Look Ma, a Wing!

On November 8, BMW/Oracle released what could be the worst-kept secret of the 33rd America’s Cup, but also the coolest single development in months: a hard wing sail for their massive trimaran, which is slated to race against Alinghi in a Deed of Gift (DoG) challenge this coming February. But unlike the somewhat modest looking wing used on Dennis Conner’s Stars and Stripes 1988 catamaran, this new wing looks to carry more chord width much higher on the wing, likely creating a far more powerful wing than its smaller cousin of 21 years ago.

So what’s so cool about this wing? It’s massive. The behemoth dwarfs anything ever considered for a sailboat, but moreover it also dwarfs wing shapes built for the airline industry. The wing is reported to stand a staggering 190 feet above deck level. To put this into perspective, consider that a 747’s wing is 102 feet in length. Crunch the numbers and BMW/O’s wing is 80 percent larger than a wing of a 747. And, given its hard properties, it should be considerably faster than the soft sails that the team has been using.

This obviously creates all sorts of engineering problems when it comes to stepping or unstopping the rig. And that’s not to speak of the potential legal troubles that this could create, but it does simplify one worry: last week BMW/O broke their soft-sail rig (their latest of three progressively bigger rigs; it’s estimated cost was somewhere in the vicinity of $10M), so this hard sail comes at an opportune moment. Still, given the fact that BMW/O broke their last stick in less than 10 knots of air, one has to wonder what sort of loads are involved with a sail/rig that stands 190 feet above the deck.

So far there has been no word from Alinghi as to if they also have a wing, but early reports are that they have also been considering a switch to a hard sail, and have been working with a team of hard-wing experts for months.

Of interesting note is where the 33rd Defense will be held. After a court decision ruled that Ras Al Khaimah, in the united Arab Emirates, to be invalid for a DoG match (it’s in the northern hemisphere, and races held during the winter months must be raced in the southern hemisphere or in Valencia, Spain), Alinghi and BMW/O spent a heated weekend debating the where. While Alinghi had proposed somewhere on the east coast of Australia, Valencia, Spain has been decided upon as the official venue. This will be interested for Alinghi as their Alignhi 5 catamaran is rumored to have been designed and developed for the light-air venue that would have been RAK. The strange keeps getting stranger with the 33rd AC, but at least now it appears to have wings as well.

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