Yachting World September 1999

Yachting World September 1999

An argument in Cowes over a French competitor’s rating blew up into a public debate of such seriousness as to threaten the future of the Champagne Mumm Admiral’s Cup. It began when Krazy K-Yote Two, the big boat in the French Admiral’s Cup team, had her rating altered by the Offshore Racing Council (ORC) just hours before the start of the first race. Simple enough , you may think, but it had extraordinary knock-on effects. The big boat class in the Admiral’s Cup is the only class of the three that is still run under IMS, the controversial handicapping rule administered by the ORC. (The other two boats in each team, the Mumm 36 and Sydney 40, are strict one-designs). As with any handicap rule in any sport, designers will always seek to exploit loopholes to gain whatever advantage they can~ it’s all considered part of the game. But this year designer Juan  ouyoumdjian’s innovative rig on Krazy K- Yote Two exploited a rule in such spectacular fashion that it shocked the ORC into what many saw as a knee-jerk reaction.

After spending months researching the intricacies of the IMS rule, Kouyoumdjian discovered a loophole in the way the rule calculates the windage on a yacht’s mast. In general terms, the bigger the mast the more windage it creates, slowing the boat down.

Kouyoumdjian ‘s idea was to produce a large-section mast, to take advantage of the perfmmance credit, but to make it more aerodynamically efficient by shaping it like an aerofoil section to minimise drag.

“I’ve been working as part of the French America’s Cup design team where we’ve been investigating the possibilities for unstayed masts,” said Kouyoumdjian . “The idea for this “rig came out of these studies and I began looking at the IMS rule in March 1998 and I soon discovered that there was a weakness in the aerodynamics side of the programme. The design of the rest of the boat followed on.”

The rig Unlike most unstayed rigs and much to the surprise of those who sailed against her, this rig just doesn’t fall off to leeward, even when her sails are sheeted home and she’s hard on the wind. According to her designer (and confirmed by those sailors who tried to sail above her off a tight start line), the top of the rig deflects no more than a conventional stayed spar and the main and genoa leeches remain as tight as you’d normally expect. The reason for this impressive rigidity becomes clear when you take a look at the mast’s construction.

The spar is essentially a large carbon fibre I beam where the I section runs athwartships. This section runs up the entire length of the spar, although it does taper towards the top , but is clearly the reason why the mast is so stiff sideways and yet requires rigging in the fore and aft plane. GRP panels are then attached to the forward face of the I beam (GRP has a greater elasticity) and Kevlar panels to the back which form the efficient aerodynamic shape, but contribute less to the structural integrity of the spar. Unlike the similar section masts aboard racing multihulls , the IMS rules prevent the mast from being rotated. The mast does twist, but, according to Kouyoumdjian, not much more than aboard a conventional rig of the same size with around 3-5° of twist below the hounds , increasing to around 15° above them.
Given the obvious advantages of a lowwindage spar, there is a price to pay and the disadvantages of this rig are its weight, which is around 25 per cent heavier, and the detrimental effect on the flow over the mainsail when reaching or sailing downwind. Rule-bending exercise? Any suggestion that this has simply been an elaborate and expensive rule-bending exercise, and nothing more, is quickly refuted by Kouyoumdjian who claims firstly that the concept has a long term future for racing. and cruising boats and also to have been approached already by one of the big French boatbuilding companies.

On the face of it, a simple case of struggling artist versus a stubborn organisation, but there was more to this story than at first met the eye. The depth of feeling in the French camp was clear on the eve of the first race when, faced with a revised last-minute rating, the team decided to withdraw from the whole event rather than race under what they saw as a punitive rating.

In the hours that followed there were claims and counter claims, meeting after meeting and plenty of confusion. The team ‘s problems began after Krazy K-Yote Two had taken part in the Sunday race at the Berthon Source warm-up regatta on the previous weekend under a provisional rating certificate issued by the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Rating Office.

The boat had performed well and drawn the attention of the ORC’s chief measurer for IMS, Nicola Seroni, who considered that the mast infringed the rules and was reported to have ordered the withdrawal of the rating on the same day.
According to Seroni, an official certificate was never issued for this boat and her provisional rating was simply never certified. “From day one I always had some doubt about the legality of this mast,” he said. “First, the mast was built using a considerable amount of Kevlar, which is banned under the IMS rules. Then there is the issue of the mast twist.”

By Monday morning the French team had a problem as the Admiral’s Cup notice of race states that no changes to a handicap were allowed to take place after 0900 that day. As the deadline had passed , the RORC needed to get permission to vary the notice of race to allow a revised rating to be accepted.

This was done and an International Jury approved the measures that the ORC had invoked under Rule 101, which allows the ORC to refuse a rating and issue a modified one if necessary.

Krazy K-Yote Two was offered a compromise providing dispensation for the Kevlar mast for the duration of the event, so long as they accepted a modified rating which increased the boat’s rating by 6.5 seconds per mile under the General Purpose Handicap (GPH) . They refused , and the entire French team withdrew from the event.
In a written statement, the Frenc h boat’s skipper, Luc Gellusseau, made it clear that this large increase in their handicap was at the heart of their dissatisfaction , claiming that: ‘the boat would be penalised by two minutes in a Solent type race and an hour on the Wolf Rock race.’ “In a typical Solent Race the 50s are finishing within 1.5 minutes, so to give us a two-minute penalty would clearly move us to the back of the fleet in every race,” added Kouyoumdjian.

Seroni claims that he had little choice but to act when he did. Even though he had been aware of the innovative rig months before the boat was even launched, he had tried to discuss it in more detail with the French team in order to establish whether the mast infringed the rules, but claims he received little practical feedback until she arrived in the UK, one and half weeks before the event started.

And so, as the French refused to race, the wranglings continued with confusion and i arguments over every conceivable issue. At the 8 eleventh hour , the French team’s Mumm 36 and Sydney 40 were back in the event, but without Krazy K-Yote Two. However, despite the politics and jungle drum chit-chat, several facts are clear. IMS has been facing increasing criticism from disgruntled sailors and race organisers for some time, the RORC has just launched its own IRM rating system specifically designed to cater for racing boats (see page 119), and public scuffies between competitors and the ORC has done little to further its cause during this year’s Admiral’s Cup.

On the other hand, IMS would undoubtedly have come under serious fire had Krazy K- Yote Two cleaned up by the substantial margin that some considered inevitable – a no-win situation for the ORC. Whoever may be right, the most serious damage has been to the sport’s reputation. Given the hard-nosed commercialism that top level yacht racing relies on today, there is deep concern that current and potential sponsors may be scared off by the event’s apparent instability and unpredictability. It wouldn’t be the first time.