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Gladwell's Line- Reading the America's Cup designers' minds

by Richard Gladwell on 19 May 2010
Artist’s impression of an ACC V 5.0 yacht (left) compared to an AC33 yacht at similar scale, to a box rule, produced prior to the 33rd America’s Cup. The monohull under consideration was for 34 America’’s Cup is considerably longer. Copyright / Alinghi http://www.alinghi.com

The Names of the America's Cup design world gathered around a table in the BMW Oracle Racing headquarters, in Valencia, earlier this week to consider options for a yacht for the 34th America's Cup.

Such meetings are not new. Alinghi and the then Defender, Societe Nautique de Geneve held several in their tenure, working down the options for a monohull that could be used in a multi challenger, mutual consent event for the 33rd America's Cup.

The decision of the New York Court of Appeal created an end point to that process, confirmed when SNG decided that they would take on Golden Gate Yacht Club in a one on one match in giant multihulls, with the only restrictions being on load waterline length.

That left a lot of design thinking on the table - the end point of which seemed to be that a monohull, to a simple box rule (specifying overall length, depth and beam) would be best. And by altering the length from time to time, as the meetings tried to negate any prior work advantage that the Defender had already undertaken. Ultimately the decision was with the Defender as to the boat and size, as at that stage they had a compliant Challenger of Record, who could anoint any deal with which the Defender was comfortable. http://www.alinghi.com/en/33ac/news/index.php?idIndex=656&idContent=18822!Click_here to see the rule and boat developed by that group.

Wind the clock forward a year or so, and we have a group of designers once again pondering the boat choice for the 34th America's Cup - this time under the auspices of the new Defender, the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

The process is said to be open, yet save for an announcement on 6 May that such an event would take place in two weeks in Valencia, there was no preliminary announcement of the meeting, which is significant in America's Cup terms - being the first concrete step towards the 34th America's Cup, aside from various media conferences and talk.

Normally a "heads-up" media release would have been issued a day or more ahead of the event, and mention made on the official America's Cup website. Neither happened.

An official report was not released until more than eight hours after the conclusion of the event, and even that did not name the attendees, release graphics of the yachts, or official photos of the meeting and attendees.

The meeting broke up 15 minutes early and the only interview published to date was conducted by www.valenciasailing.com with Manolo Ruiz Elvira, the Spanish designer of BMW Oracle and can be read by
http://valenciasailing.blogspot.com/2010/05/manolo-ruiz-elvira-talks-to-valencia.html!clicking_here

Sources spoken to by Sail-World indicated that the meeting did consider the options put forward by Pete Melvin (USA) and Bruce Nelson (USA) being conceptual drawings and commentary on two multihull options (revealed by valenciasailing.com to be both trimarans of different lengths 20 and 25 metres, and a monohull of 27metres (90ft overall)


The graphics were not released to the media for publication on the basis that they were "too conceptual" and "might not be accurate". One would have thought that in an open process all information would be made available outside the design group, but apparently not.

Some drew parallels with the group that met prior to the 1992 America's Cup to formulate the rule that went on to become the America's Cup Class rule and elongated into five versions of that rule with the latest being used in 2007 in Valencia. That formula rule, where constraints are applied to hull shape as well as the basic dimensions defined in a box rule, is generally reckoned to have run its race.

At this stage, all options are on the table and are being looked at by the group.

These include using another formula rule or a box rule; multihulls versus monohulls; structure restrictions to reduce costs; options for appendages and increasing righting moments; and moves to improve the portability of the yachts for events on a Louis Vuitton Trophy type circuit.

A crew reduction from the current 17 would seem to be on the table - in the name of cost reduction (cost of sailing team) and to improve the spectacle. Given that most sports teams run at 11 - 15, it would seem that a number in this region would be about right, given that engine power will almost certainly not be allowed, and grinders will return.

However on the cost escalation front, two boats look likely to be allowed - avoiding any need for the Defender to sail in the Challenger Selection Series.

The non-consideration of a catamaran surprised many. The reason given was that it was felt that a trimaran offered a better platform for cameras/media equipment - which is fairly original thinking if correct.

Not present in the room in Valencia were any people external to the ethereal world of yacht design. It is not known whether input is being taken, and understood, on what is required to make a yacht and event more attractive to the media and broadcasters.

From here there are no formal meetings announced.

The rule and boat development process will be co-ordinated by the Defender, BMW Oracle Racing, with input being taken from the design group and circulated.

The new rule is scheduled to be published on 30 September.

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