Managing the Stream of Innovation

Published on January 11th, 2017

What the America’s Cup does well is foster innovation, which often sees performance gains trickle down into the sport. However, performance gains rarely come at a discount, so it is then up to the sport in how it manages itself. Increased costs tend to discourage overall participation.

With the America’s Cup now shifted to multihulls, the pointy end of grand prix monohull racing is on display in the TP52 class. Reigning World Champion Terry Hutchinson describes for Sailing World magazine the latest innovation, and if this trickles down too far, too fast, God help us…

Let’s file this one under, “Things that make my palms sweat.”

Quantum Racing is on the eve of beginning our 2017 season – a 60-race no throwout regatta that rewards consistent yachting, boatspeed, and reliability in our gear. In our three month “off season” we took a critical look at all areas of improving Quantum Racing’s performance.

One area we looked hard at, but is difficult to quantify, is windage. Think about it in terms of a floppy shirt versus a shirt that is pulled tight on your body. For sure a tight shirt is less windage than so following this thought process we looked at the most obvious area, the shrouds.

In the quest of a 1-percent performance gain, Quantum Racing researched the Southern Spars’ Razr product. The shrouds are solid carbon and roughly 30 percent smaller in diameter than the existing ECsix rigging, which is also a Southern project that was on Quantum Racing.

The upside to Razr rigging is the windage reduction in the open course equals about 8 meters per windward leg. The benefit is even better in less than 12 knots of wind. Yet, in 2016, we had three port-starboard crossings that resulted in protest flags being green flagged by the umpires, demonstrating the game of inches we play. These crosses are too close. We’ll take every opportunity to gain a meter… or 8.

The downside of Razr is its fragility and reliability. With every equipment decision of this importance, we have to check reliability against the performance gain. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being incredibly reliable, the ECsix rigging was a 9. The new rigging is sitting somewhere at about 5. Not because the rigging will break under load, but because it’s fragile when handled.

We cannot grab a D1 when it’s slack and pull it, for risk of breaking the shroud near the turnbuckle. There are currently three boats in the TP52 fleet using it and it’s been reliable thus far, with only one known breakage on account of human error.

Therein lays the problem: our entire team must be vigilant with not dragging sails around the D1s or randomly grabbing them as we get on and off the boat. Anybody who sails by us in the waters off of Key West will see orange fluorescent tape on both D1s to remind all of us: “DO NOT TOUCH!”

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