I am currently the harbourmaster at the Lac Deschenes Sailing Club on the Ottawa River in Canada. As such, I write the occasional piece for our membership newsletter, The Backwind. I will republish here those articles that might be of more general public interest. This was my submission for our Fall 2010 edition, discussing one-design versus development-class sailboat racing.
Bacque-wind: The Harbourmaster’s corner
As the nights chill and the fall storms start to roll in, I find myself sailing more in my armchair than in my Laser – hiking is so much easier here! So this time round, instead of reporting of my surfing waves on a broad reach, I’ll report on some of my surfing the Internet, on my broadening butt.
Many of you may be unaware that the sport of sailing is self-regulated by the International Sailing Federation, the ISAF (http://www.sailing.org/), which defines the Racing Rules of Sailing (http://www.sailing.org/documents/racing-rules.php) as well as the various classes (http://www.sailing.org/documents/class-rules.php), each of which is self-administered as a distinct class association, for example the International Laser Class Association, the ILCA (http://www.laserinternational.org/).
The Laser is an example of a “one-design” class, in which the equipment is intended to be identical amongst all boats, and where the sole determinant of finishing order is the skill (and hiking ability, and luck…) of the sailor. The Laser is perhaps the most strictly-managed one-design class ever in the history of sailing, where virtually all components must be sourced from carefully-controlled and licensed manufacturers, and where variation in rigging is absolutely minimal. At the other extreme are the “box class” rules, where “if it fits in the box, it is legal”. The “box” might specify maximum length, beam, sail area and the like, but little else, so the sailor/owner is free to innovate “within the box”. It reminds me of the joke about the various national personalities, that in some countries, everything that is not expressly allowed is forbidden, while in others anything that is not expressly forbidden is allowed. Despite that I sail and race behind door number one, I’d rather live behind door number two.
You see, while one-design classes advance the cause of individual sailors because they establish a level playing field amongst all competitors, so that individual improvements (or, gaak, regression!) can be easily measured, innovation in the boat itself is strongly discouraged. The box classes, on the other hand, are development-oriented classes, where innovation in design is encouraged, provided the boat at the end still “fits in the box”. Two great development classes are the International Moth class (http://www.moth-sailing.org/imca/faces/news.jsp), where innovation underwater has been occurring in the form of hydrofoils that lift the hull right out of the water, and the International C-Class Catamaran (http://littleac.com/WELCOME.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Catamaran_Challenge_Trophy) , which for some time has been dominated by an above-the-waterline development, the rigid wing-sail. It is my opinion that these two classes are pointing the way to the future of high-performance sailboat design, and I heartily encourage you all to surf around the Moths and C-Class sites, especially to view some video. The foiling Moths, inclined to windward in the now-familiar “Veal heel”, yclept after Rohan Veal, the first to master the foils, appear to defy gravity and the laws of physics – why doesn’t it simply fall over?
The C-Class cats (which can fall over too – see the videos!) make it look so easy. These boats are the fastest thing around the buoys, period, but they are so smooth, you would never know they are doing twenty knots – IN TEN KNOTS OF WIND! Canadians have an extra reason to be interested in C-Class cats, because the C-Class Challenge Cup, long known as The Little America’s Cup, has now been won twice in a row by Freddie Eaton and Magnus Clarke, of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto. For over a decade, the Cup was held by Steve Clarke and his famed wingsail-cat Cogito – no-one could beat him (and her), and after a while, folks kinda gave up trying. But by sharing his secrets with Fred, who mounted a serious challenge, Steve has re-invigorated interest in the class, so that at this year’s challenge in Rhode Island, there were several competitors (though Freddie had funded or sponsored a few of them himself) and the innovation and diversity was evident in hull, wing, and foil design. I think you can be pretty sure the next “big” America’s Cup will see some of these innovations played out large, and eventually “trickle-down” to the general sailing population.
I encourage you all to check out some of the sailing and racing that happens elsewhere – just because Ottawa starts to get too cold, or the water of Lac Deschenes grows a little too hard for your hull, it doesn’t mean you have to stop sailing. You just need to do it from your favourite comfy chair, that’s all. Now break out that browser, and go sailing!