The gentlemen--excuse the expression--have chosen their weapons.
As the America's Cup feud rages on, they finally seem agreed on where they will sail, San Diego, and about when, one says Sept. 3, the other Sept. 19, but there's still a dispute about what they will sail, so they may sail right back into court, where New Zealand merchant banker Michael Fay won the right to sail.
This much seems certain: Fay will bring the biggest racing sailboat built in more than 50 years--90 feet at the waterline and 124 feet 8 inches overall, including a bowsprit. It has a crew of 40 and the deck configuration of an aircraft carrier.
Fay insists that Sail America, which is managing and defending the Cup for the San Diego Yacht Club, must sail something similar. He recently offered to postpone his challenge from September until the spring of '89 to allow Sail America and other challengers time to build big boats, too, because Fay fears the catamaran Sail America \o7 is\f7 building will carry Dennis Conner and a crew of 10 at unprecedented speeds.
Although some San Diego factions were tempted, Sail America declined the offer.
Sail America's ultra-light craft--55 feet at the waterline, 58 overall--is to be powered not by conventional sails but a fixed-shape airfoil created by the people that built Voyager, the airplane, to fly around the world without refueling. One of the airfoil builders has said, "I'm totally ignorant about boats."
Has there ever been a stranger sailboat race?
The New Zealand, Fay's boat, was designed by Bruce Farr and Russell Bowler, the Annapolis-based Kiwis who are the world's premier designers of ocean racing sailboats. The sails were designed by Tom Schnackenberg. He is the brother-in-law of Rod Davis, an American who has lived in Auckland since sailing Newport Harbor Yacht Club's ill-fated Eagle in the America's Cup and will return to his hometown of San Diego as sailing master, or crew chief, for the challengers.
There have been bigger America's Cup boats, including the J-boats of the 1930s and the biggest of all, Reliance, which as the 1903 defender measured 89 feet 8 inches at the waterline and 143-8 overall. Its 16,159.45 square feet of sail was stabilized by a massive wooden hull with a displacement--total weight--of 175 tons.
The Kiwi boat is built of a carbon fiber-nylon honeycomb sandwich, which is stronger and lighter than fiberglass. So, despite its size, it weighs only about 30 tons, or little more than the 65-foot 12-meter boat that is more familiar to the recent America's Cup scene. But it will carry more sail than any Cup competitor ever has--up to 18,000 square feet, enough to cover a baseball diamond inside the baselines.
Its mast, Fay says, is "16 stories tall," the tallest racing mast in the world.
Fay defines 16 New Zealand stories as "about 160 feet," 10 feet higher than the Coliseum's Olympic torch above ground level. If the $7-million boat's a bust, it may be torched.
The Sail America catamaran is the creation of a committee, with design input from naval architects, multihull sailors and computer-powered Ph.D.s. Its twin hulls, also being constructed of carbon fiber, will be mated with what amounts to an airplane wing standing on end.
Although these may be the two most futuristic sailboats ever built, their technology has taken them in opposite directions. Because of the diversity of their design, chances are remote that the boats will be equal in performance. One will be faster than the other, but nobody knows which one. Most sailors would bet on the catamaran.
Boat designers around the world--even those at Sail America--can hardly contain their glee, anticipating that in future America's Cups their imaginations no longer need be limited by the give-and-take constraints of the 12-meter formula used in the 10 defenses since 1958.
"This is basically the whole benefit of the (New Zealand) challenge," said John Marshall, the design coordinator for Sail America. "It's the first time it's been an unrestricted design contest."
Sail America elected to sail a catamaran because a multihull is inherently faster than a monohull--although the San Diegans aren't sure their multihull will be faster than Fay's monohull.
Marshall said: "Our projection of New Zealand's boat is that there is no existing boat, monohull or multihull, that could beat that boat around the race course."
Both boats could exceed 30 knots, nearly three times faster than a 12-meter's top speed. That's nothing special for a large catamaran, but it's unheard of for a monohull.
Marshall said that New Zealand's boat "will be literally leaping out of the water much of the time."
That's more than Fay says. Ask him how fast his boat will be and he says: "Bloody fast."
But nobody really knows how it will sail. Some designers speculate that because it is so narrow--14 feet at the waterline--in proportion to its length, it will be unstable.