Over the last decade or so, the America’s Cup and Maxi-yacht classes have benefited from most of the research money going into sailing. Today’s Maxi owners aren’t shy about pushing design far beyond what is permitted in the America’s Cup. Maxis are larger than the Cup yachts and increasingly use canting keels and water ballast to improve performance. Reichel/Pugh, German Frers, and Farr Yacht Design have all done yachts of this type, but when Randall Pittman wanted to build a new 90-foot flat-out racer, he decided to try something different.
Pittman grew up racing, mostly in one-design boats like the International 110, Melges 24, and J/35. He’s campaigned such boats across the country and in many parts of the world. More recently, he decided the time was right to make the leap into large yachts and, after seeing Neville Crichton’s 135-foot Kokomo, from British designer Ed Dubois, decided he wanted to build a large cruising boat. He asked Dubois to come up with plans for a 140-footer. That yacht, named Whirlaway, was built in aluminum at Vitters in Holland and launched in 2002. Whirlaway was oriented toward light-air performance to cope with the 8-knot breezes typical of summer conditions across the United States. Although Whirlaway sailed perfectly well, Pittman’s competitive needs were not being met. The obvious next step was to design and build a large racing yacht.
“I had to make a hard decision,” says Pittman. “Although Ed Dubois did a great job with Whirlaway, I knew it had been a while since he had designed a flat-out racer. I did talk with a number of designers, including Reichel/Pugh, Farr Yacht Design, and others. But I was left with the distinct feeling that I would get the next iteration of their last design. I wanted something outside their respective boxes.”
Pittman was also looking closely at the West Coast–based maxZ86 class, which includes Roy Disney’s Pyewacket and Hasso Plattner’s Morning Glory. At that point the class was focusing only on water-ballasted designs; the switch to canting keels came later. But the truth was that Pittman didn’t want to be restrained by any class rule. He wanted a first-to-finish yacht that could be sailed aggressively with only hand-powered winches.
“That requirement was what kept us at the 90-foot level,” says Dubois about the Genuine Risk project. “In fact, when Pittman first approached us about a full-out racing yacht, we weren’t all that interested in the project because they are very time-consuming. And it had also been some time since we’d even thought about a raceboat.
“But he wouldn’t give up, and when he came back a month later with the same request, we said we would do it. We told him that as part of the agreement we needed a good research budget and a year to put the data together.” Dubois and his partner, Malcolm McKeon, were allowed to add America’s Cup designers Clay Oliver and Andy Claughton to the design team.
Choosing a raceboat designer who hasn’t designed a racing yacht for more than 20 years is certainly likely to lead to outside-the-box thinking, since he has no box to come out of. Dubois started with two years of tank testing at the Wolfson Unit in Southampton, England, with two 20-foot models. One was an improvement on the water-ballast system used aboard Crichton’s Shockwave; the other was a canting-keel design. “The first test runs,” says Oliver, “showed us that the canting-keel version produced an advantage. Then we went back into the tank with a third shape and a number of different appendages and sail shapes.”
The Foil Question
When a keel is canted to windward, the lift normally provided by the keel is lost and needs to be replaced. This is why canting-keel designs have a foil ahead of the keel and one behind it. On some boats the forward and aft foils are linked to move together; on others they operate independently. Oliver concluded it is best when the forward foil operates independently and the crew knows what the front rudder angle is.
“Although every yacht has plenty of VPP data,“ says Oliver, “the real test comes when the yacht is on the water.” Early runs with the full-size yacht showed the boat was fastest with about 2 to 21/2 degrees of angle on the forward rudder. Then last summer Oliver suggested that a little more angle might prove to be even faster. The idea showed its merit at a regatta in Sardinia where Genuine Risk finished first in four out of five races.
One reason for this is that even when these large yachts are sailing off the wind, the apparent wind never comes aft of the beam unless true wind is above 25 knots. And when the apparent-wind angle is forward of the beam, the sails are generating side force that must be countered by foils. That’s why having the proper foil size and angle is so important. When Genuine Riskgets on the starting line for this year’s Transpac Race, her foils will be a bit smaller than usual because of the strong trade winds that usually push the fleet on the run to Oahu.
Because Genuine Risk races principally under the IRC Rule, which has a penalty for using a spinnaker pole, she was built with a bowsprit. The sprit handles both fractional and masthead asymmetric spinnakers as well as masthead and fractional headsails with overlaps of 135 to 140 percent, a combination designed to improve light-air performance to windward.
A boat with a canting keel instead of water ballast can be a much narrower boat. The yacht’s 14-foot, 6-inch maximum beam is about the same as that of a yacht half its length with a conventional keel. The narrow beam does make things interesting during a tack, when two dozen people are scrambling to find a seat on the sliver of deck area on the windward side when the yacht is sailing close-hauled.
But sitting on the rail is not as important as it is on a conventional yacht. Windage is the bigger problem here, and the happy solution for the offshore crew is that they can go below and spend the off-watch in bunks on the windward side. The narrow beam also means that the yacht has a relatively small interior for its size. There’s no mistaking the belowdecks ambiance for a suite at the Trump Plaza.
The cockpit is completely open and easy to work in. But the crew working the foredeck has to be agile because there is very little working deck area. The good news is that without a pole to gybe, the foredeck crew can remain on deck.
When you’re sailing aboard Genuine Risk, the most unusual sensation comes when the keel starts to swing during a tack. The keel begins to move down when the sails start to break, and even though there isn’t a big shift in the yacht’s trim by the time you have scurried across the cockpit and up onto the windward side, she is already beginning to power up again. The hydraulic system allows the keel to go from fully extended (55 degrees) on one side to fully extended on the other in less than 8 seconds.
Genuine Risk was launched in April last year. There were some brief sailing trials off San Diego, and the boat’s first race was last summer’s Chicago–
Mackinac. Even in very light winds, Genuine Risk was the first to finish and averaged a solid 10.11 knots for the race. She also finished first in four out of five races at last year’s Maxi regatta in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. With further modifications in sail inventory—her spinnakers were some 30 percent smaller than Pyewacket’s—and more sailing time for the crew, the next real test for this outside-the-box racer will be when sailmaker Ken Read takes the helm for this summer’s Transpac. If Dubois and Pittman are correct in their assessment of what is needed for this latest generation of racing yachts, a first-to-finish in this year’s centennial race to Hawaii just might be in the cards.
Writer and photographer Craig Davis has been sailing aboard famous yachts for many years.
Designer: Dubois Yachts, Beck Farm, Sowley, Lymington, Hampshire, SO41 5SR, UK; 011-441-590-626 666; www.duboisyachts.com
Builder: McConaghy Boats, 77 Bassett Street, Mona Vale, NSW 2103 Australia; 011-612-9997-7722; www.mcconaghy-aus.com
50,000 lbs (est.)
17,300 lbs (est.)
Sail area (100% foretriangle)
4,101 sq ft (100% foretriangle)
Yanmar 230-hp diesel
Sail area-displ. ratio