Racing

Cup Watch - March 2007

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Hushed: America’s Cup secrecy

Unless masts start breaking in Valencia, Spain, things should be getting back to normal around Hall Spars. Things have been anything but normal for most of this year, however, with Hall building masts for several different America’s Cup teams and maintaining a strict code of secrecy for each client.

The normally welcoming Hall facility in Bristol, Rhode Island—not far from where “Captain Nat” Herreshoff designed and built Cup defenders a century ago—was shuttered to the public for months last winter to protect the sensitivities of those questing for that “Holy Grail of Yachting” thing. Even a prospective rig buyer couldn’t get in.

Alinghi, Luna Rossa, and Mascalzone Latino designed their own masts, with varying degrees of input from Hall, then sent as many as three representatives apiece to Rhode Island to help manage construction. With these potential spies all in close proximity, Hall went to great lengths to make sure that nobody spilled anyone else’s beans.

First, each on-site Cup team was assigned a project manager who assumed the dual roles of overseeing construction and ensuring that no team secrets were exposed or other team’s secrets picked up. Drapes were hung ceiling to floor, locks were installed, windows were frosted, nondisclosure contracts were signed, and syndicate members were not allowed on the premises without Hall employees on hand. If a syndicate member needed to pass through a restricted part of the facility, his project manager had to accompany him. For Alinghi, Hall went one step further, acquiring an adjacent building, formerly owned by Goetz Custom Sailboats, that was modified to give the Swiss defender complete privacy.

Hall also worked for Sweden’s Victory Challenge, but that spar construction was done in the company’s facility in the Netherlands, so the logistics were different.

The rules of the America’s Cup Class specify minimum mast weight, and each team works hard to hit the number with the strongest, most tweakable rig possible. The materials permitted and the pressure at which they are cured in the autoclave are also governed by the rules. Variables include the number of spreaders a team elects to use, as well as the hardware (sheaves and tangs) and internal design.

A year ago the buzz in masts was all about Alinghi’s jumperless rig, which saved about 50 pounds aloft at the expense of adding carbon and section thickness up high. Engineers can go on for hours about the advantages, disadvantages, and permutations of a change like that. Given check stays above the hounds, a jumperless AC mast might be less bendy, allowing more headstay tension at a given mainsail shape, but on the other hand…

We won’t know what Alinghi really thinks about its 2006 experiments until we see them on the water, ready to race. BMW Oracle also showed a jumperless rig in one incarnation last year, just a few weeks behind Alinghi’s rig debut. BMW auto-aerodynamics engineer Christophe Erbelding (reassigned to work on raceboat rigging) was amused. “Obviously,” he said, “both teams were working on it; we could not have done one from scratch in that time.”

And so the game goes on, and around Hall Spars, they’re feeling pretty good. “The teams were very busy when they were here,” says Ben Hall. “In one case, a guy found out that one of his best friends had been here for weeks, working on a different mast, and he had no idea. When he did find out, he was pretty sad that he didn’t get to buy his friend a beer. From our perspective, it was a job well done.” David Schmidt

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