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The Kings of the Lowriding World and exciting projects at boot Düsseldorf

by Mark Jardine 24 Jan 20:00 GMT
Vaikobi at pace down the first spinnaker run - 18ft Skiff Australian Championship Race 2 © SailMedia

Watching Youtube early on a frosty Sunday morning in Düsseldorf, ahead of a long day of meetings at the massive boot boat show, probably isn't the best preparation, but I'm slightly addicted to the 18ft Skiff racing.

This time it was Race 2 of the Australian Championship, watching Andoo and Finport initially lead, only for Yandoo to take the lead followed by Rag & Famish and Vaikobi. Sydney Harbour as usual served up a minefield of hazards, including the Manly Ferries, speedboats and other powerboats to weave around, other racing fleets, such as the J/70s, as well as the physical hazards, such as the reefs in the heads and bays and shallows around the islands.

Just sailing an 18ft Skiff is challenging, requiring superb crew work and athleticism, but the biggest challenge of all was reading the wind. Sydney Harbour was full of puffs and lulls, with a fine line between courageous decisions and disastrous calls.

The live coverage by SailMedia is simply superb. Plenty of place changes, informed commentary, some stunning drone videography, and classic snipes at speedboats kicking up too much wake, make for a truly engaging watch.

The 18's have been around for a long, long time, but they remain the kings of the lowriding world. They may not be the fastest any more, but seeing them power upwind, with the jib luff mounted a couple of feet in front of the bow, the mainsail leech astern of the rudder, and their massive square top sails towering above is an awesome sight.

The racing also flies in the face of the 'sprint' racing route that SailGP has gone down. A good hour or so on the water for a single race each week is the formula during much of the Australian summer, with a few periods of more intense daily racing, such as the JJ Giltinan World Championship.

Sydney Harbour is an iconic venue and natural amphitheatre, so having more time to watch the racing means you also have time to soak in the scenery. The commentators are also happy to leave pauses where they aren't talking, much in the same way as in tennis, which is pleasing. Anyone who has been lucky enough to sail on Sydney Harbour knows how beautiful it is to be there, and it certainly filled me with a sense of longing to return.

With SailGP returning to Sydney in February, I wondered how fun it would be to watch the F50s do an hour-long race around the harbour. Russell Coutts has shown he's willing to mix up the course, for better or for worse, but would a radical departure from the norm be too far out of the playbook?

I doubt it could count towards the event, as it wouldn't fit into the short TV schedule, but could an exhibition race be held on the practice days?

One thing's for sure; the 18ft Skiffs show that you don't have to be foiling to make for good racing and great watching.

Eye-catching projects at boot

For the uninitiated, it's difficult to describe just how vast boot Düsseldorf is. An incredible seventeen exhibition halls, filled with everything from marine hardware to actual superyachts, it represents the entire boating world.

During the launch of a new Jeanneau cruising yacht, it was actually the Sun Fast 30 One Design which kept turning my head, so I talked to Louis Vaquier from Multiplast to find out more about the yacht. It's designed to act as a youth pathway yacht to offshore racing, as Louis described:

"We really wanted to position the boat as an entry level offshore racer which is tolerant and simple to use. An example is the backstays, which are non-structural backstays, meaning you won't drop the mast if you do something wrong. We wanted to really keep it simple, with a cockpit suitable for four to five crew, with a modern hull that is fun, easy to plane in 12 knots, so young people coming from dinghy sailing can enjoy offshore sailing."

The boat is designed to be easy to maintain, which makes it ideal for club and charter fleets, and the Royal Ocean Racing Club are using the boat for their Griffin Initiative, which has attracted interest from a huge number of young sailors.

It also has true green credentials, being made of Elium®, the first liquid thermoplastic resin, which can be reused at the end of a boat's lifespan, which Louis explained:.

"There has been some really hard work with the Arkema group on the Elium resin. It's been difficult because when you compare with polyester resin, there's an extra component and the whole infusion process needed to be solved. After so much testing this was the right platform to launch series production with this resin. I believe that in ten years time this will be the standard in the industry."

The resin in the Sun Fast 30 One Design isn't just recyclable, 28% of it is already recycled from wind generator blades made from Elium which have reached the end of their lifespan. If this can herald the beginning of the end of having to put old yachts into landfill then it's a huge step for sailing and the environment.

The XR project

X-Yachts in Denmark have a long history in racing with designs such as the IMX, X35 and X332, but have more recently concentrated on performance cruisers. That all changed when the company announced they wanted to design a new yacht to win the ORC Worlds in 2025. They've set the bar high and are devoting considerable resources to the challenge.

Thomas Mielec, Director of Design & Engineering at X-Yachts described the sentiment within the team:

"It's really driving the passion for the job, not just me, but the entire Design and Engineering team and also vast parts of the rest of the organisation. They're all asking for this new project and really seeing how it is reviving our DNA and also reinventing it.

"There have been many great projects in the past, it has just been a bit too long since we did one in my opinion, and definitely we are looking forward to this. We are in the middle of the project, design wise. Compared to earlier projects, we are spending a lot more time on the performance analysis and optimization process, making the best use we can of most modern tools. From an engineering point of view that is really, really exciting."

The goal has certainly focused minds within the team as Thomas explained:

"It definitely puts pressure on our shoulders to really perform with this product, and we will do our utmost to succeed with this. The ORC B class is a really high performing part of the ORC circuit, and that also puts pressure on us for sure."

X-Yacht owners are incredibly loyal to the brand, and have already bought into the idea and ordered a boat, even though they don't know the final design, even down to its length and width:

"It's humbling for us that they believe in us and trust us for this yacht. They have asked 'what is the next big project?', and now we have the answer for them."

Thousands upon thousands of iterations have been through the CFD analysis tools as the team hone the design. Soon it will be time to finalise the shape, the deck, and tool up, which is a key moment, and Thomas is beyond excited:

"On a scale from 1 to 10 we're at about 13 - it is such an important milestone. In the middle of March, we must have the whole design frozen, because at that time we start milling the plug for the whole mould, and a month after it will be the deck that needs to be frozen. Exciting times for sure."

As always we'll be following all that happens on the 18ft Skiff circuit, as well as just about every racing event in the world we can, including how the Sun Fast 30 One Design racing builds as more of the yachts hit the water, while watching the XR develop will be incredibly exciting.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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