Oct 29, 2012, 12:06 PM
From Mladen Milidragovic, P. Eng. www.wingsails.com
Hard wing versus Soft wing
I've read and watched recent stories about the last AC72 monster cat capsize. I've been following the America's Cup races for the last 20 years as well, and cannot recall a single accident of this type. By definition, multihulls are much more stable vessels than monohulls - aren't they? Yet, monohulls, though slower, do not capsize to this 'epidemiological' extent, and do not suffer in such material damage terms.
Alarmingly, the AC boat capsizing has become notorious, but nobody has ever questioned the issue. Even the 'Capsize club' has been established, with membership proudly offered to most of the AC45 teams. Even formidable Russel Coutts pierced the wing with his head first! What's going on? Where are the designers' comments? Where did the 'investigative journalism' disappear? I'll give you a clue: the rigid wingsails are too heavy.
Naturally, rigid things are supposed to have certain weight, and in this case it is a bit over the limit. Can AC wingsails be lighter? No, they can't - if they are to be solid. Why they must be solid? Because, by today's definition, wingsails are of solid, rigid, fixed, hard nature. Only jibs, genoas, gennakers and spinnakers can be soft. Why this is so? Nobody knows ... except some weird minds.
But if the AC wingsails were lighter - why not soft? - There would be no capsizes, risking lives and million dollar damages! Are there soft wingsails? Of course there are. Because rigid wingsails are basically useless for any other sailing purpose except those elite AC races, many people brainstormed the idea of having a sail shaped and performing like a wing, yet having features of conventional cloth sails - weight, price, ease of manufacturing and handling. And I am just one of them.
On the other end are strong, well positioned guys like Duncan Maclean, Steve Clark, Dave Hubbard, Pete Melvin and others, who long ago adopted the idea of a flapping solid wing, a concept limited by 2D thinking, lacking imagination and inventiveness. This sick brainchild survived decades, protected by vested interests, national pride, stubbornness, closed mindedness, vanity...regardless of price somebody might pay for its apparent deficiencies.
Do you think something is going to change if an AC crew member dies in a future capsize, which is inevitable and pending? No, nothing will change. But remember what I've just told you.