“Right now I’m not really all that interested in the next America’s Cup.”
Paul Bieker’s response is understandable. He poured untold hours and no doubt part of himself into the ridiculously fast AC catamarans over the last couple of years. They did everything (and more!) than could be expected, and now the class is being cast aside as the Kiwi Cup holders and the Italian Challengers of Record come up with a new monohull class.
The Seattle designer has been with Oracle since the last time monohulls were used in AC 32 in 2007. He was there through Oracle’s challenge that wrested the Cup from Ernesto Bartarelli, with the resounding win by the massive trimaran USA-17 He’s always had a big hand in the engineering, and the boats have all held together amazingly well. During the last Cup in Bermuda, he had a much bigger hand in the design, coming up with the platform, foil and wing locations and myriad other details that kept the speedsters moving.
“I’m proud of the boats we did in Bermuda” he says, which is a lot coming from a man who doesn’t like drawing attention to himself. The boats sailed well in 7.5 to 22 knots and were foiling around the course in 8 knots of wind. During the previous Cup they thought it would take 16 knots for that kind of foiling.
Of course Bieker would have liked to see the next Cup sailed in similar boats. “There’s a lot of room for the catamarans to get even better,” Bieker says. “It’s sad to see all the progress we made thrown aside.”
As it stands nobody, not even Bieker, knows what the next boat is going to look like. A couple things seem certain. The boats won’t be as fast as they were this year and if they go with soft sails they’ll be a lot more expensive than a fixed wing.
Tweaking the Oracle
Oracle did get faster during the finals and, as happened in America’s Cup 34, Bieker had a hand in it.
There were three major changes that added speed, but together they weren’t enough to make the kind of comeback the 72-footer made in 2013 with the 72-footer.
“We caught on to a few things our analyses didn’t get right,” Bieker explained. The first of these was weight. The analysis said getting down to the minimum wasn’t that critical, but in real life it was. So Oracle went on a diet to get to minimum.
Another area was the rudder wings, which were at the maximum size to help with righting moment. It turns out that cutting them down to reduce drag a bit was more helpful than the extra righting moment.
Finally, Bieker added to the tips of the high-speed foils to extend their range into the lower winds.
The changes made Oracle a bit faster and noticeably more skittish. It wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with the well-oiled Kiwi machine.
Did You Know
Did you sailish.com readers know that righting moment was provided by the wing sails?
Yes, it turns out that in higher breezes up to the top third of the wing sail was “inverted” so that instead of providing force on the windward side of the sail, force came from the leeward side of the sail to provide righting moment.
Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas any more.
Bieker explained that the reason there were few bear-away crashes was that during the maneuver a good part of the sail was pushing the boat upright. The little pull aft was outweighed by the benefit of added righting moment. This is just one of the reasons Bieker sees a lot of potential in wing sails. And he definitely sees foiling potential for Corinthian fleets – even in light wind areas like the Salish Sea.
Personally, I thought main trim was challenging enough already.
While the Cup has dominated much of his time, Bieker has plenty to keep him busy. I’d guess that he’ll be quite happy with non-Cup projects for a while.
We have already seen what he can do when unleashed on the performance catamaran Fujin. He’s currently working on some modifications to speed her up even more.
Perhaps the biggest project is a 53-foot cat taking shape in Rhode Island. This will also be a semi-foiling cruiser-racer, and will build on what’s been learned with Fujin.
He’s putting together a foiling Moth from scratch. While Bieker’s International 14s sit atop that class, this is his first foray into the Moth world. While we’re still not seeing many Moths in the Northwest, they’re definitely a force on the international scene. Two hundred forty competed in this year’s world championship in Lake Garda, Italy.
Then there’s the Aussie 18 class. Bieker has been asked by the class to come up with a foiling conversion. Already barely touching the water downwind without foils, they want to break completely free. Expect some exciting video to come out as those Aussie 18 sailors start to play with their revamped toys.
Then there’s a project that’s just waiting to happen. “Foiling powerboats are a no-brainer,” explains Bieker. “It’s a lot harder to make a sailboat foil with all the variables than a powerboat.”
Why make a powerboat foil when you can just add horsepower to make it faster? Fuel efficiency. “You could burn a quarter to a fifth as much fuel to get the same speed,” says Bieker. And chances are the ride would be smoother as well.
But alas, that project-in-waiting will probably have to wait for fuel prices to go up or the right client to come knocking.
A Blue Winter
The Bieker designed Blue is coming back to the Northwest for some racing. She was built by Jim Betts and spent some shakedown time here as a newborn, but lives full time on Lake Michigan where she’s a regular in the Mackinac races and the local Milwaukee scene. It’ll be good to see her again after her battles with the Santa Cruz 70s (and others) on the Lakes.