Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Americas Cup 2013

Anybody who has even the slightest interest in the Americas Cup competition has seen the video of Team Oracle's spectacular crash last October.  It is amazing that there was no serious damage to the boat except for the carbon wing, which was demolished. Until the crash, no one truly knew where the edge of the envelope was for these extremely powerful boats, so it was a learning experience for the crew of Oracle 17. The question now is whether they will overcome this setback in time to mount a competitive defense of the cup. The crash was certainly a serious bump in the road for them, but now they have a real, rather than theoretical understanding of how hard to push and, probably more importantly, that feeling in the collective gut of the crew of where the edge is. Anyone who has pushed a high performance boat, whether it's a 49er or TP52 beyond the edge of control, knows that feeling. Ironically, that experience, and the experience of quickly putting a broken AC72 back together, could turn out to be a winning edge when the big boats race on the bay.

Yesterday I visited the Oracle compound at Pier 80 in San Francisco and had a chance to see the nearly completely repaired 17 as well as the newest boat, which is still under construction in the same building. While there I also got a look at the newly delivered wing mast whose basic structure was built in New Zealand for completion in San Francisco. Here are some observations:
1. It wasn't until I was right up close to both the wing and the hulls that I could truly appreciate the power to weight ratio of this boat.
2. The hulls are beautifully sculpted shapes that hardly appear to be up to the task of supporting the vast size of the rig, until you realize that the wing, which towers about 130 feet above the deck, weighs only about 3,000 pounds.
3. I was impressed by the fineness of the bows of the hulls. These are almost delicate shapes that will be extremely fast in light air, but will be more challenging in a breeze. I say that because they are very fine, with commensurately little reserve buoyancy. When you consider that the center of effort in the wing is some 65 feet or so above the waterplane, with its center of gravity likely a few feet down from there, it's easy to understand that if the boat is at speed and sticks a bow or two into a wave, the chances of pitchpoling are significant. It's interesting to note that the boat that crashed didn't flip, that is, it didn't fall over sideways, it pitchpoled, or sailed over its bows. Clearly, sailing these boats will be more about power management than power generation in the conditions they are likely to encounter on San Francisco Bay.
4. The wing mast is a fairly simple shape in the profile view. It is a two-element structure, that is, a main element and a flap, and it appears to me that the real technology is in its structural design and control system.
5. Clearly the trick will be in knowing how to control the power in this rig. If there is much breeze at all during the actual races, the winner may well be the crew that has learned how to allow the rig to generate enough power without overpowering the boat and capsizing. As we have already seen, bearing off  an AC72 in a breeze will be tricky. The trimmers will have to be in perfect sync with the helmsman to ease the throttle as the boat turns away from the wind.
6. The course seems awfully short for these 72 foot boats. The marks appear to be set fairly close inshore so there will be little room on the left side of the course. The venue along the city front will make for spectacular viewing but the legs are only about 3 miles long, so these boats that are easily capable of 30 knots might take 15 minutes to get from the leeward mark to the windward mark. That doesn't leave much time for tactics, so I think the key will be to win the start and then don't crash.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Finisterra Update 1-13-13

We had been planning to spend the first few days of the new year at Catalina Island but the recent cold temperatures (highs in the 50's and lows in the 30's) made that plan unappealing. So instead I worked on a couple of winter projects. First I removed the old dodger and cut the frame down a bit. The old dodger was taller than it needed to be and was not the best design. The photo below is a 'before' shot, and I'll post some pictures of the revised dodger in a couple of weeks.

Finisterra's dodger is taller than it needs to be
This dodger is about eight years old and is showing its age. The new one will be about four inches longer along the roof-line and two inches lower, and it will have Strataglass instead of plain vinyl window material. I think Strataglass is vastly superior to other materials because it is doesn't wrinkle and distort your view, yet it is flexible enough to roll up when you want to. I never fold the dodger down so there is no value in the extra flexibility of regular vinyl. We'll replace the bimini along with the dodger. It is also showing its age and I want to tweak the design of it a bit as well. 
Another project that got underway this week was the new cockpit table. The first step was to remove the old one. I have a good deal of respect for the designers at Beneteau. They generally do a pretty good job with styling and ergonomics in their boats, but in my opinion they simply missed the mark with this table. I have tried to like it, and even encouraged others to do so, but unfortunately we could never quite get there. It's clunky looking, it's too big and it gets in the way of sailing the boat. It also makes the cockpit cramped for anything besides sitting and eating or drinking. So I took it out...Man, what a difference! We've got room to move now. 

The cockpit is almost four feet wide between the seats. 
With about 3'-6" of width between the seats, the cockpit now feels spacious. With this much room it will need some foot-braces which I'll install using the existing holes in the sole. I'll build a smaller table module and mount it just forward of the binnacle. It will include a dropleaf table, storage compartment, grab-rails on the sides and a housing for a GPS that will swivel so we can see it from anywhere in the cockpit.

I love the new-found space here!

Beneteau installs a clear plastic cover on hinges over the instruments at the helm. Nearly every Beneteau we've looked at, ours included, showed signs of the hinges coming adrift. Naturally they were installed with self tapping #6 screws which usually lose no time in working loose, so it's not long before those itty-bitty threads are stripped.  I took the plastic cover off permanently, and will do something creative with the leftover holes.
Here are a couple of views of the cockpit table. It's not pretty but with the drop-leaves attached, it makes into a large dining table in the cockpit. On our boat the leaves are beautifully varnished teak. 

The table is stoutly made with a nice welded stainless steel frame that includes a foot-rest.
The table comes with a plastic lid that fits loosely on top. 
The drop-leaves are attached to the table with slip-pin hinges, and the blue tape covers the forward one because it had an uncanny ability to grab clothing as you go past it. Beneteau used a RTM (Resin Transfer Molding) process to make this molded fiberglass part. This is a cost effective and environmentally responsible process that results in a strong, lightweight part with a smooth finish on both sides. I'm a big fan of RTM.

Here are a couple of photos of the finished ground tackle system. It includes a chain stop mounted on a teak block and bolted through the deck, which was reinforced with a large backing plate. The chain is 200' of 5/16" type G40 spliced to 150' of 9/16" nylon 3-strand rode.

The chain stop is mounted on the block to align it with the chain between the windlass and bow roller. Notice the shiny underside of the hatch. It was also made using an RTM process.  The waterproof plastic box holds the handheld windlass controller. 
Anchor installed. 

There has been considerable controversy in the last few years regarding anchors, with all sorts of accusations flying in all directions. For many years I used Danforths on my racing boats. They are relatively compact and fairly reliable anchors, and are a good solution for boats that don't get into challenging anchoring situations. When I began outfitting our last boat for cruising I chose a Manson Supreme. It is what I call a spade type, as opposed to a fluke type of anchor such as a Danforth or Fortress, and while there may be disagreements about which brand anchor is better, I think the spade type of anchor is superior to the fluke types. The Manson 35 we had on the Honcho is one of the few items I kept when we sold her. When it came time to buy an anchor for the Finisterra, I felt there was little difference between the Manson and Rocna units and chose a Rocna 25 (55 LB) mainly because it was a little lighter and less expensive than the comparable Manson.

In Mexico the holding ground is varied, and we anchored in sand, mud and rock bottoms. In the lagoon at Barra De Navidad, the bottom is more like a black slurry than proper mud. In Bahia Santa Maria we spent five days anchored over a sandy bottom while 25 to 40 knot northerly winds combined with a strong southerly swell rolling into the bay, making it quite a lively anchorage. All the while the Manson did its job perfectly and I expect that the Rocna will do the same.