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Black Jack Yachting. Bigger boat. Bigger team. Even bigger performance

by John Curnow on 20 Jul 2017
Black Jack's new mainsail under construction at North Sails. Check out the square top! Black Jack Yachting
Throughout the iterations of maxis called Black Jack, a strong, consistent and talented team has been their focus. Some were sail makers, like Skipper Mark Bradford and also Vaughan Prentice from North Sails’ Brisbane loft. Others were riggers, such as Bruce Clarke, and there are even boat builders, like Gary van Lunteren, as well as Ash Deeks. All are great sailors, and many hone their skills in super-hot One Design classes like the Etchells and Farr 40s.

So it is a wonderful collection of knowledge and skills, but there is a wee leap from a maxi to supermaxi, and it is not just the additional 30 feet. Now as the new Black Jack appears after her makeover, the 2005 built vessel (as Alfa Romeo II) has had a significant number of mods to both hull and crew. As they prepare firstly for boat watching season, which begins with the impending Sydney to Gold Coast race, and then the mighty Hobart, it is important to ascertain exactly what has been undertaken in quick smart fashion by the talented on and off water teams, including Australia’s best boat builders.

Bradford explains the addition of America’s Cup and Volvo specialists, “We have taken the core of the team from the 70, but we are now 18 souls strong, not 11 as before. We took the chance to add firepower to the ends, if you like, and these specialists join our band of all-rounders. If you think about each sailor being a very specific mass, with gear, food and water, then you do want to minimise what you take.”

Many of the additions are virtually household names. “For example, Chris Nicholson is on for the whole campaign, and we will have others pop in for key events, like Tom Slingsby. Tom Addis is also back in Fantasy Land, and we have Brian Hillier there, as well. Peter Harburg will play his Devil’s Advocate role, as per usual. Up in Adventure Island we have Scott Beavis and John Flannery, so we really have been able to add some gifted sailors into key positions.”

“You always miss a person or two when you start naming names, so I apologise now for missing someone, but we have Will McCarthy, and Anthony Nossiter, and then ashore, souls like our Boat Captain Alex Nolan, who steered the whole project with Peter Britt, and Tim Webster, as well as McConaghy’s Tony Johnson and Darren Mottle have simply been outstanding. Their quality and expertise is exemplary”, said Bradford by way of explanation.

As for the boat herself, well her record both here as Alfa and also in Europe and Esimit Europa 2 is amazing. Neville Crichton certainly set her up as the ‘Gucci’ ocean racer, and of course, she won the battle of the Hundreds to collect Line Honours in ‘that’ Hobart. She and near sister ship, Wild Oats XI, came from the famous Reichel/Pugh studio, and both were built at McConaghy’s then Mona Vale facility. WOXI has gone on to have a nose transplant as part of her continuing works, whereas Alfa/Esimit was pretty much as built, until this new makeover.

So what has changed, apart from the super-obvious and ultra-long prodder? “Well we wanted to be the boat to beat in under 12 knots. We really do like the skinny boats, and get the whole programme there. We have seen this movie and know the script, cast and score. This is a low drag and low weight approach. Our tungsten bulb is on a narrow R/P fin, and the surface area of it would be about half that of lead (N.B. Pb is 11340 kg/m3, whereas W is 19600 kg/m3). It is 10.5 tonne, but would be less area than the four tonnes that was on the 70. We do only draw 5.6m, whereas WOXI is 6.2m, so I expect we’ll be the first to go for a slab in the main!”

Bradford went on to say, “We have also moved the forestay to the tip of the stem, so we’ll have bigger North Sails 3Di jibs that way, rather than grafting on a whole new for’ard section. With the longer prodder it means all our pointy end sails will have a longer J measurement. This means we’ll be triple heading a lot, with an A3 outside of J4 and then J6 on the inner stay, all on furlers, as we’ll be looking at something like 55-65 degrees AWA.”

Sails will clearly be a big thing for the new Black Jack, with the focus on flat sails, not full ones. This will no doubt mean the boat’s focus will be on driving to the numbers, as opposed to lots of trimming and easing. The boat was built with all her weight low and centralised, and also with a very strong canting mechanism, so now all that remains is for the crew to extract her wicked performance and then find the new gears her mods have provided for. This will be something to watch out for! To keep pace with her, please follow

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