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North Sails 2019 - NSVictoryList - Leaderboard

Paul Westlake on North Sails' development work in the TP52 class

by David Schmidt 19 May 08:00 PDT May 19, 2020
TP52 racecourse action at the 52 Super Series Cape Town event, March 2-6, 2020 © Image courtesy of 52 Super Series

The TP52 class has long been a hotbed for Grand Prix-level development. Teams demand the fastest hull shapes, the lightest and strongest rigs (and rigging), and the fastest sail shapes and strongest materials. Competition levels are so intense in this class that a boatlength or half-boatlength speed difference on the first beat can spell the difference between winning a regatta and achieving also-ran status.

This arms-race mentality isn't cheap and can potentially turn off some would-be participants, but owners who are keen to test their skills against the best in the world often find their way to the TP52 class. And, as a result, this class has long fueled development curves that benefit sailors in other classes.

While owners are free to purchase their sails from any sailmaker they like, North Sails has long been a major force to be reckoned with in the TP52 class. Look at images from any serious TP52 regatta, and odds are spot-on excellent that you'll see plenty of North Sails' iconic blue-and-white logos on jibs, mainsails and kites. Dig a little deeper and you'll also find that North Sails-powered TP52s have won more than their share of high-level titles, trophies, and international bragging rights.

I checked in with Paul "Flipper" Westlake, North Sails' executive vice president, via email, to learn more about North Sails' sail development work for this Grand Prix class.

What have been the biggest developments in TP52 sails in the last couple of years?

3Di RAW structural engineering has taken major steps through the evolution of RAW 870 to RAW 880 in 2018/19 and now the latest RAW 890 which debuted in Cape Town 2020. Focus has been on increasing modulus (resistance to stretch), reducing weight, and at the same time reducing the shrinkage factor with use to almost zero.

TP 52 teams are extremely demanding of their sail inventory, they expect nothing less than millimeter-perfect sizing and flying shape profile, and then rely on the structure to be able to support the static loading when the sail is used in range. They also expect it to stay at its peak performance for as long as possible due to the sail card limitations.

How have the latest-generation TP52 rigs affected sail design for the class?

Hulls, rigs, rigging, control lines and systems are all incrementally stiffer. The challenge for the North Sails' Grand Prix design team, which is lead by Mickey Ickert, is to continually develop the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element analysis (FEA) modelling that we use to match the characteristics of all the components that play a part in the final flying shape of each of the sails in the inventory.

The work our sail designers do behind the scenes then manifests itself into the products we see in the air. There is a strong feedback loop in place between the trimmers and the designers to ensure that we have solid validation as the software tools develop, especially on the structural side of 3Di.

Of the boat's upwind inventory, what sail requires more design time—headsails or mains?

Mainsail design is the most modelling demanding sail in the inventory as the typical mainsail in a TP52 inventory has to span the range of three jib codes.

Example being Main Light = JL, JLM, JM. Main AP - JLM, JM, JH, Main Heavy = JH, J4. The range of rig tunes from rake control, compression control, deflector, backstay all have to be reflected in the modelling to ensure the mainsail matches the rig characteristics through the range.

Jib design tends to be more of a focus on small evolutions of each team's jib inventory and where they want a particular sweet spot in their quiver of sails.

When it comes to innovation, where are you seeing more evolution in the TP52 class—upwind or downwind sails?

Every team wants to get to the top mark first, but statistics show more overtaking is done downwind, so although the upwind sails tend to lead the development resources, we have a team dedicated to downwind where end-user feedback and nuances of each team's sailing and tactical style provides customization for downwind inventories.

And don't forget the spinnaker staysail. It may seem small and relatively insignificant, but there is speed to be gained getting even the smallest details right. 3Di Helix load sharing staysails are setting a new standard from this rarely focused-on sail.

In terms of boat lengths (or time—your choice), how much faster is a TP52 flying 2019/2020-generation sails compared to one that was flying high-end (and new) 2015-generation sails?

We've never tested four-year old sail and rig technology compared to today, but I would easily see three boatlengths in on a two-mile beat upwind and similar results downwind.

Does North Sails' work in the TP52 class tend to translate to other classes? If so, is it more of a trickle down to the Fast 40s or a trickle up to Mini Maxis/Maxis? Can you give us an example or two?

Trickle-up and trickle-down in the North Sails' Grand Prix market segment is always happening.

Trickle-up can be seen in the AC75 class, which are using the same 3Di RAW 880 and 890 structural elements that we developed for TP52 class in 2019/20. Trickle-down can be seen firsthand where 3Di RAW sets the standard of performance life in One Design classes such as Club Swan 50 and 36, MC 38, Melges 32, Farr 40, Beneteau Figaro 3 to name a few. In high-performance rating band classes such as the highly successful Fast 40 fleet in the UK, all our clients benefit from turn-key rig and sail development features proven at the Super Series level.

Another key "trickle-across" class is the proliferation and success of IRC/ORC 52 boats, whether it be an on-sold Super Series TP52 that's heading into IRC/ORC racing, or a purpose-built offshore spec IRC 52 aimed at offshore race domination. All these clients gain from our intimate knowledge of getting the optimal performance out of the aero package.

Generally speaking, how often do top-level TP52 teams replace their sails in order to stay ultra-competitive? Are we talking about a new set of sails for every major regatta, or does the latest generation of 3Di sails have a bit more longevity compared to sails of yore? Or, is this a class that's all about speed, irrespective of costs?

TP 52 Super Series has strict sail limitations under a sail card system allowing 17 new sails plus 1xJ4 plus 1xA4. These cards are used with care over the six series, with ten race per series and a no-drops point-scoring system.

Each of our teams push the cards to the limit to ensure that there is room for small developments throughout the season in relation to the differing conditions at the events, and having options towards the final two events for that extra inch of speed!

3Di has given our teams the ability to keep their carded sails in race performance mode far longer than what has been seen in the past. Gone are the days of a full new inventory for a major event such as the TP52 worlds!

Anything else that you'd like to add about Grand Prix sailmaking, for the record?

North Sails is dedicated to pushing the limits in sail design and structure to ensure we meet our clients' ambitions, and we are never satisfied with where we are today. We're always looking forward in a sport where technology equals performance equals results equals proud employees equals happy clients!

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