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The story of the 'Wing Mast' on Lumix

by Frank Quealey 8 Feb 2013 07:51 GMT 8 February 2013

For more than 120 years (since Mark Foy's original day in 1892) the 18 Footers have been a class which has evolved from heavy timber boats with crews of 20 men to the modern day, high tech three-man boats built from a sandwich construction of carbon fibre skins over a Nomex honeycomb paper core.

Along the way, some of the world's best known sailing innovators (such as Ben Lexcen, Iain Murray, Julian Bethwaite and Bruce Farr) have introduced many ground breaking concepts to make the 18ft Skiff the exciting flying machine it is today.

The latest innovator within the 18ft Skiff Racing ranks is a young skipper with the same free spirit style of vision and determination as a youthful Julian Bethwaite displayed from the 1970s to the 1990s.

His name – Jonathan (Jono) Whitty.

Jono first moved into the 18s (as crew) in 2007, before skippering his own boat in 2008, then in 2011 introduced the "turbulator " mast top to his Panasonic-sponsored LUMIX skiff.

He is the son of an Airbus pilot, holds a sea plane pilot's licence and is a hang glider enthusiast. Obviously with this knowledge of aerodynamics and his passion for wind and water, it's no surprise that he is continually striving for greater performance in his 18ft Skiff Racing campaign.

His latest concept is a 'wing mast', which he is presently using on LUMIX during the 2012-2013 Australian Season.

Asked about his reason for this development, Jono says:

"I was looking for more control with rig power to drag ratio".

"The main challenge then was making it stable with such a narrow base. Especially when carrying a mast head chute".

"Because the mast rotates above the gooseneck independent of the vang load, I had to fit a gas strut from the boom to the mast, pushing 35 kilos to induce rotation".

Getting the idea from the drawing board to reality wasn't easy.

"If it wasn't for Chris Dixon, Chris Flannigan and the guys at CST Composites, we wouldn't have been able to achieve our goal on time".

Chris Dixon, General Manager of CST Composites and a former 18ft Skiff skipper, says: "Jono came to me around February 2012 with the idea of a rotating section or wing mast. I see a lot of potential in Jono, and after discussing the idea openly, I encouraged him to give it a go".

"He has a real passion for sailing and developments, so I put it to him that we would support his development and give him the backing to achieve his goal".

"Following a meeting with Jono and his team, we agreed we could supply the engineering and production to not only make the mast, but make sure it would stay pointing towards the sky as well as being fast".

"It was a big investment in $$$ and time, but I felt if there was anyone in the fleet who could pull it off, it was Jono".

""I kept pushing Jono to keep an open mind as this was not going to be like any other rig he had ever used, and stressed we all needed to continuously think outside the box".

"Some rule limitations meant there was going to be some compromise, which sucked up a lot of engineering time".

"We made all new tooling to make the 200mm wing section".


Rigging the 18ft Skiff Lumix with her wing mast - photo © Frank Quealey

Dixon also stressed a critical point in the project was the need for Jono's Lumix skiff to have new sails. "If we were going to go to all the effort of making this new rig, he had to get new sails and not compromise on this part of the project".

"Setting up sails on a wing mast is completely different to a normal mast, it was the only way it was going to work".


18ft Skiff Lumix wing mast drawingst - photo © CST Composites
Even with this support from CST, Jono was still left with another problem related to the 18ft Skiff Rules, which state that only sails signed and registered by 28 October (Australia) may be used during the 2012-2013 season.

In what can only be described as a "gutsy call", Jono elected to push ahead with the wing mast and just make his #2 rig bigger than the other 18ft Skiff teams.

"If the new mast was unsuccessful we would have only had one rig for the season so I had to make sure our #2 rig was really big – just in case".

"We may pay for that decision on really windy days but it was one that had to be made".

Naturally, it is far too early to assess the overall performance of the 'wing mast' but a first up win was encouraging.

Jono wasn't getting too excited though: "I realized that such a change wouldn't be easy and there's still a lot to work on, but I'm satisfied with our performances so far".

"For gust response the boat is a lot more manual and I'm putting that down to hound height".

"The mast is now a lot more static and it takes a little more work to get the boat to accelerate".


Lumix sports her radical new wing mast during race 2 of the NSW 18ft Skiff Championship - photo © Frank Quealey

Class Measurer Stephen Quigley is a highly respected Naval Architect within the Australian yachting community and was winner of the 1996 Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championship as skipper of AEI-Pace Express.

Steve is a 'positive' measurer with a sense of the history of the 18s and the innovators and innovations which have led to the evolution of the class.

"The 18s have historically led the way on innovations or at very least been early adopters", Quigley said.

"There are numerous examples of attempts at wing masts in the 18s, including Dave McKay's Sharp Electronics in the 1970s and Kevin Nixon's Lysaght Colorbond in the 80s. To date they have not become mainstream, probably due to the extreme loads, technical difficulties and reliability outweighing the potential aerodynamic benefits".

"Jono has invested a lot of his own energy, time and money to make this work. Not everyone is an innovator, and Jono has taken a significant risk with his season by choosing this path".

"His personal investment and risk strategy deserve to reap him some rewards, and while there was some active discussion on the concept at a board level the decision was made to support the development of the wing mast", Quigley concluded.

Australian 18 Footers League President John Winning, Giltinan champion in 2000 and winner of every major 18 Footer championship throughout the world, is also still a top competitor who has seen many innovations over his 38-year career in the 18s.

"Jono has an innovative brain and is always striving to improve his performance".

"Throughout the history of the 18s we've seen great development because of people who have strived to improve the boats to the high-tech standard they have today".

"It's still far too early to assess it's overall performance but it has recorded a couple of good results in the races it has contested so far".


The jib head arrangement on Lumix - photo © Frank Quealey

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