Paul Bieker Moves On from the 35th America’s Cup

Paul Bieker Moves On from the 35th America’s Cup

“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 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.

Moving On

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.








Kiwis Win. Now What Would YOU Like to See?

Kiwis Win. Now What Would YOU Like to See?
26/06/2017 – Bermuda (BDA) – 35th America’s Cup 2017 – 35th America’s Cup Match Presented by Louis Vuitton, Day 5. Match, New Zealand.

It’s over. The 2017 America’s Cup? Well, yes. But more significantly, the Larry Ellison Era is over. There’s not a lot of love lost in most sailing circles for Larry Ellison, but he has had a huge impact on our sport and left an indelible mark. Jimmy Spithill credited the “vision” of Ellison and Coutts in creating the foiling Cup and choosing Bermuda. Whether or not what Ellison has done real good for the sport can be debated until the IPAs are all gone, but he certainly has sunk a lot of money into it.

But neither Ellison nor Coutts are going to be in charge the next time around. It must be noted that Coutts is, after all, a Kiwi, but after selling out to the Swiss Bertarelli and then the American Ellison I’m not sure he’d be welcomed with open arms by his countrymen.

Now that the Kiwis have the Cup, one thing is certain, they’ll throw everything they have at making it a great event. If you needed an excuse to go to NZ, you’ve got it. The new challenger of record is the Italian Luna Rosa team. In the days of the old IACC boats, the Luna Rosa team always ran a class act and were always competitive. Both the Kiwis and the Italians can be expected to respect the Cup traditions while embracing current technology.

Everybody’s aware that the Kiwis did not sign on to Oracle’s attempt to dictate the rules into the future. They can do what they damn well please now that they have the Cup. Wow, did that feel good to write.

But none of this answers some basic questions of what the next Cup will look like. And since this is a wonderful time to speculate on the new blank page of the America’s Cup, I say “have at it!” Any great ideas about what, where, when etc? I’ll go ahead and spitball some random thoughts. What would you like to see?

The Boat

Weatherly footing out on a bunch fleet of chartered 12 Meters. They’re clearly enjoying life after the America’s Cup.

What I would like to see will never happen. No, it’s not a return to the 12 Meters, though I do think they’re drop dead gorgeous and really fine match racers. (Slow boats and short races might make for interesting viewing for many of us old timers) What I would like to see is a lightweight monohull with soft sails and trapezes. Basically, big Aussie 18s, maybe akin to the Lake Garda boats. Leave the foils and wing sails to the Little America’s Cup.

The boats I’m thinking of would certainly be slower than the foiling cats, and I’d call that a good thing. We’d see sails going up and down and a blown gybe could mean a capsize, not just a momentary splashdown.

OK, it’s not foiling, but imagine watching a gybing dual in these boats.

They’d have to be able to sail in 3 to 30 knots, and in big waves. And just maybe if they capsize they could be righted, but not by support boats. Imagine match racing such beasts in 25 knots and waves! Imagine the design effort it would take to solve those particular problems. Imagine Paul Bieker from Seattle designing one. By the way, I’d like to point out that once again Bieker’s engineering held those boats together for the entire Cup.

Maybe for the next Cup they can adopt the current Volvo and Cup concepts and make them basically one-design.

Today’s foiling cats go fast, but the only human movement we see is the grinders pumping away creating hydraulic pressure, then sprinting from one hull to another 15 or 20 times a race. While the trimmers are no doubt working at a high level non-stop, it’s hard to see exactly what they’re doing. And cyclers working tucked away in an aerodynamic position just doesn’t show visually the effort. The other thing is that the boats get very far apart in hurry. Even on a 20 minute race. Finally, I believe at lower speeds the weapon of heaping bad air upon one’s opponent comes into play more.

If we get rid of this silly hydraulic pressure/constant grinding mode for controlling foils, there’d still be need for strength and speed, but as viewers we’d get to look at a lot more human action than someone turning the cranks or pumping away hunched over pedals. And the crew hanging out on traps and maybe getting tea-bagged occasionally could be must-see TV.

I know asking for slower boats seems like heresy, but hey, we’re just thinking out loud here. And the boats I’m thinking of would be no slouches speed-wise.

(I’m pretty sure it’s foiling or forget it, baby. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.)

The Course

If there’s one thing I love about the 2017 Cup, it was the length of races. They were short, the way it should be. The old days of spending several minutes on a tack was not fun to watch and I’m sure not as fun for the sailors.

But please do away with the reaching start. If you’re worried about the viewers not getting the nuance of an upwind start, don’t be. It’s not that hard to explain tacking, and it opens things up for splits at the start.

The boundaries and slow-down penalties seem to be working, and they keep the boats close.

Starboard tack wind-downs? Really? If someone can explain why they’re a good idea, please do. Seems like you’re going backwards to hurt the other guy, not go forwards to win the race. This isn’t team racing. And then it’s beholden on the judge to determine if it’s too much.

The Racing

I’d love to see fleet racing as part of the event. It should be a real part that counts toward results.

The Venue

Stars and Stripes in waves. Not exactly foiling. Not exactly boring. Daniel Forster photo.

Put them in wavy conditions, which probably means offshore. I’m thinking the Hauraki Gulf, if for no other reason than to hear Peter Montgomery say that name over and over again. However much of the Cup now caters to the ultra rich, and the ultra rich don’t want to spend much time bouncing around under power on their 100+ footers, but sailing is much more interesting in challenging physical conditions. The ultra rich will just have to take some Dramamine. By the way, was it my imagination or were most of those megayachts virtually devoid of people as they surrounded the course the last couple of weekends?

If you put the Cup where the potential of waves and other challenging conditions exist, the engineers become MVPs as they have to sharpen their keyboards on dynamic loading. To me it seems a greater challenge.

The Crew

Nationality, nationality, nationality. We’re not at a point where 100 percent nationality could be required onboard each boat, but how bout at least 50?

And, what about requiring mixed crews? Sailing is a mixed gender sport, and such a high-profile event should reflect that. It can be done with specific gender requirements or crew weight/numbers. The Volvo Ocean Race has seen the light, and Dee Caffaree is leading a young, mixed Volvo Ocean Race crew that will get lots of attention. They probably won’t win the race, but they may well win the media war.

As long as this hydraulic pressure thing continues, we’re going to see very fit men taking up more than half the positions just to drive a pump.

The Commercialization

The days of megabuck sponsorship are here to stay. I’d like to see fewer logos and more hull/sails – I think of Luna Rosa/Prada. But that can’t be. America’s Cup boats (and Vendee Globe and Volvo Ocean Race and  mini transats and everything else that requires sponsorships) have become floating billboards, and if that’s what it takes, so be it.

But what we can get is a scaling back of the “official” this and that of the America’s Cup. As a journalist, the barrage of those types of announcements I receive is ridiculous. It’s pretty hard to come up something that doesn’t have an Official America’s Cup status. I’ll take a chance and call out the imaginary Official Slug Food of the America’s Cup. (If you paid money to be the Official Slug Food of the America’s Cup, I apologize fully and completely). It was nearly that ridiculous.

Professional sports teams here in the US get a lot of revenue from “team gear” sales. It seems we (or our spouses) are willing to spend lots of money on the right team gear. The Cup teams do this currently, but I’ll bet there’s lots more of our money to be tapped in those areas. Especially if the teams reflected a nationality. Did any of us really feel that Oracle was a U.S. team? I certainly did not.

Would I buy a $40 hat if there was a Seattle team? You bet. Hey, I’d even buy one from the Vancouver, BC team when it forms. Just make them decent logo designs, OK?

So, there are some of my thoughts. Yours? Scroll down the comments section or if you have a lot to say, send them in an email to me and I’ll post them.


The America’s Cup – Fast Growing Grass

The America’s Cup – Fast Growing Grass

It’s been an interesting, disillusioning Sunday. Watching is definitely not as fun as doing, especially when it comes to sailing on TV vs sailing on the water.

This morning I watched NBC’s Courageous documentary. It’s an exceptionally well done history (imho) of the height of the America’s Cup. Lowell North, Ted Hood and of course the dynamic duo of Ted Turner and Gary Jobson. Really great sailors, dramatic personalities and politics and supremely beautiful boats. I tried to get my boys (aged 5 and 10) to get interested. Nope.

Maybe it was speed. 12-Meters just don’t like going more than about nine or so knots. So, let’s try the new America’s Cup following not coincidentally. The Kiwis just sailed away. The one or two interactions between the boats was barely enough to hold my interest, much less the boys’.

Then I watched the the Kiwis crush Team Oracle in another two races. A couple of close interactions, but for the most part the boats were very far apart and might well have been sailing on different continents. Most of the time only the panoramic views could get both boats in the same frame. My boys weren’t the least interested.

At the risk of sounding like I park dentures in a glass next to my bed every night, here goes my thoughts on the America’s Cup.

There’s a divide among sailors about the Cup. Some think the new version is great, some long for the days of 9 knot 12-Meters and a few are somewhere in between. The divide isn’t quite as big as Democrats vs Republicans, but it’s close.


Foiling is cool. 40 mph over the water is cool. The new tactics are cool enough. The scampering from one hull to another is cool. The on-screen graphics are cool. The crashes are cool (until somebody gets hurt).  The technology is cool.

Not Cool

The personalities are not cool compared to the days of Ted Turner, Ted Hood, Lowell North, Olin Stephens and even Dennis Conner. Not that today’s personalities are bad, they’re just held so under wraps by corporate obligations we don’t get to see them. The endless commercialization is not cool. If I see one more “Official Doo-Dad of the America’s Cup” type press release I think I’ll vomit. The wing sails are cool, and deadly efficient. The fact that few sailors are from the countries they ostensibly represent is not cool. The fact that the Northwest’s Paul Bieker is so key to the design and engineering is way cool.


And from my standpoint a few things are glaringly absent. Sail changes. Sail adjustment we can see (surely the trimmer is into the nuance of half a degree here or there, but hell if I can see it). Grace. Yes, they’re fast and in their own way beautiful, but I miss the grace of a well designed hull moving through the water, of one boat trying to lock into the wave pattern of another, of the shear power of a keelboat casting waves aside right and left as it crushes to weather.

And what’s missing from both the new and old Cups is, with some exceptions, close racing.

17/06/2017 – Bermuda (BDA) – 35th America’s Cup Bermuda 2017 – 35th America’s Cup Match Presented by Louis Vuitton- Race Day 1

Today’s obliteration of Oracle was like watching grass grow, as the saying goes. OK, it was like watching grass grow fast. The time differences on these 20 minute races were less than 2 minutes, but it sure seemed a lot further. The boats were more than 1/4 mile apart most of the time.

The Cup moments that most captured the public’s attention didn’t have anything to do with speed. Who could forget Turner’s ongoing antics of 1977. There was that entire summer of ’83 when we all wondered exactly what was under Australia II, and that moment when Alan Bond’s outstretched hands looked like they alone could lift A-II out of the water for all to see. And then there was Conner’s epic comeback when Stars & Stripes blew a headsail in the Fremantle Doctor, and the crew scrambled to quickly replace it. It was something that can and does happen on raceboats frequently, and we racers all just take that in stride, but in that case the public saw it happen. I remember non-sailing friends being impressed. Not speed. It was wind, waves and crew work.

Roger Vaughan has a very well considered piece that appeared in Scuttlebutt called I don’t Need a Helmet to go Sailing.

But as that tiresome phrase goes, it is what it is.

It is a new made-for-screen sporting product and those sailors and designers and media technicians have taken this new sport to amazing places. And it’s not going back. I’m viewing this year’s Cup as I would an intriguing new sport. I’ll try to understand the tactics and be impressed by the grinders’ efforts which are remarkable. I’ll watch the wing and the trimmer very carefully. I’ve gotten to the point were I can tell what tack boats are on even if I’m not always sure whether they’re heading “upwind” or “downwind.” I’ll root for the Kiwis because, well, they deserve to get it back and that country truly respects sailing.

There’s one thing about the new Cup I really don’t like, and it’s is what Roger Vaughan was getting at: The new Cup is not the sailing I love and that I’d love to see more people doing. The Cup is not really getting that much attention from the mainstream media. Just ask your non-sailing friends if they have any idea it’s going on. And I’m afraid that even if someone gets turned on by these cool cats, they’ll be highly disappointed when they go to a sailing school or community sailing center and face a ponderous but safe sailing class boat they’ll turn away disappointed.

As a kid sailing around the harbor I could imagine my little O’Day 7/11 dinghy was Intrepid. I’m not sure today’s kid in a Bic O’pen can make the imagination leap to an AC cat. Tell me if I’m wrong.

In the meantime I’ll see if Spithill and company can come up with another epic comeback. If he does, I hope the races are close. I don’t care if they’re going at a fast walking pace.