Rio 2016 equipment contender: FX

MacKay Boats' 49er with a special rig for women

Friday March 2nd 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: New Zealand

The new FX Skiff from MacKay Boats will be one of the contenders at the ISAF Evaluation Trials, due to be held in Santander, Spain in two weeks time.

The FX utilises the existing 49er hull, wings and foils and adds a new rig and sails. The concept of using the same platform for men's and women's events in the same discipline is not new. The RS:X windsurfer, Laser and 470 are all common to both men and women in the Olympic Games.

The 49er is a well proven platform and it is testimony to the pedigree of the design that it still leads the field both in terms of performance and the spectacle it provides. By all accounts the FX has inherited the same level of performance and has won over all who have sailed on it.

New Zealand Olympic 470 helm Jo Aleh tested the FX with Susannah Pyatt and commented: “It’s so similar to the 49er. It looks awesome and seems pretty easy to sail. I haven’t done much skiff sailing but it was easy to get up and going and have fun straight away.” Susannah added “It’s just so smooth and fast. Upwind and downwind the feeling was unbelievable”.

Equally excited after their first sail were Brazil's Martine Grael and Isabel Swan. “The speed is good. The boat just goes” said Isabel. Martine added: “The FX is amazing - the way it moves and how you can control the boat - we enjoyed it a lot. I think it’s a very strong class to get into the 2016 Olympics”

The FX rig was designed specifically for female crews. Rig designer John Clinton explains: “The key to the FX rig design has been to ensure that it has kept the essence of the 49er sailing experience. Using the North Sails Flow software we were able to calculate righting moments and centre of effort in order to come up with the right sail plan to suit the target combined body weight of 120kg.

“The recent work we have been doing with 18ft skiffs utilizing bigger square top mains on straighter masts told us that we could hit the performance numbers with the depowered sail plan."

MacKay Boats were motivated to develop the FX after receiving numerous requests from female sailors for a skiff based on the 49er. Dave MacKay says: “So many women were asking why they couldn’t have a 49er with a smaller rig. Most women sailing at this level want to sail a boat that is equivalent to the boat their male counterparts are sailing and is of a calibre to reflect excellence in women sailing at an Olympic level”.

It was logical that a women's skiff based on the 49er should be developed. Why create something entirely new, when the proven platform already exists?

The advantages of the FX stand out.
- Low start up costs
- An existing supply of used 49er hulls available worldwide enables female teams to enter the class at a reduced cost.
- The FX represents a low up front cost for MNA’s who already have 49er hulls.
- The conversion from an existing 49er is simple and low cost. For around €5000 the new FX mast and sails can be put onto an existing 49er.

Quick entry to market

- The significant teething problems associated with bringing any new class to Olympic standard will be largely averted. There will be no measurement or construction issues to address as the class grows.
- There is a proven builders and dealers network in place to ensure fast and efficient world wide distribution.
Reliable Equipment and Established one Design Suppliers
- The hulls, wings and foils are made by established Olympic Class boat builders – Ovington Boats, McConaghy Boats and MacKay Boats are well experienced in strict one design detail and manufacture of the 49er.
- Southern Spars manufacture the masts in a facility with tight management and control procedures that ensure rigs are built within tight tolerances. This is evidenced with the carbon 49er rig which has been accepted by the class as being of a highly uniform performance and quality.
- North Sails manufacture the sails and have a solid reputation across many classes for producing quality strict one design sails.
Lower campaign costs
- The opportunity to share equipment, coaching and regatta costs between the male and female skiff teams will significantly reduce campaign costs.

Universal training
- It is easy to run joint training sessions with both the 49er and FX. There is very little difference in performance between the 2 boats.
- Smaller countries will benefit greatly with men and women being able to sail together and train together to grow local fleets with the FX capable of racing competitively with the 49er.
- The FX will have popular support from weekend warrior and youth sailors who find the 49er too much of a handful. FX fleets will be large.
Exhilarating experience
- The FX demands true athleticism and balance. It's the real deal and the thrills are those that come from a true thoroughbred.
Media and spectator appeal
- Like the 49er, the FX will be thrilling for spectators to watch because of its close competitive action.
- The FX ‘look’ demonstrates a high performance, modern design, where every aspect of the boat capitalises on the latest yachting innovations – the sail graphics, the carbon rig, hull shape

Technical Overview

Over the past three Olympic cycles the 49er has evolved into a finely tuned boat that is nicely balanced in all conditions with a rig that is able to be adjusted for best performance in each windspeed and sea state.

With the FX we have the benefit of this evolution as well as new developments in skiff rig design to allow us to achieve the optimum rig very quickly.

Starting with the 49er hull, wings and foils, we then set about designing a rig that would go straight into the existing 49er boats and provide the correct amount of power for the lighter crew target weight specified by ISAF.

Using the North Sails suite of analysis software, John Clinton optimised the new sailplan using the Flow program. Clinton also designed the current carbon 49er rig and 18ft skiff rigs that have won a number of the recent World Championships.

The sailplan was designed to produce the correct amount of power for a 120kg crew so that they would be fully powered up at a similar windspeed as the men in the 49er, and start depowering at a the same windspeed.

The size of the main and jib were adjusted to get the correct fore/aft aerodynamic centre of effort to retain the same balance as the 49er.
A more efficient main was introduced with a wider head as a result of recent 18ft skiff and America’s Cup technology. To make this head work a stiffer mast is required. This was achieved by raising the hounds- again like the top 18ft skiff teams-and adding a little carbon to the middle section of the mast to ensure the mid leech stays under control throughout the wind range.

The main was designed with only five battens to reduce the rig weight while using rugged purpose designed skiff cloth to ensure the sails last well.

Since the 49er was first introduced, gennaker designs have evolved to become flatter for high speed skiffs and multihulls. The new FX gennaker was based on recent top skiff designs to produce a very efficient sail that allows the smaller rigged FX to compete equally with the 49er downwind in most conditions.

Upwind the new FX sailplan is also able to compete with the 49er in many conditions with the rig settings being adjusted through the range in the same fashion to the 49er to get optimum performance in all wind strengths.

The shorter, lower aspect ratio sailplan has lowered the centre of effort making the boat easier to sail- and easier to right from a capsize while enhancing the overall performance of the boat!


The FX class rules stipulate that the hull, wings, foils, boom and pole must be 49er class parts.

- The jib sheet is allowed an extra purchase, and the gennaker sheet is allowed an extra block to increase the efficiency of the ratchet block. The new carbon FX mast is made by Southern Spars in Sri Lanka.
- The top and bottom tubes are about 450mm shorter than the 49er mast tubes.
- The spreaders are the same as the 49er and can be used on either boat.
- All of the mast fittings are the same on the 49er and FX, so spare parts can be used for either boat.
- The Sails are made by North Sails in Sri Lanka. North Sails and Southern Spars are in the same industrial zone near Colombo and both share the same logistics team. This means that the mast and sails can be shipped together to save costs.


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