Little America's Cup sets sail today
This event is significant for two reasons. Firstly it marks the return of real competition in the C-Class catamaran class since its high point in the 1970s to when it began to dwindle in the 1990s with American Steve Clark and Duncan MacLane’s win aboard Cogito in 1996 over the Australiam team Yellow Pages The Edge III marking the start of an eight year hiatus for the event.
This week there are an six teams competing, the two most powerful being that of Steve Clark and defending champion Canadian Fred Eaton, but with representatives from the UK in the form of Norman Wijker’s Invictus Challenge being helmed by Paul Larsen and from France a team on a borrowed boat that is to be sailed by former Sopra Group ORMA 60 skipper Antoine Koch.
But the sailing world at large is paying this event particular attention since the C-Class is effectively a scaled down version of what many believe to be the favoured of BMW Oracle Racing’s two boat options proposed for the 34th America’s Cup, or the Big Little America’s Cup as we now call it.
In fact they are not quite the same since the draft rule for the 22m long AC cat has it carrying headsails – a genoa and an unlimited-sized spinnaker tacked from the end of a bowsprit that can extend 4.5m beyond the bows – whereas the C-Class is limited solely by an overall maximum sail area of 300sqft, the same upwind and downwind. Thus the quest within the C-Class is purely to design and build the most efficient sail plan within the permitted area, the wing capable of developing the highest lift (with additional constraints of ensuring that it is as light as possible, but won’t break). Historically within the C-Class, rigs developed from soft sails to part solid sails back in the 1960s to full solid wingsail rigs in the 1970s with Patient Lady III being the first successful Little America’s Cup winner back in 1977 to sport such a rig. Compared to their softsail equivalents, solid wingsails develop 40-50% more lift.
In comparison the proposal for the Cup wings doesn’t require ultimate efficiency from the wing as in light winds sail area can be added by genoas upwind and asymmetric kites downwind.
Nonetheless the similarity is enough that a number of AC team representatives including Cayard and Dalton and large swathes of BMW Oracle Racing (including the big tri’s wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder) are in Newport paying particular attention to the design and also no doubt probably attempting to sign up some of the leading ‘wingnuts’.
The wings being used in this Little America’s Cup are broadly speaking conceptually similar or rather there are no radical departures from the multi-element Patient Lady/Cogito style wings we have seen in the past. But considerable refinement has been going on which we’ll be looking at over the course of this week.
One of the possible downsides of this event is that many of the teams are lacking time on the water. BMW Oracle Racing James Spithill who is crewing for multiple A-Class World Champion Glenn Ashby went out for their first sail only today and only briefly. Meanwhile Steve Clark has built a new wing but has didn’t manage to get this ready in time and so has opted to revert to his 15 year old Cogito rig albeit on his sleek new platform, called Aethon. Similarly the defenders, Fred Eaton and Magnus Clarke on their latest boat Canaan in the last few weeks have destroyed one of their wings in a capsize. However the timing of this was good as it coincided with the arrival of another new wing they had been developing and as the images from Christophe Launay show, this is a sleek more rounded refinement.
The format for the Little America’s Cup is three days of fleet racing (Monday until Wednesday) and this will determine the seeding for the final three days of match racing (Thursday until Saturday). Unlike the big America’s Cup the defender doesn’t automatically get a place in the final, although given the amount of effort Eaton and his team have put in, we would be surprised if they don’t get there.
Saying this the first three days of the regatta are looking windy and it would come as no surprise if tomorrow wasn’t blown off.
Photos from Christophe Launay/www.sealaunay.com