Inflatable battens

Imagine being able to hold up a big roach on a headsail without having to worry about battens breaking...
While flippers, we hope, are a development we may only ever see on Cup boats, another new develop for the 2007 Cup with applications in other markets are inflatable battens. As mentioned in yesterday's article about AC sail development, having up to four battens to support the giant headsail roach has only been allowed in Version 5 of the AC class rule following 2003 when teams had been pushing the limit of what a 'spreader patch' was. While mainsails have a relatively small degree of movement, their battens in compression, demands on headsail battens are quite different - they must be rigid and yet must be able to withstand being thwacked repeatedly around the front of the mast, abused in pre-starts, etc a constant cycling that makes solid battens not ideal. It was no shock when the first inflatable battens were used in 2005 as the rule mentioned from the outset that they were permissible. The question was how to make them? "We’d designed two sails with roach and we were sitting there with three weeks to go trying to figure out where we were going and we had a bit of fire hose with a plug in one end and a valve in the other - that’s where we started!" says Emirates Team NZ's Burns Fallow. "We’ve come quite a long way from there, even in that three week period!" At Alinghi Mike Schreiber says they did a lot of work in house on them in the early stages and like Emirates Team NZ they have kept their R&D on them strictly in house. Today they use one manufacturer - a company called RBS based at Hood River in Oregon, whereas the Kiwis make their own. "They started out building windsurfer battens where you need something which can be