Home > Arthur, Sailing > Beauty and the Beast – Alinghi vs USA

Beauty and the Beast – Alinghi vs USA

February 5th, 2010

Next week monday two very different boats take to the water in a best of 3 race series.  Alinghi – the Swiss entry – is a beautiful, stiff and light catamaran.  Clearly able to sail in very light air she looks to be the favourite for low wind conditions. BMW Oracle – USA – is a typical american – loud, brash and strong.

Prior to the fitting of the wing sail to USA this scribe would not have rated her chances against the beauty that is Alinghi.  A clearly heavier boat, with a trimaran configuration that is only as efficient as the cat if the center hull is out the water.  Added to that this is a bendy boat (she clearly flexes – stiff it is not) and it all looks a bit messy.

But what have we seen in the past few months?  USA flies her center hull in nearly all conditions, so she is more a cat than a tri.  Very early on they removed the centerboard and rudder on the center hull.  She added a wing sail that made her way more powerful without adding load to those obviously stressed hulls.  If she does emerge victorious this wing sail will be the weapon that delivered the knockout punch.

The wing is almost twice as efficient as a normal cloth sail in delivering lift (propulsion).  Added to that it is a lot easier to control which means they were able to go bigger with the wing.  And that they did!  Just compare the picture below of Alinghi to the USA one below that and it is clear that the wing is a huge sail area advantage (remember you can almost double its size in terms of the propulsion it can supply).  So now we have a somewhat bendy, relatively heavy, trimaran that looks more like a cat with a sail plan that could just make the difference.

On the Swiss side we have a work of art – a catamaran built to outclass every cat before it – an absolute picture of perfection.  Except it doesnt have a wing sail.  Is this important?  They say not. Not much change for some time on Alinghi apart from the centerboards.  USA went from a straight board to C shaped boards to provide added lift on the leeward hull.  Alinghi, interestingly, went the other way. They launched with really interesting looking S shaped foils but now seem to have settled on straight ones.

Alinghi in Valencia (c) Ed Baird / Alinghi

Alinghi in Valencia (c) Ed Baird / Alinghi

Look at how perfectly setup that rig is.  Forestay nice and tight.  Sails beautifully shaped.  Hulls parallel (no twist).  Clearly a boat that is perfection in the design that it is.

So – will Beauty slay the Beast?  Monday will probably yield the answer.  Clearly the weather will play a huge role, but I dont go with the argument that USA will struggle in light air – they have shown with this massive wing that they can fly the center hull in glassy conditions.  Having said that,inidications are that there will be a fair amount of wind Monday, so it may end up being a heavy air race.

I doubt that by the end of the first race there will be a series left.  I expect one boat to dominate – they are just too different for it to be otherwise.  My money is undecided at this point, although the wing would seem to tip it in USA’s favour.

One outcome still quite possible is significant failure of either boat.  These are huge boats, with significant loads and forces.  Dont rule out surprises!

I will be in Valencia tomorrow to check the boats out first hand.  More from the front line!

Comments are closed.