Nacra 17’s Foil on the Bleeding Edge

Published on August 13th, 2017

High performance design and development under pressure is what we expect at America’s Cup level but that does not easily translate into Olympic Nacra 17 one design foiling multihull production, with the manufacturer using a host of cutting edge, (many would say bleeding edge) subcomponent suppliers – a lesson World Sailing is learning right now.

We watched as Emirates Team New Zealand and the lesser lights used large teams of shipwrights to rebuild their foiling cats, night after night, but it’s one thing to surgically modify a single racing machine in the wee hours, but it’s quite another to do it in the realm of Olympic class manufacturing

That is the reality now with the Nacra 17, the mixed multihull Olympic event that has been plagued by quality woes since its initial launch in 2012 for the Rio 2016 Games. With the class eager to put the troubled past behind them for this next Olympic cycle, they had taken on the task of converting the boat from ‘sort-of’ foiling to ‘fully’ foiling by redesigning the daggerboards.

This conversion has taken time, with the first batch of foiling boats only arriving in time for the 2017 Nacra 17 European Championship on July 30 to August 4 in Kiel, Germany. But now, as this fleet of sailors is anxiously working toward Tokyo 2020, their hopes of being able to train uninterrupted across the quadrennium in a settled design look to be…foiled.

The spotlight shone brightly at Aarhus Sailing Week 2017, the test event for the 2018 Sailing World Championships, held August 8 to 13 in Aarhus, Denmark. On the eve prior to the Nacra 17 Medal Race, a recall notice was issued that halted further use of the boats:

“The Nacra 17 medal races scheduled for Saturday August 12 are cancelled. World Sailing received a notification from Nacra Sailing on Friday August 11 stating that are recalling all foiling configuration Nacra 17s (including retrofitted versions) in order to replace the bearings for the dagger boards. Nacra Sailing has urged all owners not to sail these boats until the replacement bearings are fitted.”

With 47 boats implicated in this recall, the pressure is building as the Nacra 17 World Championships is September 5-10 off the French Mediterranean coast at The Grand Motte. Class Manager Ben Remocker, in a wordy message to class sailors, details the situation and solution.

The abridged version is how there have been several daggerboard construction issues, the worst of which is how boards are breaking due to the design of the cassette which supports the board in the hull.

As the notice to sailors aptly warns, “A failure of the daggerboards during operation could potentially cause sailors to lose control and crash.” Yikes!

Replacement parts are to be available within two weeks, which would be in time for the Nacra 17 class to avoid cancelling its World Championship. But given the horrific track record for the manufacturer with this class, confidence must be low. Perhaps time for body armor?

Rob Kothe and Craig Leweck contributed to this report.

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