Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Juan Kouyoumdjian talks to Valencia Sailing (part II)

We publish today the second installment of our long interview with Juan Kouyoumdjian, the Argentinean designer with 2 consecutive Volvo Ocean Race wins under his belt. Kouyoumdjian talks about his involvement in the TP52 class in 2010 as well as makes a comment on a current issue in the America's Cup, regarding the measurement of BMW Oracle's challenging yacht.

Valencia Sailing: According to a recent press release from the AUDI Medcup organization you are teaming with Team Origin as their designer for a TP52 campaign next year.
Juan Kouyoumdjian: I can only confirm that we are looking into it from a pure yacht design perspective. I will let Team Origin make their own statement when they want and when it suits them. It is something that hasn't been 100% decided yet but they are certainly looking into it.

Valencia Sailing: Well, at least that confirms you have an interest in the TP52 class.
Juan Kouyoumdjian: For sure, we have been looking at the rule changes very closely for the last 2-3 months.

Valencia Sailing: Yet, 2 years ago we were sitting at this same table and you told me you weren't interested in the TP52 class. What has changed since then?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: First of all, we had a very bad experience a few years ago with the rule, with a boat we had designed, simply because the rule was poorly managed. I think the approach with which we designed the boat was not in line with the wish the owners and rule managers had at the time. Since then, the events of the class, the people involved, the advent of the AUDI Medcup, but also the rule itself have greatly evolved. Not necessarily the fundamentals of the rule itself but more the way it is managed and written. Right now, the rule has been rewritten in coordination with ISAF and there is a clear wish from 2011 onwards to have a much more modern style of boats, to get rid of the imprecise center of gravity estimation with the old IMS methods and so forth and have a rule which is specific to the class not just a rule composed of bits and pieces that were grabbed and shared from older rules.

I think that the changes between 2-3 years ago and now are big and we can certainly see that the AUDI Medcup and the TP52 class offer a very competitive platform for the future, in particular from 2011 onwards. The boats will be extremely fun to sail, they will be faster than now, more stable without any of the complicated measurements and I think it's healthy for us to embrace this change in the TP52 class.

Valencia Sailing: Whether it's Team Origin or any other team you might work with, would you build a boat according to the 2011 rule in order to race in 2010? First of all, will this be possible?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: This is one of the big question marks we are trying to answer. The problem is that rules for 2010 haven't been formally finalized. The class has done a great effort to make them as fine and clear as possible but the truth of the matter is that they aren't. Thus, we are working closely with the class in order to try to accommodate the new boats in 2010 in a way that they are actually competitive.

Valencia Sailing: Whether it's finally 2010 or 2011, do you foresee great differences between the new boats? Will we see a wide range of designs?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: I think that the new rule has opened the design quite a bit more than what we have seen in the past. Still the answer to question will depend a lot on how much the owners of existing boats are prepared to upgrade their boats. If they leave them as they are, then for sure they will be big differences.

Valencia Sailing: Are you going to look for loopholes in your new TP52 designs? I hope you won't get again in trouble with the definition of words!
Juan Kouyoumdjian: If by loopholes you mean to try to get a performance advantage by applying the rules, specifically as they have been written, then the answer is yes, absolutely. That's my job after all!

Juan Kouyoumdjian at the AUDI Medcup village. Cartagen,a 17 September 2009. Photo copyright Ian Roman/AUDI MedCup

Valencia Sailing: In order to close our interview I would like to touch an America's Cup issue. You aren't directly involved in the 33rd edition but being one of the world's most important yacht designers could you give us your expert opinion on the issue regarding the measurement of BMW Oracle's challenging yacht?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: First of all, thanks for considering me one of the best in the world. It's a delicate subject and I'm not part of it and it's difficult to give my expert opinion if I'm not part of it. It seems to me a bit of a shame to find ourselves in the current situation after more than 2 years since the end of the last Cup in Valencia. It seems to me a shame that all this legal process was started under the basis of one team thinking the other was not being fair with the rules and after all that mess, legal procedures and long fights we find ourselves in a situation that is worse in terms of fairness, in terms of what the Defender can impose on the Challenger, compared to what it was 2 years ago. I wonder what they are doing this for, was it worth it for 3 days of racing?

I don't know all the details but I will tell you two things that best describe what I think of the situation. First, I think that the protocol Alinghi initially put forward wasn't a good one. I do think that one was right to contest it and ask Alinghi to modify it. I think the way by which BMW Oracle tried to do that isn't the right way. I think that filing a lawsuit and trying to be on the negative side all the time is wrong. I also think that it's wrong for the general public to think the challengers that committed to challenge back in 2007 were in agreement with Alinghi and accepted the protocol. That wasn't the case and being part of it I can tell you that those of us that believed that challenging was the right option did indeed recognize Alinghi was the legitimate defender but we all made them fully aware that there were some issues in the protocol that needed to be adjusted. The difference is that among all the people that didn't agree with the protocol only one decided to take it to court. We now know the consequences.

I think that during these 2 years, and under the risk of being wrong, there was a moment in the whole process, around March 2008, when there was a clear chance to settle things for the good of the event and the sport in general. It will remain in the consciousness of both Alinghi and BMW Oracle to explain why they didn't do that.

Valencia Sailing: All that is very interesting and it's nice to hear your opinion but you haven't answered my question that concerns the measurement of the yacht and the inclusion, or not, of the rudders in the process.
Juan Kouyoumdjian: [Laughs] I'm just trying to give you the big picture in order to avoid answering. The rudder is an obvious part of the boat and by lack of definition of what is the length at load waterline of the boat I think the rudder should be part of the definition of length because it is intrinsic part of the boat. There have been some affidavits that mention that rudders were not part of length measurement in the past, but this is simply because the Rules then did not allow for rudders to hang from the transom, therefore unapplicable. Having said that, I have to say that the rudder could play a role in the dynamic length of the boat and you could design rudders that have a bigger effect, particularly with lifting foils. Based on the rudders I have seen on both Alinghi's and BMW Oracle's yachts I assume the issue of whether the rudders make or not part of the length of the boat doesn't make such difference, however they are part of the boat and they touch the water, so...

I think the relationship between these two teams goes beyond the mere question of including the rudders or not. The defender tries to disqualify the challenger for every possible issue and the challenger waits for the defender to ship the boat to the announced place of the venue and just one day after offloading the boat files a complaint, after having waited for two months. We are far away from sportsmanship and gentlemanship. I would like to make it clear that these are strictly my own personal views and are unrelated to any team I might have a position in. They are strictly mine.

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At 3:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're a great designer but stay out of the media business unless you want to work for BYM News ;-)

At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Andy Rice said...

Juan K is one of the few people at the top of the sport who often dares to say the unsayable. Always entertaining to read what he has to say.

Good interview. thanks Pierre.

Andy Rice


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