From “Round the Cans to Round the World”

Don Findlay The world of sailing has truly grown up. For centuries it was dominated by sailing craft that struggled to get around the world in years and months, Never mind in weeks and days!

The performance of Bank Populaire V, is truly astounding, with the mainly French crew Loick Peyron they sailed 29,002 miles in 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes not forgetting the 53 seconds, an average speed of 26.51 knots. This trimaran follows in the tradition of many great ocean racers from the Atlantic Coast of France, beating Franck Cammus’ record by 2 days and 18 hours. It is not long ago that multihull enthusiasts were told that this was never possible, the craft would not stand up to the constant hammering of the oceans, constant speeds in excess of 30 knots were just too dangerous !

But this is just one of the many developments that have taken the multihull into the top range of fast sports sailing whether long distance or short. The development of Formula 40 was a great success where 40 foot catamarans raced hard in very confined spaces where they truly can become a spectator sport, now Tornado are following suit. For this has been the problem with sailing since man first put a sail up a mast, once the mainsail was hoisted, he sailed off into the far distance or disappeared altogether, hardly the way to make sport appetising especially in a TV age where sponsors rightly expect they craft to win and be seen to be winning. Formula 40 moved the close circuit “around the cans” racing on at a pace, and into the TV age, manned by sailors who had grown up on Tornado and Formula 18, they thrilled large crowds in many sea side resorts around the world.

The radical change in the Americas Cup (AC) formula has moved the multihull even further into the front rank of sail racing. The AC 72’s are still to be seen and raced, but the appetite has been truly whetted by the thundering performance of the smaller version. Sailors, and many new to sailing, crowded the coasts where these truly fast craft were performing. Following on from the success of the Formula 40 short races, the AC craft raced in full view of the packed crowds, coverage by TV, good sponsorship levels all added to the spectacle. Short races have the great advantage of keeping the fleet together, where the action is, where audiences can watch their sailing heroes, long traces just become a procession as it is impossible to catch up when well behind, we all know the response from Formula 1 Grand Prix cars when this happens. The “real thing” is yet to come and watching the AC 72’s is going to take the sailing up yet another gear, whether they are match or fleet racing. The Americas Cup is the oldest sporting challenge and the developments to multihulls in the last few months have moved the sport further in a short time than has been possible for many decades.

But these monstrous “round the world” tri’s, the Formula 40’s and the new AC boats are beyond the dreams on many sailors. Where can they sail fast? How can they afford a catamaran? Well the answer has been provided over the last few years by the development of Formula 18. This Class has attracted thousands of sailors into multihull sailing. Today there are over 300 new craft coming to the world market each year as more countries develop and commence National Associations. But such success also brings problems, and they are handled by the F18 Council.

The original rule was a simple box measurement designed by Olivier Bovyn and Pierre-Charles Barraud in Brittany, their concept was simple, as the introduction the F18 Class Rules states “the box measurement allows manufacturers to develop catamarans that are competitively priced yet allowing freedom to builders to develop higher levels of performance. Being open to any manufacturer allows many builders and sail makers to compete and so keep costs to a minimum.”

But how much development, that is the question?

The answer has to assure the Club sailor that their interests are paramount, clearly the professionals will receive new boats to race and lead the fleet. The amateurs are happy to race with the best professional sailors, for they often ask “ How many sports are there in the world where amateurs and professionals can compete on equal terms.” Price escalation in recent years has made boats expensive, most of this is due to raw material costs but it is worrying Class administrators as the price spiral seems to continue with the success of the Class. Council members will be examining this problem in the months to come. New boats are bought as each F18 brand tempts sailors with another “faster” craft, which is understandable but there isn’t any statistical evidence that one builders’ design is faster than another. At recent international regattas, there have been six different brands in the top ten places, hardly a position where any builder can claim dominance. It is still clearly a matter of crews’ ability that brings results, and long may it be so! The new boat stays as a racing boat in national and international fleets until it is three/four years old, and then the owner decides to sell and move to another newer “latest” brand which he is assured is “faster”. The original boat then stays in the Club for more years, then moves to newcomers into the f18 fleet and finally after about twelve/fifteen years it moves to sit in happy retirement on a beach as a “weekend toy”. It is then probably worth 15% of the original price!

With this background, how much development? How are club sailors who have invested considerable sums to keep the value of their assets? Clearly the original concept was to build from cheaper materials, polyester and vinylester resins with boats coming from moulds covered in gel coat. Easy to make, simple and cheap. But with new materials hulls that can be painted, may more expensive, may last longer, may be faster, may be easier to repair, but what will that do to the value of hundreds of F18 already out there that are still in their “first flush of youth?” The rules state clearly that sails must be of “single ply”, in other words made from one type of sail cloth, F18 Council wanted heavy materials that are expected to last and offer value for money to sailors, but cloths are changing fast, some makers are dropping existing cloths and replacing with new and exotic materials that are more expensive, others are keeping the same name for the cloth but changing the materials they are made of. Where does that leave the currentF18 cloth list?

The whole subject is open for discussion, how does F18 keep the success that they have enjoyed and stay loyal to many sailors who have invested in the fleet? Commercial interests are pushing the rules further and faster than ever before, they want more freedom in materials and design, that is their job, they want to sell more and more expensive exotic materials, that is true development, but owners are saying “slow down, I have just bought a new boat!” It IS development and competition from builders and sail makers that has brought the F18 success. The F18 owners are represented by their National Chairs on the Council and so the voice of financial caution is always heard much to the disappointment of some builders.

Class Rule A.7.2 allows the Council to stop “undesirable features”, and they have just used this rule with regard to extra, extra long dagger boards, made from carbon, there were builders offering them at 2m20cms AND at 1250 Euros +tax !! Did they give an increase in performance? May be in the lightest of winds, but once the wind moved to five knots + then better performance was obtained by raising them.

So hull materials, sail cloths and even total boat weights are being pushed as subjects for discussion.(The total F18 weight is 180 kgs, that was fine in 1993, but builders can build well below that now) . Calm discussion is needed and is being led by the F18 Technical Committee, working a clear path for further development AND retention on costs is not easy AND financial asset retention is important for the owners, there are too many examples of classes and windsurfers that have become too exotic for Club sailors, F18 must not go that that path.

Don Findlay

January 2012.