Monohull versus multihull: will inclusion of the big multis affect the match racing game?
[Source: World Match Racing Tour] With all the legal wrangling in the past few years over the format and future of the America’s Cup, there’s been much speculation on what its effects might be on match race sailing.
The event has always been a driving force for enticing new talent into this most exciting form of the sport, even though match race talent has not necessarily been a prerequisite for success: most often, the fastest and best prepared boat will win almost regardless of match race tactics.
Nonetheless, the gradual evolutionary tightening of the design box into near-equal boats, as seen in the last 2007 event sailed in the Version 5 America’s Cup Class, made match race skill more important than ever. Accordingly, many of the teams were regularly out on the World Match Racing Tour honing their skills to use throughout that cycle of the Cup.
And even without a clear future on the format of the next Cup, many teams have remained active on the Tour just to stay polished in their skills should there be any break in the legal logjam.
A milestone in sailing, BMW Oracle launch their 90x90 trimaran. Anacortes, 24 August 2008. Video copyright BMW Oracle
But with that impasse seemingly broken now with a Deed of Gift (DoG) match between the Defender and Challenger as looking as a likely solution, and that match likely being sailed in huge multi-hulls, will it have any effect on match race sailing?
First, it should be said that multihull match racing is not without precedent: since the early 1960’s there has been held at somewhat irregular intervals an event the US media then called the ‘Little America’s Cup’. Sailed mostly in C-Class catamarans, this development class has been at the forefront of technology and design for inshore multihulls just as the ‘real’ America’s Cup has been for various inshore monohull types used over the years. In these contest, invariably the fastest boat won the series.
And as those who witnessed the 1988 America’s Cup observed, when pairing a multihull against a monohull there is no contest in speed: the multihull will always be faster.
But multihulls by their nature are not very manoeuvrable, so the boat-on-boat action would likely be quite different than in monohulls, prompting completely different tactical and strategic decisions. Knowing this, the Defender and Challenger teams are now training as much as possible to get to know their boats, with one immediate effect on Tour sailing: Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird has elected to drop his Tour Card for this year.
BMW Oracle's BOR90 during sail tests. San Diego, 28 November 2008. Photo copyright Gilles Martin-Raget / BMW Oracle
But what other effect might a DoG match have on the sport? Will it continue to attract and inspire newcomers to match racing or even sailing in general? Tour regular Sebastian Col (FRA) of the French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge is upbeat. "This match is a good thing for the sport of sailing,” he says to the World Yacht Racing Forum. “It will help the evolution of the technology. I am not convinced about the sporting aspects of the event, but the AC has always been a technological challenge. Now will it change the face of sailing? I don’t think so. It is giving too much importance to the America’s Cup. Sailing offers other disciplines that are great; it is a very rich sport."
Another Tour regular, Paolo Cian of Team Shosholoza, has expressed similar views. “The regatta [itself] will probably be boring; one monster will be faster than the other. But on the other hand this is a very special project, and the technology involved is fantastic. The interest will not be in the regatta itself, but in all the rest."
However, Cian does say that even though it may be a spectacle to watch, the match race aspect of a DoG contest may not be so spectacular. "There will be two monsters racing, and it is the first time such a regatta will take place," he says. "It will definitely be something to see! But a good match race takes place only with boats that tack and jibe well and it’s not the case with multihulls."
So, while the AC game has hopefully moved from the courts back to the water, there may be a slight detour before we see it return to the pinnacle of match race sailing. For now that resides firmly in the World Match Racing Tour.