Manolo Ruiz Elvira talks to Valencia Sailing
The second part of our report on today's designers meeting in Valencia is actually an interview with Manolo Ruiz Elvira, the Spanish designer of BMW Oracle. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to talk to the rest of the designers for a very simple reason. The meeting actually came to an end 15 minutes before the scheduled time, so when I arrived, all 20 had already gone to Valencia's commercial port in order to have a very close look at the America's Cup winning trimaran, BOR90, that is still stored in the temporary tent. Like children in a candy store, the designers spent more than an hour examining the monster trimaran up close and since it was getting late none of them went back to the BMW Oracle base.
During the following days we will try to have the feedback from other participants in the meeting.
Valencia Sailing: Let's first start our talk with some basic questions about the discussion process concerning the new design rule. Without any doubt you had the who's who of international yacht designers in the meeting this morning. What prerequisites did you have for attendance? Who was asked to come?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Basically, the idea was to have people that have America's Cup experience and that could analyze what we are talking about. It is still a very early stage but there will be a chance to listen to the opinion of all that really have an opinion on the technical side.
Valencia Sailing: Did they have to sign a non-disclosure agreement before coming into the conference room?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: No, on the contrary the whole idea is to make this process as open as possible and it has really been an open discussion.
Valencia Sailing: Are all participants on an equal footing here? Can they all contribute to the discussions or is there anyone with a simple "observer" status?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Everybody, including ourselves from BMW Oracle, is in a pretty similar role. There is a difference though, because there has been some work beforehand to at least prepare, not alternative concepts, but at least some ideas to put on the table to help the discussions. During the meeting though everybody gave their feedback, something that is really appreciated.
Valencia Sailing: Is this the first meeting and how many such meetings are scheduled?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Yes, this is the first meeting and basically the start of the entire process, but we haven't set any schedule for future meetings yet. Don't forget it's not going to be us that will develop the rule and the idea today was to collect the feedback from the other participants. At this point there is some idea what the process is and the schedule is for the future until we get to the rule but this was just one specific meeting. From now on there will be an open line to receive the feedback.
Valencia Sailing: The schedule seems tight. You have announced the rule would be released before the end of September, exactly four and a half months from today. Is it feasible? Is it realistic?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: I think it's realistic. It's a tough job but there are good references, other boats we can refer to so there is a lot of work that has already been done, whatever rule we may end up with. Whoever might finally write the rule will take advantage of that knowledge but the most critical and difficult part is to make the initial definition of the class beyond the points we started with today which was just what we wanted to achieve out of the new class.
Valencia Sailing: What do you want to achieve?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: I think it has been widely discussed and the idea is to have a more modern boat, that is fast, fun to sail and basically dynamic enough so that races are interesting with the trailing boat having enough chances to overtake.
Valencia Sailing: Once the rule is released who will be able to have access to it? Will it be made public?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Of course, once it's released it will be absolutely public. Even before that, there will be drafts and the teams and sailors will have a chance to provide feedback but once it's released, it will be for the entire world. Actually, I can't see any reason why it shouldn't be that way.
Valencia Sailing: Let's get back to the "initial definitions". You have appointed Bruce Nelson and Morelli/Melvin to come with the "basic concepts". What guidelines did you give them for the elaboration of those concepts?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Basically, the very simple ones I mentioned earlier of what we wanted to achieve out of the boat and very little beyond that, obviously our concern that costs should be contained but, again, not much; what type of boat and racing we wanted to achieve. They both are designers with a known background and being independent from us what they actually got was the general idea. The proposal they came up with are basically ideas to discuss, not alternatives to choose from.
Valencia Sailing: Concerning Morelli/Elvin, your official press release states they are "unaligned" with either your team or Mascalzone Latino. Still, weren't they involved with the design of your America's Cup winning trimaran, right here in Valencia three months ago? How can they be called "unaligned"?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Well, they did collaborate with us in the past in some aspects of design. They had a limited involvement in some aspects and I consider them to be independent. In fact it doesn't make a difference because we are not asking them to develop a new class rule. I think they are perfectly independent and nobody has raised any concern whatsoever.
Valencia Sailing: Who will actually write the rule?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: It will be a person or persons appointed to carry out this task and they will be completely independent from either us or the Challenger of Record. It hasn't yet been defined but I don't think it will be difficult to reach an agreement on that.
Valencia Sailing: Talking about agreements, I have a very simple question. Discussions and consultations are good and nice but who takes the final decision? Are issues voted and the majority rules or is it Russell Coutts, Ian Burns or you that makes the final call? Who has the last word?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Well, the last word will be between the heads of the teams. The aim of those discussions and collection of all that information is to help us take a decision that we think will suit the majority. I think the answer will come by itself.
Valencia Sailing: I can't believe that your team hasn't been developing, or at least outlining, a new rule in 2009, or earlier, for the 34th America's Cup. Isn't it tempting to skew this design meetings towards something that better suits your plans?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: That hasn't really happened. Even going back to 2007 when I was with Alinghi, we didn't have the time to seriously plan, other than talks over coffee, what the next class would be because we were really focused on winning that America's Cup. This time it has been exactly the same, I would even say more intense. So, really, before winning the 33rd America's Cup there was no chance to even think about that. After that, of course we thought and talked about that but looking at a completely open space from monohulls to multihulls and lighter and heavier ones, we didn't have more than anecdotal or philosophical talks about what we thought would make for good races. We didn't go any further than that. Actually if something was discussed it was about how we could make the process in a way that it isn't even perceived we would try to gain an unfair advantage. In fact, one of the main reasons this process is taking place is to make all the other teams understand that this is the case.
Valencia Sailing: So, you actually give up one of the main weapon the Defender has.
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: I don't think it's a significant weapon and it hasn't been, in my experience at least. In the last 20 years the changes in the ACC rules have been incorporating interpretations and making a few tweaks. In 2003 the change to version 5 was a little bit bigger but whole process was done between Alignhi and BMW Oracle, in consultation with the other teams in a reasonably open way. In this edition of the Cup we are not trying any advantage and, honestly, I don't think that it has traditionally been there.
Valencia Sailing: Let's move now to the specifics of today's meeting. How would you judge it?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: It was positive. In general terms, it was an exposition of the basic and simple requirements for the concepts that were presented. Then Bruce Nelson and Pete Melvin presented those options and we talked about them. We talked about pretty much anything, obviously about the advantages and disadvantages of monohulls or multihulls. We then went a little bit into the specifics of the rules, for example how we thought it would be easier to contain costs or how open the rule should be in terms of promoting creativity but at the same time keeping close racing. Many of the requirements are self conflicting and at the end we will have to find compromises. The basic idea was to put them on the open and start discussions on those topics.
Valencia Sailing: What was the feedback and initial reaction to the concepts presented today? Do you feel anyone was surprised or was it more or less what they had expected?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: They had an approximate idea of what we were going to look at, so I don't think anyone was shocked and if they were they did a good job in hiding it. They knew what we were going to look at but the difference is that we looked at philosophical options with numbers on the table, a few technical numbers that would help a little bit better to understand what the chances are those concept would provide good racing. Those and anything in between, actually.
Valencia Sailing: According to your press release, three options were discussed. Two different multihulls and one monohull. Can you give us more details on that?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: First of all, the multihulls are trimarans. It could have been different but it looked as an option that would better adapt itself to this concept of racing.
Valencia Sailing: Trimarans with wings or with conventional rigging?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Actually, the proposals were with soft sails but, obviously, the possibility of a wing was also on the table. It has its complications but it also has its attractive points. It was very brief and we didn't go into any technical details. Nevertheless, the original proposal was with conventional sails. Regarding the mutlihull two sizes were proposed that would provide different costs and different boat performance and as for the monohull there was one basic concept but we looked at different displacements, keel draft or ballast alternatives. I wouldn't say it was one concept for the monohull but rather a family of concepts.
Valencia Sailing: What was the feedback on the number of hulls? Do you feel there was a preference for monohulls over trimarans?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: We expected there would be more reluctance to the multihull option, basically because of the uncertainties and the lack of knowledge but there were interesting discussions about how match race regattas would happen with trimarans. I guess that the main doubt comes from the uncertainty and the lack of known references and there were designers that favored multihulls and other that favored monohulls. At this stage the point is to try and get the best possible equation and, as I said before, there will be additional feedback beyond the meeting.
Valencia Sailing: The meeting is now over, what is the next step?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: The next step is getting feedback in a more organized way after everybody had an opportunity to think more in depth about what we discussed. Get more feedback in a more formal way in the next few days. Hopefully, in the next few weeks we'll have a better idea about the basic concepts rather than a completely open space as it was this morning.
Valencia Sailing: Have those concepts been done with a specific venue in mind? Take Valencia for example. Even if its chances of holding the Cup are very slim, it does make a lot of difference designing a boat for Valencia to one for San Francisco.
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Regarding the point you mention, it has been a requirement to whichever boat we have, to be able to sail in a really wide range of wind conditions, from 5 knots to be able to finish a race at 35 knots, I wouldn't say to sail efficiently but at least to cross the finish line. Obviously there is going to be a range where the boats sail better but no specific venue was discussed.
Valencia Sailing: What boat would you personally like to see?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: That's a very difficult question. I want to see boats that sail faster but I have to admit I really enjoyed sailing with the AC class...
Valencia Sailing: That should probably be my question number 0. Why should we change boats at all? The WSTA, the same body that will probably have an important role in this Cup, is claiming that its races with these boats are "exciting" and "close". It's also cheaper because those boats already exist.
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: Sure, but there has been progress. One area where a lot of people think there is room for improvement is downwind. Having more dynamic, lighter and faster boats downwind should provide better chances to overtake and make the race more interesting. We can also incorporate advanced technological features to the boats.
Valencia Sailing: Does that mean getting rid of the grinders and throwing them away?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: No, not at all. I think everyone agrees we need the grinders aboard. This is a sports competition and we really look forward to seeing the grinders aboard.
Valencia Sailing: Regardless of the type of boat we might eventually have, was there any discussion today about the number of yachts allowed per team?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: That's probably more an issue of the protocol but in general the idea is about 2 boats rather than 1. Again, that wouldn't really be part of the rule.
Valencia Sailing: Last but not least, concerning BMW Oracle, what is the schedule after the new rule is finally released? Do you have a calendar for the design and construction of the first new yacht?
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: It is probably too early to know and it would strongly depend on the general plans of the event. The very immediate one is to be ready to put our hands on the design and start as quick as we can. The day after the rule is released we can start designing but we don't have yet a schedule for the construction of the first boat. We have to look at how the event develops and it is still too early for that. At this stage we only know what day we are going to start designing. We will start thinking and wondering before that but we'll be at the same position with all other teams. At this process we will all have the same information at the same time.
Valencia Sailing: Thanks a lot Manolo for the interesting talk we had, but you still haven't replied to my question on who will take the final decision in the discussion process. You diplomatically avoided answering.
Manolo Ruiz Elvira: It's difficult to answer, in theory it would be Larry Ellison if he wanted to take it. In theory it would be a decision to be taken by Larry Ellison and Vincenzo Onorato, if they wanted to take it. Nevertheless, I don't think this will be the case. I strongly doubt Larry Ellison would take a decision against the general opinion. Nor would Russell Coutts. I'm convinced we will always try to reach an agreement based on consensus. Obviously, not everybody will be happy with every decision but I repeat I would be very surprised if any decision was taken against the majority. The entire process will stop depending on us very shortly and in fact the idea is that nobody involved with a team is also involved in actually writing the rule. For that reason, you can consider that today's meeting was to gather information in order to write, let's say, a "manual" for the people that will finally write the new rule.