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Can you still judge a boat by its lines?

by Mark Jardine 27 Jun 20:00 BST
The Swedish owned-Svea won the J Class competion with a day to spare at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 2022 © IMA / Studio Borlenghi

Look at any classic yacht, and within a moment you can tell whether she's fast or not. A great classic just looks right, and it's not just the gleaming varnish and sea of sails which gives you that impression. It's the lines.

For example, look at a Sparkman & Stephens yacht, such as Dorade, which was designed in 1929 by Olin Stephens, going on to win the Fastnet Race in 1931 and 1933, and she just looks right. Yachts such as Dorade are classics for a reason, and it's little wonder that she was restored nearly 90 years later, and continues to compete, perform and turn heads on the world stage.

The J Class yachts evoke the same feelings, and seeing both Svea and Velsheda competing in the Mediterranean Sea is a photographer's dream. At 119 to 139 feet long, although with a far shorter waterline length, these yachts are extraordinary. For the owners, the sailing is as much about the love of a beautiful boat as winning. They simply have stunning lines.

In the dinghy world it's just the same. On Saturday I was out in a support RIB running youth sailing at Keyhaven when I saw a beautiful classic National 12 sail past. Hailing the helm, I asked what design she was, to be told she was none other than March Hare, designed by Mike Jackson. In an extraordinary coincidence Mike then rang me on Monday, so I told him about seeing the boat. You'll be able to read the story of Mike's career on and very soon in Dougal Henshall's latest epic article.

At the same time as the youth at Keyhaven were having the time of their lives, capsizing and swimming between boats in the sunshine, a much-anticipated launch was happening in Concarneau, France. Charlie Dalin's new IMOCA, MACIF Santé Prévoyance, came out of the shed and was launched.

A month ago we published the newsletter 'The Next Generation', talking to Charlie in anticipation of seeing what the follow-up to his all-conquering Apivia IMOCA would look like, and this was the moment of truth. What would she look like?

MACIF Santé Prévoyance doesn't disappoint. As Charlie had said, this is an evolution of all they'd learned from Apivia. Everyone has their opinion about yachts in the foiling age, with some loving the revolution that has occurred, and others decrying them as abominations which aren't yachts, but it's hard to deny that MACIF Santé Prévoyance's lines look right.

The yacht was designed by French naval architect Guillaume Verdier alongside project management by MerConcept and construction by CDK Technologies. The pressure to build a world-beating IMOCA in the lead up to the Vendée Globe 2024 is intense, and top yachting journalist Ed Gorman talked to MerConcept's Guillaume Combescure to find out how the team deal with the challenges:

"With Apivia we can't do worse - we have to do better, but it's not a pressure. The mood is more to consider that we are starting again with loops of development, improvement and analysis. For sure, Charlie was one of the leaders in the IMOCA class last season, but we do have a margin of progression.

"It has been really exciting and interesting because Charlie is a naval architect, and he was really involved in the design. He was always thinking about the issues we were trying to solve and coming up with a different angle of approach or a new idea and always being consistent. He knows how to trust the guys too, so he was really involved and present but also listening to us and the whole team, so Charlie has the perfect balance."

Theirs is very much a team approach, and the results, at least in terms of aesthetics, are remarkable. I can't wait to see her competing in the Rolex Fastnet Race and will be taking photos from Hurst Castle, which I'll publish here on July 22nd.

My question though, is can we still judge yachts by their lines in the age of foiling? Can we spot a fast a boat just by looking at it? Dalin's previous IMOCA Apivia always looked the best in my opinion, not as aggressive as either of the Charals, and also not a conservative yacht, but 'smooth'. This of course is a subjective view, and I'm sure far more scientific minds than mine will say it all comes down to Computational Fluid Dynamics, but MACIF Santé Prévoyance looks right to me. Time will tell...

How about the AC75s of the America's Cup? Should we even be judging the lines of these boats when they spend 99% of their race out of the water? It was very noticeable that Emirates Team New Zealand, when they defended the 36th America's Cup in Auckland, had a yacht that was very flowing in its design, as opposed to some of the more angular designs of the challengers.

Should the design teams for the America's Cup be taking more of a look at nature and trusting their eye for lines when they look at potential designs? It's going to be extremely interesting to see what the next generation of AC75s look like.

The teams are steadily making their way towards their Barcelona bases, and over the coming months we'll start to see what comes out of the sheds for the 37th America's Cup in 2024.

What happens under the water with the foils is a huge part of this development, and we've seen some novel and radical ideas being tested by the teams. Will Alinghi Red Bull Racing's tubercle wingfoil, which borrows concepts seen in nature and also in aircraft design, prove to be a winner?

Or will the 'W' foil, seen on the LEQ12 test boat of INEOS Britannia, be fast? I know which I prefer, but that's just me looking at the lines.

2024 is going to be an exceptional year for spectating on top-end sailing, as I wrote about over a year ago, and watching the new boats get launched is fascinating. It's also going to tell us a huge amount about whether we can continue to judge boats by their lines.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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