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Allen Brothers

Of foiling boats and taverns

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 3 Dec 2023 14:00 PST
Of foiling boats and taverns.. © John Curnow

Was in a tavern. It was actually a bit more like one of those barn style places, where size mattered more than anything else. Bigger is better, right? Let alone fries with that... Did not necessarily want to be there too long, either. Still. There was a mission to be had, and a certain amount of time had to elapse in order for that to occur. Make the best of a bad situation...

Plonked myself down at one of the few free tables, and low and behold the AC Jeddah was being displayed on one of the many screens in the place, and as an utter bonus, it was one I could easily see. Straight up, I seemed to be the only paying attention to said screen. Nary another soul even appeared to know what the AC40s were doing. To be fair, said barn is some 25km from the ocean, and Rugby League pretty much rules in those parts.

Next to note, the boat speeds were displayed in knots. Eureka! 40 knots. Can deal with that. Know exactly how fast that is and what it feels like, even if that is with the throttles in your palm. Some events have 100km/h as some sort of threshold. In a car, you know exactly what that is. It is even the statute limit in a lot of places in dear old Oz.

I mean I still struggle with some countries that talk about wind in metres per second. Sure if I am doing Physics it make sense, and you get to be a true propellerhead when you get into acceleration measured in metres per second per second, but 25-30 knots you know is fresh to frightening. Why make it difficult? 13 metres per second - like whatever! Why should I need to get a slide rule out?

Still, there I was, enjoying a beverage. Nice it was too. Ginger beer. How very Vogue of me... Anyway, the graphics are great, and the onboard footage shows the main being trimmed, trimmed, trimmed and you guessed it, trimmed again. Awesome stuff. Yet the goggles, helmets and mikes in their face meant you could have been looking at Avatars.

Tactically it is all off the charts. Boiled lollies to chocolates and back again, and that's just in the one leg. Then there's gate selection. Go from first to third in a blink, but your Tactician got it right, and it is the favoured side in phase the whole way back to other gate. A couple of tacks later, or were they gybes, and you are king of the heap again. Mesmerising. As for the leaders, well you felt like they were using the old car test term, 'suck the doors off the blah, blah, model puss bucket built by the should not even be making cars company'.

In some ways I was a Roo in the headlights, and a big red at that. Did not even know the race was over until the next one had begun. A big line with the word START all over it was the key. In my own defence I had begun to ponder the very ditty you are now reading, so it wasn't like I wasn't concentrating, just had the focus elsewhere, and said ginger beer was the first of the evening, not the last. Just in case you are interested.

One of the first things I was contemplating, was just how much the whole thing reminded me of remote control race cars. Many are just a one design space frame, over which you place an injection moulded body that could be a BMW, Audi, even Volvo, depending on your tastes of the day. They have all been homogenised to make it work, even the aero package is very similar, so that no one 'shape' has a distinct advantage. In Oz, our V8 Supercars are just a life size version of this formula.

Perhaps VW's ID.R could be the expression of the issue we need to consider. All electric, and built for one job. Pikes Peak in Colorado. Just under 20km range and you are done. Only takes about eight minutes, too. Seeing a formula develop here, let alone a parallel? Time to wheel out Mel Brooks' ludicrous speed from Spaceballs...

Another element under consideration as a result of the outright speed of not just the craft, but the decision making especially, was that maybe the graphics could display how many times more your boat speed was versus that of the wind itself. Like 2.5 is impressive, but the other team is doing 2.6, let alone the Steven Bradbury crew who just punched out closer to 3.0. The computations of the situational awareness are akin to Goose telling Maverick they had 900 knots closure on the bogies. More than that, I was already processing as a side-line to my own considerations, all that Mark Jardine had penned in Is there a need for speed?

Sailing has never been that easy to explain, so losing the frantic crew work off the foredeck may actually be a bonus. Not hearing the Sailing Master's bellowing commands in a language not any average joe punter can understand would be no loss under this style of thinking. Merely changing knots to km/h isn't enough. The paradigm has to move, and do so significantly if we are to make the pointy end, well pointy, and the blunt, yes you guessed it, blunt.

Yet for me, the overarching aspects were a certain computer game aesthetic and lack of romance. Let me explain. For the former, Tron is awesome. Both the original and sequel. Don't merely play the game, place yourself in it. As for the latter, in a time long gone by, flying boats had a majesty that may well have reached its zenith with the glorious Pan Am Clippers, and had a more than interesting tangential zone that was the air racing of the 20s and 30s. And never let it be lost that this time and place also delivered us the Supermarine Spitfire.

By now I was convinced that Studio Ghibli totally immersed itself in the latter to deliver its seminal work, Porco Rosso. This was the romance of flying boats, and not just the characters portrayed therein. Colour, frivolity, grand spectacle, along with heavy handfuls of mystery and intrigue set it apart like nothing else.

Was not sailing this in times gone by? From pirate ships to the J-Class wonders, you could make a movie script just by sitting down with your keyboard. And if you were Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, well you just added a bottle of Scotch... Don't get me wrong, I am not saying we go back to the wonderful 12s, because the key word there is back. Nor am I saying pram bows, square riggers, or glorious gaffs are the go.

There is nothing wrong with the current bits of kit, nor those that will no doubt follow. Perhaps, and just perhaps, the issue is in the PC world that does not go for sledging (make sure you stop short of sandpaper though), where vive la difference is fine, just so long as you actually do not feature or highlight said difference in the first place, let alone not actually be a part of said marginalised group at all when you opened your mouth.

Jazzy outfits are fine, but what will make the real difference here is class. Making something look really easy or simple, yet refined and distinguished at the same time is always a massive challenge. The devil is not in the detail, it is the very helix itself. Launching sailing into a more mainstream space is the objective, and at the precipice we now stand, the plan to make it so is ever more interesting, as it is challenging.

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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