Protect the herd from the predator

Published on October 11th, 2022

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
The problem with the sport of sailing can be a lack of leadership, the kind that can see down the road and have the stones to say no. But for a sport with no set playing field, many options on how to play, and volunteers largely running the show, the guiding principle is more go with the flow.

The emergence of the fully foiling 60-foot maxi FlyingNikka seems like one of those “say no” moments. Or maybe, just maybe, the concepts on display will prove to be both brilliant and ill-advised. While I hope this to be but a funny footnote in yacht design down the road, I fear its influence won’t be positive.

Both IRC and ORC are studying how to fairly rate a foiling monohull, because it is not their position to do otherwise. That’s their business, as they want Regatta Organizers to use their rule. These handicap systems also have the ego to purse this goal, regardless of realism.

And since these handicap systems are doing the work, and a boat like FlyingNikka wants to enter an event, who is to say they can’t? Well, maybe somebody needs to, because if this design concept proves attractive, I sense the health of the sport will be the loser.

FlyingNikka could be the most expensive 60-footer on the race course, requiring the most skill to sail it, and while its reduced crew size may seem like a plus, it isn’t. As the sport witnessed the death of IOR, and the emergence of keelboat one design, the crew pool shrank. When we lose people, the sport loses.

So far FlyingNikka entry was accepted into two prominent 2022 maxi events on the Mediterranean. At the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup she was placed in a special division in which there were no other entries. Her second event at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez had her racing alongside luxury sailing yachts nearly twice her size.

No handicap system works well when boats are not wisely grouped, as the “every dog has their day” becomes an overriding factor. Events need to be skill based, as teams want to know they can impact results, and not the variance of weather. When fate becomes too important, people stay home.

FlyingNikka’s IRC rating is off the charts, the fastest they have ever issued, and significantly faster than her St Tropez fleet. What was learned? Nothing really. Foiling boats are no good in light air, it was light air, and while she could finish alongside the other boats, her corrected time was hours behind. But what if it was windy?

Should event organizers only accept entries they can fairly place with similar boat types into divisions? I say yes. Protecting the herd should be the priority, not feeding the predator.

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