Thursday, 3 May 2007

Walker talks through the 'With or Without Backstay' Dilemma

This evening the protest takes place between Desafio Espanol and Mascalzone Latino. For the Italians, this potentially is a make or break meeting, because if the Spanish succeed in making their accusation stick (of illegal use of the top-mast backstays on Mascalzone), then it will be two points harder for Vasco Vascotto's team to break through to the Semi Finals.

At the press zone this evening I asked Ian Walker from +39 Challenge about this whole thing of removable backstays. Ian says on +39 they make a decision based on windstrength as to whether or not they'll need them. If it's light enough to get away without them, Ian texts one of the shore team who passes the message on to the measurers, who must be informed of such changes before the race.

It all seems a bit precarious mucking about with removable stays, but it seems it's common practice in the Cup, although for some teams more than others. In the 2000 Cup, the Kiwis were in the habit of clipping them on for downwind and unclipping them when they weren't needed upwind. Once the Kiwis started doing it, everyone else followed. But it was a far from desirable situation. So to get past all the hassle and potential danger of this practice, the rules were changed to say you either do a race with them, or without. No in-betweens.

However, it seems it hasn't really simplified matters. It just makes it more dodgy for teams if they get caught out by a sudden increase in the breeze. "It depends on your boat and design," says Ian. "For instance the South Africans never use top-mast backstays. If you design a really stiff mast you can get away without using them, or it depends on your jumper configuration.

"On +39, we take them off the top of the mast and then you have to attach them to the bottom of the mast below deck, because the mast is measured with them on, so you have to have the weight of the backstays on the rig. If you want to use them because you're worried that it's going to be windy enough that you'll need them, then you put them on."

So if the wind pipes up, then you can't hoist your kite? "Well... you can hoist your kite, but it might look like a 49er downwind! It depends on your rig. For instance we haven't had time to find out if we could get away without them. Our jumpers swing right back and I suspect we'd be fine if we never used them. But until you go out and try it, you never know.

"The geometry of your jumpers gives a lot of support to the mast upwind and downwind, depending on the configuration. It's a design decision. If you've got a lot of aft sweep on your jumpers you probably don't need them. South Africa don't use them, but then they never use S sails, so they just sail hotter with an A sail and they don't need them."

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