Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Valencia Designers Meeting (part III): Interview with Giovanni Ceccarelli

We continue our coverage of the 34th America's Cup designers meeting that took place on May 18th in Valencia with the third installment. Today, we talk to Giovanni Ceccarelli, the Italian yacht designer, one of the 19 participants in that meeting. In the 31st America's Cup, Ceccarelli was the chief designer of Mascalzone Latino while in the 32nd edition in Valencia, he was in charge of design at +39 Challenge.

Valencia Sailing: Let's first start with some background questions on the meeting. From what I saw you were the only Italian designer there. Were you representing the new America's Cup Challenger of Record, Mascalzone Latino?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: No, I wasn't there on behalf of Mascalzone Latino or any other team, I was there representing my design office, Ceccarelli Yacht Design, and I was invited by Ian Burns as such. In fact, almost everybody there was representing just themselves, maybe in order to have a less restricted vision, in order not to be conditioned by any restraints. I think I was invited due to my participation in two previous America's Cup editions and the fact they appreciated my work.

Valencia Sailing: Who was there on behalf of Mascalzone Latino?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: I don't think there was anyone there on behalf of one team or another. When we presented ourselves, each one stated there own design office, except of course from the three representatives from BMW Oracle, Ian Burns, Manolo Ruiz Elvira and Mike Drummond. In fact, they were the only ones wearing a team T-shirt.

I'd like to state that I liked that spirit because in the previous edition, the 33rd, when Alinghi was preparing the new rule, I asked to take part in the meetings but my petition was denied because I wasn't representing any team. Alinghi wanted only team designers in the meetings. I'm referring to the discussions in order to establish the AC90 rule, before the final court decision that established BMW Oracle as the challenger of Record. According to Alinghi, no designer could be accepted unless he was already part of a team, something that I don't agree with. If you represent a poor team you push towards a small and cheap boat. If on the other hand you represent a team with bigger budget you push the rule towards the opposite side.

The spirit of the meeting in Valencia two weeks ago was in fact to have each one of us, freely and based on his background and "culture", express his opinion and vision, without having an established link to any team.

ITA-85, designed by Ceccarelli, was +39 Challenge's ACC Version 5 yacht in the 32nd America's Cup in Valencia

Valencia Sailing: What vision did you personally express then? What boat did you say you would like to have in the 34th America's Cup?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: First of all, let me tell you one thing. That meeting was a very important step towards a transparent and democratic America's Cup, the fact we were invited and asked to give our personal view. Without any doubt that meeting was a sign of openness.

Valencia Sailing: Of course, having an open discussion is nice but do you think that at the end your opinion, and that of the other designers, will be taken into account or do you think BMW Oracle went to the meeting with a project in their pocket?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: No, I don't think they already have a design in their pocket. I think they have their vision which is to race this America's Cup with a new boat that can offer close, fast, much more athletic and dynamic races. It's true that the yacht rule is legacy of the Defender but it's also legacy of the sailing world in general and I mean the entire sailing industry.

The America's Cup has an influence on every aspect of the sailing industry and as a result it must always create new trends, experiments and for that reason, I think the new boat must reflect all that. I don't think they already have a pre-defined idea for the new yacht, whether it's a monohull or a multihull. In fact, they presented a monuhull concept and two multihull concepts, let's say a small trimaran of 20 meters and a big trimaran of 25 meters. The monohull was approximately 27 meters long.

Valencia Sailing: Was it clear in their presentations whether they were more inclined towards one or the other type of boat?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: Honestly, the fundamental points of Russell Coutts and BMW Oracle, a new spectacular boat that can sail with winds from 5 to 35 knots, can be achieved either with a modern monohull or a trimaran and I'll explain why with a personal example.

Ten years ago I designed the yachts used at the Tutta Trieste regattas. They were 2 55-foot yachts with a canting keel, used for the Tutta Trieste Nations Cup, won by Paul Cayard. They were light yachts, with a bowsprit, one wheel and don't forget that at that time the TP52's didn't exist, so there was nothing comparable. Those yachts raced very well under the light breeze of Trieste, 5-6 knots, but also in much stronger winds, up to 30 knots. The monohull concept that was presented in the Valencia meeting was very similar to those boats. Obviously, in lighter winds you might not use the canting keel but in the stronger breezes you have to use it.

So, the reply to the question whether a monohull can exist that will provide fast and spectacular races in winds from 5 to 35 knots, is yes.

ITA-72, designed by Ceccarelli, was Mascalzone Latino's ACC yacht in the 31st America's Cup in Auckland

Valencia Sailing: Something similar to a Volvo Ocean Race 70?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: Yes, my idea is very similar. The Tutta Trieste yachts are very close to the yachts that could be used in the next Cup, obviously they will be bigger ones. In my view, the America's Cup boat must be a distinctive one! When you are a spectator out on the sea, waiting for the races to start, the America's Cup boats must be big, you must be able to see from afar. That's why I think they should be between 24 and 27 meters long. As I said, they have to be distinctive.

Regarding the spectacular and athletic action by the crew, I think that this can also be achieved with either a monohull or multihull. It's not a given fact that a multihull will result in a more spectacular crew performance, I don't believe it. Maybe the 12-meter class didn't offer spectacular crew action but the boats in Valencia in 2007 certainly did. They had their inherent wind limits, below 8 knots and above 23-23 knots, but within that range they offered spectators with spectacular races. The average spectator had fun watching those races and I think we should always keep that in mind. I'm sure that all those that watched on TV the Cup races in Auckland or went themselves in Valencia had fun. Take for example one race we, +39 Challenge, had against Desafío Español and lost by just 1 second. The last run was fiercely fought and the lead was changing back and forth. I don't think anyone would argue it wasn't thrilling.

The show must be in the sport. It shouldn't be in taking risks, hurting yourself. At the same time, I think that you should be able to find similarities between the Cup boats and the yacht you might eventually have.

Valencia Sailing: Can you give us some more details on the monohull concept BMW Oracle presented?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: As I said, it was a 27-meter yacht with either a canting or a lifting keel because the draft limit was set at 4.30 meters, a figure I consider adequate in order to sail in various venues around the world. In any case, I think that very shortly they will announce whether it's going to be a monohull or multihull but I repeat that, at least in that meeting, I didn't see a clear position. The only clear issue is that they want something new, beautiful and spectacular. I don't think I'm that dumb and didn't understand whether they wanted to focus our attention to one of the concepts.

Valencia Sailing: Regarding the two trimaran concepts, can you tell us more? Were they small copies of USA (BMW Oracle's winning trimaran)?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: As I said, the aim of the meeting was just to give an idea of a yacht and not present us with the actual boats. The rule will be ready by the end of September and therefore there is still room to change everything upside down.

Valencia Sailing: Let's hypothetically assume that at the end they opt for a trimaran. How do you conceive match-racing with trimarans? Have you ever designed a trimaran or a multihull?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: I have worked on smaller multihull yachts but I don't have experience on bigger ones. Yet, at the end of the day, a boat is always a boat.

Valencia Sailing: Certainly, but if indeed it's a multihull do you think the experience they have gained with the 33rd Cup will give them an incredible, unbeatable advantage over anyone else?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: Let me tell you one thing. If it's a monohull, for sure there will be more teams that challenge compared to a multihull, for a very simple reason. The multihull seems cheaper to build but there are so many more available areas of research that will make it much more expensive. Even some of the, let's say, "historical" challengers could be out if it's a multihull.

Furthermore, in the America's Cup, the Deed of Gift talks about a challenge between the Defender and the Challenger. In the modern sailing world, this challenge has been translated as match race, the concept of match race. I think that a multihull, due to its speed or the peculiarities when two yacht cross, is not the adequate yacht for match races. Multihull races turn into drag races. Take for example the second race of the 33rd America's Cup last February in Valencia. In the first beat, Alinghi was ahead of BMW Oracle because they had found a favorable right shift and had right of way. Had the race been in monohulls, the approach to the first mark would have been completely different and Alinghi, most probably, would have rounded ahead. From that point maybe it wouldn't have mattered after all because BMW Oracle's boat was definitely faster but at least in that first beat, we didn't have the exciting match race we could have had with monohulls. The first crossing would have definitely been a port-starboard situation but due to the fact it was on huge multihulls sailing at 30 knots it didn't happen.

So, if you want to match race on multihulls, you have to go towards smaller boats. Nevertheless, those smaller yachts, in my opinion, put more limits and, after all, there are many classes of smaller multihulls and we would run the risk of confusing the Cup boats with them.

The TuttaTrieste 55-foot monohull

Valencia Sailing: But we also have a great number of smaller monohulls, such as the TP52's or the STP65's.
Giovanni Ceccarelli: Exactly, that's my point. As I said before, the next Cup boat should be distinctive and that doesn't only mean bigger. I don't want to reveal my ideas but the next Cup boat shouldn't just be a big TP52 or STP65. It should be the boat with which the Challenger and Defender will race the 34th America's Cup. So far, the America's Cup boats, regardless of whether you thought they were beautiful, ugly or even strange, were different from the rest. Even in 2007, when you could argue they were anachronistic, long and narrow, once you laid your eyes on them you could tell they were Cup boats. The new Cup boats shouldn't look like the Wallys and for that reason, I think it's easier to do it with monohulls.

Valencia Sailing: Can you describe how the meeting proceeded? Did they start with the presentation and then every designer made his remark and told his opinion?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: Yes, that's how it worked more or less, but as you understand I can't tell you the individual opinion of each person in the meeting. Some of them were in favor of one concept while the rest leaned towards another concept and everything was done, I repeat, under very democratic rules.

Valencia Sailing: And during that long dialog did you sense a consensus towards one concept among the participants that didn't belong to BMW Oracle?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: We were 19 participants in the meeting, 3 of which were members of BMW Oracle, so we had 16 unaffiliated designers. All of them were either principal designers / technical directors in the 32nd America's Cup or formed part of the team that designed BMW Oracle's trimaran. It was an interesting process and what I can tell you is that some had a strong opinion on one option, others were strong advocates of the second option and finally some others didn't actively participate. I'd rather have BMW Oracle tell you what percentage of favorable opinions had each concept.

I, personally, think that the monohull is, under the current conditions, the best option for a multi-challenger America's Cup. A monohull that is innovative, distinctive and that can provide exciting races within the target range of winds. By multi-challenger I don't mean 3 maybe 4 teams, I mean a great number.

Valencia Sailing: Under the current very difficult conditions that also means the costs should come down.
Giovanni Ceccarelli: There are many ways to make this edition of the America's Cup cheaper. For example, don't allow unlimited research on paint but restrain it. You can also limit the number of masts, rudders or sails a team can use. You can also replicate something done in Formula 1 and limit the number of hours a team can train. There are many ways to lower costs.

Valencia Sailing: Did any of those options get discussed during the meeting?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: The America's Cup is undoubtedly an expensive sport so there will always be a general discussion about limiting costs. Of course, if you compare it to football, Real Madrid will now pay 36 million euros just to hire its new coach and I can tell you that in Valencia some teams didn't have that much money. Obviously, the Cup will never reach those figures but there will always be top teams with significantly bigger budgets. I think that putting budget caps is impossible because you can't control them. As I said before the budget cuts could come from other restraints but with the maximum design liberty possible. The America's Cup should never become a one-design race.

Valencia Sailing: But what will happen in this edition if you do have such a design liberty you mention? Do you see the risk of having one or two boats that are much faster than the rest, turning the entire Cup into a boring domination game?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: I don't think so. Without any doubt, the strongest teams will always prevail in the Cup. I don't believe in the fairy tale of the outsider with a limited budget that develops a "rocket" and then wins the Cup. We have 3 or 4 years ahead of us and if a small teams comes out with a radical solution, the larger teams will have both the resources and the time to copy it. It will surely happen this time as well but that doesn't mean we can't have competitive and exciting races around the world.

I'm convinced the plans BMW Oracle and Russell Coutts have for the Cup will take it into the living rooms and television sets of the world. This is very important because a wide TV coverage will bring more interest and more visibility.

Valencia Sailing: Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison have repeatedly talked about TV coverage in this Cup. Did you discuss in the designers meeting how this is translated into boat design? Will this be the first "Big Brother" Cup?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: Probably yes and I'm sure it will be the first Cup to enter in every home. In Italy the Moro di Venezia entered into everybody's home. Italians, in the 1990's watched the Moro di Venezia on their TV sets. In fact, people always ask why there are so many Cup teams from Italy and I think the reply is quite simple. While in France the Cup got lost in the general media, in Italy il Moro di Venezia and Luna Rossa were on everybody's TV set. Despite the fact races were broadcast late at night, the audience numbers were huge and it wasn't the old retirees, it was young people that didn't sleep even if they had to go to work in the morning. This is why there are many Italian teams in every edition.

Valencia Sailing: Did you go into the details of how the TV will be incorporated in the new yachts?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: No, we didn't enter into such details during the meeting. It was more about general ideas and in my opinion Russell has clear ideas on how to make this a great event.

Valencia Sailing: Great event in what sense? Do you mean better than Auckland in 2003 and Valencia in 2007?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: Great in the sense of media interest and coverage. I think this Cup will have a positive input in the sport of sailing as a whole. My design office is currently busy with two projects in Turkey, a sail boat and a motor boat, and I can tell you that after a successful America's Cup there is an increase in sales and general interest.

This year for example, the multihulls didn't create that interest. After the 2003 Cup you could see people in the Genova boat show walking around wearing Mascalzone Latino and Luna Rossa jackets, buying yachts. The same happened in 2007. How many Italians went to Valencia to watch the races? Tens of thousands. Do you think that all of them cared what boat they were using in the Cup? They knew they were America's Cup yachts and the races were close and tight. That's all. They liked the show, something the trimarans didn't offer. Therefore, I think we should take that concept and go forward with an evolution, with a even more spectacular boat beyond the limits of the previous one.

We should also allow further technological advances, something the Americans demonstrated with the trimaran, much more than what the Swiss did with their catamaran. The trimaran has been a leap forward in technology and innovation while Alinghi's catamaran was a conservative yacht. Even a monohull, given sufficient design liberty, can also be very innovative. Those technological advances can then trickle down to every day sailing and that's where we have the biggest number of users. We should always keep in mind that thousands of people that watched the races in Valencia had never sailed in their life. The Cup is watched by the professional sailor, the weekend sailor but also by people that have absolutely nothing to do with sailing.

Valencia Sailing: Let's now go back to the procedural details. With the first meeting now over what is the next step? Will there be another meeting in Valencia?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: I don't know. I think the next step would be for BMW Oracle together with Mascalzone Latino to decide what type of yacht they want and then create the structure in order for the new rule to be written. I think there will be a process with the involvement of designers and sailors.

Valencia Sailing: Does that mean your contribution hasn't stopped on the 19th of May?
Giovanni Ceccarelli: No, I don't think so, I hope so. I hope our contribution hasn't stopped on the 19th and my aim is to be part of the 34th America's Cup with an active role. I'm convinced that BMW Oracle started this America's Cup cycle on the basis of fairness and openness with a clear vision to hold a great event.

In order to have a great event you need many teams, even if some of them are weak. Take Formula 1 for example. Ferrari, Maclaren and Red Bull will probably keep winning and Lotus will probably never win but you need all of them to have an interesting sport. Not only that, one of the smaller teams can at times upset the bigger ones, further increasing the general interest.

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