nicely and was a joy. I was a little worried coming this late into the project, that I was going to be able to figure out how to control the wing.
‘The work that has gone before by Bora and George; we have a pretty good open spirit in the Moths class and they have all been helping me out knowing that this it's ridiculously late to be having a new test pilot come in.
‘People have been asking what the squeak is they hear when I sail by. It is just a very minor thing. The mast stump which has the stainless pin that comes out of the nylon bush just sits low enough so that it rides on the top of the nylon bushing, rather than sitting on the pin. One of the wings does make the squeak and the other one doesn't and we are changing it so it will be quieter.
‘How fragile is the wing?
'The skins are very light weight so if you went flying into the wing you would go through the skins. The skins are like ceran wrap. I have been through some big wipe-outs with the wing and it has not been a problem at all and I know the other guys have been through some big crashes too.
‘I broke one of them today out sailing (the day before the Worlds)... one of the three. In 16 knots of breeze I stacked it in a jibe and was probably going 23 or 24 knots and went from 24 to zero in a hurry and it cracked the carbon on the front element, it crumpled.
‘It was the one that had been suspect and had broken before and been repaired. We knew that that was the questionable one but we wanted to give it one more run knowing full well that we were taking our chances.
‘We thought we would do it before the regatta and see because it had actually felt quite nice. I had sailed it once before and George had sailed it and it was responding well and it felt good but we knew it was questionable structurally because of the previous problem. And sure enough that proved to be the case.
‘The other day in the bay I hit 27 knots just fooling around and that´s the cool part.
‘The thing about sailing is that it is so complex and there are so many different aspects of it. There is so much to learn and there is cross pollination, I have tried very hard to keep doing difference aspects of the sport and challenging myself.
‘This opportunity came along to be a part of the wing development. My ego is not wrapped up in this project and I knew well I was signing up for something that was a little bit crazy.
‘No question that it was going to harm my results. But it is going to push the wing forward and hopefully it will help push the sport and the class forward too and certainly in my personal sailing having a challenge like this, well I am just really happy right now.
‘The skinny is that there has been a lot going around about the wing, the mast, everything. The bottom line really is that is just takes a longer timeframe than we've had to develop something such as this properly.
'It is going to get attention and the class is going to see what the wings are all about and the rest of the world is going to see what positives come from a development class like the Moths.
‘The expectations for how I am actually going to do results wise in the Worlds? I will tell you bluntly that I am not going to go finish in the top 20.
‘We are going to rip around the track and I can sheet in and go fifteen and a half knots upwind like Nathan and Bora and Tom Slingsby and those guys do sometimes.
‘For Bora and George just building something for the first time and putting it in a box and putting it up here and ripping it around, is quite an accomplishment.
‘My background in small boat sailing is mostly on the one designs but we all very much respect the traditions of the classes such as the Moth class, where so much innovation comes from.
'The wing is just becoming mainstream and the world is just waking up to this high performance sailing aspect, so for the Moth class once again to be at the forefront of it all, is just a great thing.
‘From my perspective if it is marginal foiling conditions here (lake Macquarie) then I am going to struggle to make it into the gold fleet the first time out with the wing and with only a few days sailing it.
‘If the breeze comes up then I hope people will see it and say, 'wow this thing has real potential and they have got it locked in upwind and that is pretty cool.'
‘Most of the Mothies think it is pretty darn cool already!'
Charlie McKee (USA) won Moth gold in 2008 at Sail Sydney - www harvpix com - Harvipix
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