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A tale of two daughters

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 6 Jun 2023 23:00 BST
Andoo Comanche on the afternoon of 27 December, 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Club © Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

Ken Read tells his human daughter that she has a sister. To this day it still brings about a smile and chuckle with her. That sister is called Comanche, and she's a 100 foot supermaxi. Big and imposing. Powerful and aggressive. Distinctive and mesmerising, with giant sized deck gear to handle mental loads from that towering rig and sail plan.

(FYI: the in-joke came about because of the amount of time involved and total dedication when he was in charge of planning the design, then building, and ultimately actually sailing Comanche.)

Decidedly unwieldy in the wrong hands, like a witch doctor that's totally off the reservation; she's also a record breaker. No. Make that record smasher, and she still holds a few, despite just recently losing one of her most coveted scalps.

Now known as andoo Comanche, she might be heading towards a double-digit birthday, but the investment in her from the get go and since being splashed makes her just as potent as ever. Her Skipper, John 'Herman' Winning Jnr said, "We're chasing horsepower, after doing a lot with electronics and also reducing weight in the hydraulics in our first year with her. To that end we have purchased six new North Sails that will arrive this July."

"We have a main, J0, 1, and a 2, along with a masthead zero for light airs upwind, as well as a downwind A3, all in manufacture right now. Our programme from here on in starts with the Sydney to Southport, then Brisbane to Hammo, Hammo itself, and then back to do all of the Blue Water Point Score."

One item that stood out for me was to see if the inaugural Sydney to Auckland race was in the mix - "Yes, indeed."

Of course, the trans-Tasman might also offer a suitable weather window for a tilt at getting the record for the 24-hour run back with Comanche. "This is certainly something we have been speaking about, I can assure you. All of our team is right on the case there!"

"If we go, we'll also look at the Costal Classic. Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo holds this at 6:43:32. He is supremely confident that this can be bettered, and has asked to be on board for the race so as to set a new one."

"From there it is all about Hobart, and with potentially four 100s on the start line, it will be as intense as ever," said Winning. One thing all of us can be assured of is that the big red and black andoo billboard will be as competently sailed as ever.

Supremo

So if andoo Comanche is all those things described above, then I have to say Ken Read is as enthusiastic today as he was something like 15 years ago when I was first introduced to him, despite the circumstances we found ourselves in back then. The big cheese at North Technology Group certainly does talk about Comanche in endearing, humanesque terms, as he should, given he was there at the outset with Verdier and VPLP, Hodgdon, and of course Southern Spars, Future Fibres and North Sails.

There are a lot of memorable moments in Comanche world, like setting foot on her for the first time, or people in restaurants asking me about the red outline image on the back of the jacket I was so kindly presented with not so long ago. Yet the one that is as indelible as redacted remarks on a top-secret document is blasting out of Sydney Harbour in a bit over four minutes when she was effectively just out of the oven.

As for having andoo Comanche back in the fold, as it were, Read said, "It is just literally as fond a memory in sailing that I have. I know exactly how much time, effort, and money went into the programme. There's been no non-America's Cup monohull in history that has had as many resources put into matching a rig to a sail plan, to sails, then to a hull and appendages that can match it.

"An America's Cup program is the only thing that has ever been able to exceed the time and tech that went into the development of what we call the engine above the deck, to the engine below the deck, and it's great to have it back because it kind of took a few years off from the effect that North Technology Group can have on a race boat program, unfortunately."

"After Jim and Kristy decided to sell the boat I don't think we did a very good job of explaining the ongoing process that was in place to continue development. Hopefully now, Herman and the team are going to be able to realise that advantage. So that's a great thing for them, for our company, and for me personally, I have to be honest."

As a person with such a deep and involved experience with andoo Comanche, does Read feel that he and the team can provide that extra special gift towards the engine room above the deck? "To make a set of sails today is almost the easiest part. It's the technology, the way all these software programs work together, and the way we work together with designers around the world, is kind of this sight-unseen package that you just assume is going to come out perfect. That it is just going to mesh."

"Fortunately, I have the insight as to how hard it is to do that. And I also have the insight as to how easy it is then to adapt this to a boat like andoo Comanche. It's actually amazing. It's people a hell of a lot smarter than I am that figure it out.

"As sailors, we learn a language that we use to describe to a designer what we're looking for. Then these guys go off, shut their room, they go into their dark spaces and they come out after a while and proclaim, Eureka. We found it. With Comanche they just all found it; between the boat design team, the sail and mast design team, and the rigging design team, they just meshed it all together to make this incredible package. The current custodians are just going to be the recipients of all that information. It's fantastic."

Of records and Gentlemanly protocol

What was it like when Malizia took the 24-hour distance record during recent leg of The Ocean Race? "Well. As I said to Boris Herrmann, 'What took you so long?' It's actually a funny story because I wrote Kevin Escoffier a note right after I read that they had broken the record. You know, I find the protocol of big records to be an incredibly gentlemanly thing. I always tell people about when on Comanche we broke the Transpac record. When we crossed the finish line it was literally one minute later my phone rang for the first time in five and a half days or whatever it took, and it was Neville Crichton saying, 'Congratulations. I'm proud of you guys'.

"So next to my desk at work, I have the 24-hour record plaque for Comanche sitting there. So as soon as I found out, I considered the protocol, and sent a WhatsApp message to Kevin saying congratulations and the record was meant to be broken, as it had been eight years. It had been a hell of a run, but those guys just shattered it. He wrote back within two minutes to say that Malizia had just beaten theirs by 0.85nm."

"I'm like, well, the protocol is I've already said my congratulations. I think you have to say your congratulations. We had a little moment back and forth and it was very funny. After the leg finished Boris said, 'Hey, I hear we broke your record.' Technically, I think as protocol goes that I was supposed to congratulate Kevin, and Kevin was supposed to congratulate you because you broke Kevin's record, not Comanche's. We had a good chuckle over that at the same time.

"It's great to see that they got a condition that they could just let those boats loose, and sure enough, they certainly did that."

Does Read believe that andoo Comanche's new wardrobe with the current boat and crew scenario is capable of taking it back? "That's a good question. I'm not a hundred percent sure. I think these flying boats are a different breed and a different animal. 641.08 is a big number! When we broke it on Comanche, it was almost in the same place in the world that they just broke it. It was during a transatlantic race, and you have to get so lucky with the weather.

"What people don't realise, is that this has almost less to do with boat speed and the boat (but of course you need one with pedigree) than it does to do with being unbelievably lucky with the weather, with the front, with how quickly your front is moving with the weather, and with the wave state, as you need flat water. You need to be ahead of a front that's moving at the same speed as you are, and it's point to point.

"What people think is that this is miles under the bottom. It's not. It's actually a single point to a single point. It's a direct straight line. And so to do 600 plus miles in a direct straight line, it's almost unheard of. So that's why it's such an elusive record. So it's almost not like the question is can andoo Comanche ever do it, as it is will Comanche ever be sailed in a condition again that that could possibly create a record? It's almost harder to create the condition than it is to create the boat."

It's definitely a very, very, very special set of circumstances to do it.

Read added, "I've asked Charlie Enright a bunch of times over the last couple years, 'Why don't you just find your spot and go for it?' I think he's found out that it's really hard to do just that. It's like our transatlantic record. That was a magic front that appeared out of nowhere, and all of a sudden Stan Honey said, 'time to go'. You've got to get lucky as hell with those situations."

The Engine Room

The new wardrobe is all North Sails 3Di Raw, which as Read says, "is a really interesting blend of materials." The thinking is that they will save close to 20% in the mass of the mainsail alone, versus the one currently being deployed. That is a lot less weight aloft, especially when added to whatever gets achieved with the multiple sails for'ard of the stick.

Quick point to remember here is that there are a lot of 3Di Raw North Sails on things like Ultim Trimarans that have done three or four laps of the planet, which is hardly an easy life, and are still going now!

"Our competitors always claim that they can save weight. This literally couldn't be further from the truth. Everything we've weighed from the boat is actually excessively heavy compared to what we know we can do easily, without even working on it. I think roach profile is always something that drives other factors in the boat, but we're going to have a lot of a big weight savings in the mainsail, which is going to be very helpful for the boat."

Obviously andoo Comanche is distinct for the aft-stepped nature of her sail plan, and Read goes on to add, "A boat like this is in the 40 to 50% of E dimension for roach profile, and a lot of it has to do with the amount of weather helm that you're trying to create. You can certainly go overboard on roaches like this. We thought with our second mainsail on Comanche that we found a sweet spot. I think they tried to go bigger and bigger after that, and a lot of guys that had been sailing Comanche over the last couple years confirm that our 'trial and error' of the roach profile that we created back then is the best, so we're going to get closer to that."

Given that design and approval has only just been completed, it is quite amazing that the final product will be delivered so soon. It is due to the robotics, automation and the 3Di process itself. Interestingly, it is the curing time that is holding things up as long as it does. North Sails are super particular about this aspect and will not deviate from it, so slow cook it is...

A mainsail like this is done in at least two pieces due to its size, and it is then scarfed in. This process alone is amazing due to its strength and durability. Best of all, they do not add weight, either. They are part of the composite.

"The material application and the material technology that's gone into it since the last time we built a mainsail for this boat is extraordinary, and it continues every day. It's the usage of what materials and in which place, and this includes a little bit of the helix of Helix technology in the luff of main to help with mast bend in certain areas, is going to be a big part of it. These boats need big, powerful sails to get themselves going, and once under way you need to get as flat as possible, as quickly as possible."

A thing called Helix...

"The Helix technology in all the sails really helps. It's really made a big difference on these foiling boats, and the proof was the America's Cup and how they needed powerful sails to get out of the water. As soon as they did, the key became how they could shift it from a light air shape to an extreme heavy air shape in a matter of seconds. So that's what Helix does for these sails."

The front sails all are all completely based off of using Helix, and how the structure in the sail can adapt to sail through a much, much wider wind range. The slowest thing you can do in a big boat like this is to have to change sails all the time. What Helix does is just take one sail, and instead of a light, a medium, and a heavy, you've got just the one sail. Instead of a couple different size code sails, you have a sail.

"So what's remarkable about these modern inventories is how few sails are actually in the inventory. With the Helix structure, you just take it through so much wider range, both kind of an upwind style sail in light air, and a downwind style sail in breezy conditions; it's the same sail, and you can adapt it with cunningham load to such a wide variety of conditions. It's actually crazy. It's a technology that has just exploded. I think instead of like pinpointing what each of the sails are, it's really the adaptation of each sail to its condition thanks to Helix.

"I applaud our engineers and designers for taking an original concept and just moving ahead with it, like none of us could have ever fathomed. I once said at a design meeting that we've got to figure this out, because I think every sail we make in just a short period of time will be a Helix sail. That's the only thing I got right, for they got all the rest of this stuff spot on," said Read.

Helix actually has two forms, as it were. Take a jib, staysail, inner jib or outer jib that is hanging off its own stay, and Helix is more like a shape shifter. It creates a camber that is far more versatile by going way flatter or fuller than something that is purely designed and locked in.

Then, when you stick a sail out on the prodder with its own integral stay, what Helix allows you to do potentially fly with a lot less load on the bowsprit or masthead, and with a prouder luff for a better aerodynamic shape. So the downwind sails are quite different. A similar application, but it's almost a completely different usage, which is quite fascinating.

It means you will be able to go very deep when required, but also ensure the luff sees the breeze correctly, which is crucial when you consider that this can be at like 55 degrees apparent when sailing downwind. That's an entirely different aero package for the sail plan, and it has to adjust to the prevailing conditions. No mean feat, that one. It's adaptive and with a lot less load on the overall package, too.

andoo Comanche was built to take something like 20 tonne on the end of the prodder, but this is by no means typical, so you can see where the benefits of Helix could be supremely useful, which probably makes me guilty of understatement. So the governance of the leading edge is crucial, and a way smaller Larry (lower loads) is one very big cherry on top.

In essence, andoo Comanche was designed to be a catamaran with just the one bow and the trampoline filled in, which is why she sails the way she does and the numbers all reflect this.

"Back when Comanche was built, the 3Di sails had the beginnings of a Helix structure in them, but we didn't know how to use it. We weren't even considering using it the way we use it today. Not even close. So this new wardrobe certainly presents another gear for the old girl to shift to. There's no question about that.

"Of course, you do reduce loads in certain areas, you do have to pull it harder in others, which will increase loads, so it is good to know that andoo Comanche was built to do that, and therefore they're really going to be able to utilise the technological breakthrough."

The true meaning of, Value!

Sure 3Di is an investment, but it is also about longevity in the harshest kinds of environments, as we spoke of earlier. It would have to be pleasing to see this continuation of the 3Di story, and one no doubt the whole North technology Group is proud of.

Read commented on lifetime value of sails by saying, "Our sails aren't cheap, but it's for a reason. What value says is: what are you getting for your money? If you getting lighter weight and hopefully more speed for a sail that's going to last double, triple, what the 30 year old technology we're competing against achieves, then there's the answer, and it is why we're seeing so many of the superyachts returning to the fold once more.

"We are told repeatedly, 'Those other sails don't last, and we'd rather we get what we pay for'."

"That the sails survive the abuse that they go through is nothing short of unreal. It's a testimony to our engineers, software developers, and actual product itself. We're very proud of the fact that you get rid of the plastic and you create a composite that can't delaminate. It is impossible, and you just cannot get that anywhere else in the market."

Talking about the very evident passion and desire, I asked if there was any chance Read was going to have another drive some time soon? "I told those guys, 'You know, I'm sitting by my phone.' It hasn't rung yet. I stare at it 24 hours a day waiting for another run at the Hobart or something like that. You never know," said Read with a laugh.

"For now I'll just wait. Herman and the Big Fella (Iain Murray) have put a pretty good team together, and they did a heck of a job that last race, so I'm not sure they need me, but certainly if the call came, I'd be super quick to get on a flight!"

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into Sail-World.com

John Curnow
Editor, Sail World AUS

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