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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rigging

A few days of boat preparation are an interesting opportunity to come up with solutions to some problems common to many boat types. As always the factors to consider are weight, reliability, durability, cost, and repeatability. Usually in that order.
Here are some images of what we came up with...

Trapeze lines: starting from the top, the 2.5 or 3mm Dyneema is spliced over a closed thimble. Both thimbles bear on a single shackle that connects them to the conventional hounds plate or T-ball ring.
There is a 200mm length of core as a chafe guard where the line may touch the stays and sail/batten.
Since the 'hounds' on a rotating A Cat mast are rather crowded, and occasionally the thimbles will interfere with each-other before lining up as load is applied, some stickyback aramid cloth is applied to the exposed line where it lies in the thimble.

Moving down, machined round aluminium thimbles are used at the bottom end for the lower splice and as stoppers for the T-handles. They also act as turning blocks for the lower strop that has a stopper ball at the bungee end...



Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas


Best wishes and thanks to our followers, customers, partners, suppliers and fellow sailors.
May 2012 bring fair winds, health and prosperity.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Carbonicboats at Sail Sydney

First outing for the new test platform after only a very light wind race out of Kurnell the previous Sunday.

Having a designer at the helm meant expectations were low: The goal was to get around the course cleanly and begin gathering data (rigged the boat with instruments at some key locations) for baseline values before the scheduled mods begin.

The atmosphere at the regatta was excellent. A well run, well supported event in a friendly setting with many sailors of all ages enjoying the sport at its best. As always many thanks to the organisers for making it all possible.

On the first day the breeze came in late but did eventually allow four races to be sailed in building conditions that reached 15 knots by the end of proceedings. The second day piped in touching 20 knots with some steep chop so the decision was made not to push things just yet.

It certainly seems that the small boat scene and the beach cat fleet in particular are alive and well. Fantastic news for the future of our sport and for the industry.

Photo courtesy Andrew Hawkins, Mainsheet Media

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Retrospective Part 4 of 4

During this year dominated by AC preparations, Carbonicboats simmered along with a couple of architectural projects, aerospace consultancy, assorted mods and optimisation jobs for clients, RC yacht development, and lately some limited work on our A Cat test platform.

Personally I took every opportunity to get out on the water on multihulls big and small, and had the chance to communicate my views by writing some articles for Australian Sailing Magazine on topics such as impressions of sailing the AC45, analysis of technical developments in the AC, and a designer’s look at the A Cat Nationals. 

Part of my journey to discover and understand multihulls was learning to sail an A Class Catamaran (my thanks to coach Adam South for his patience) that was also used as a test platform for ideas that helped us get to grips with what makes a catamaran go. 
We have recently acquired a second test boat that will be seen regularly at Australian A Cat events. But more on that later…

Among the turbulence, RC Yacht production slowed as our Australian suppliers were affected by the floods in Queensland, and our European supplier closed up shop due to the loss of other clients that he had come to rely upon. There is therefore a considerable waiting list on our RC yachts. Something we are working on remedying with new in-house tooling that should be underway in the not-too-distant future.

Next year our focus will be firmly on production, returning to our roots, but growing to include accessories, parts, and fittings for RC yachts, beach catamarans and more.

I take this chance to wish a happy and prosperous New Year to all our loyal supporters.

Photo courtesy Gilles Martin-Raget

Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 retrospective Part 3 of 4

Needless to say, this turn of events was surprising and extremely disappointing because the athletic and technical sides of the team had grown to be truly formidable.
The record shows the caliber of the names involved. Perhaps more importantly in such a collaborative undertaking, promising constructive relationships were growing within the group.
The sailing and shore teams had already fitted out and assembled their first race boat at the regatta venue after completing a training camp in home waters.
The design team had put in place the test matrix and was already well into the calibration work necessary to home in on the optimum parameters for the bigger boat. Once again a lot was learned but this time we had gone much further down the path.
We began functioning as a team and felt confident we were headed for great things.








Reflecting on the commercial proposition of the 34th AC, one cannot help but notice that a radical transformation happened by degrees, in a way that was not immediately apparent at each incremental step, but which added up to a format very much at odds with the initial premise.

As things stand, one cannot argue convincingly in favour of the commercial viability of the format. 
The balance of power has also shifted away from the interests of commercial teams, in favour of large privately funded entities that effectively hold the keys to the field of play. 
In this framework, it is easy to imagine that ‘some animals in the farm are more equal than others’. 
It is tempting to say ‘it was ever thus’, but this incarnation of the Cup has reached beyond the reasonable expectation of politics, lobbying, intrigue and power-plays that are part of AC folklore. 

A confluence of years of play stopping litigation, the economic times, a ‘non-establishment' vehicle, and, perhaps most significantly, a Challenger of Record that was ‘friendly’to (and possibly dependent on) the Defender (and has in any case left the picture), points to an interesting moral hazard in relation to the funding of both the event and prospective teams.

The unprecedented combination of a participating team also supplying (through entities that purport to being independent but share a common funding source) the equipment, and having mechanisms in place to unilaterally penalise other parties, makes for an extremely uncertain situation for someone who is considering investing in order to gain a return. 

This point is worth pondering if it is really to sink in: the defender is supplying equipment to prospective challengers that can be admitted and sent off at will through thinly veiled rule pretexts.
I want to be clear that this is not a na├»ve idealistic realisation: politics and dealmaking have always been a part of professional sport. But in this case the picture is extremely unbalanced. 
Instead of Challenger and Defender doggedly negotiating, each in the self-interest of securing the best chance to win, you had first a Challenger that was more interested in securing hosting rights than actually racing and winning. Then a puppet Challenger. And finally a Challenger relying on financial backing from the Defender.

As a small aside, let us remember that we are talking about professional sport. Professional does not mean ‘full time’. It means that the people involved do it for a living. Meaning they get paid. In turn this should mean that those providing the money should expect some value in return that is commensurate with the investment. This requires arrangements to be dependable and transparent, with knowable costs that should be subordinate to the value being added. 
In a commercial reality where value for money is at a premium (since the need to spend on tax-deductible advertising is negated by slim or nonexistent margins), a bold new proposition should offer as many certainties as possible to entice genuine investment.

And there is no question that the new AC format is bold and different if not new. 
It brings to the forefront the spectacle, excitement and technology that were once hiding in a niche of our sport (namely the C Class and, to a lesser extent, the A class). 
In my opinion this fulfills the spirit of the AC as a pinnacle of international competition and a crucible for the development of performance under sail. 
Yet these premises are contradicted by mandating a conservative one-manufacturer/one-design for a period much longer than the anticipated ‘hit the ground running’ introductory bracket (leaving aside the dubious implications this revenue stream has on the fiduciary duties of the Trustee/Defender). 

Along the way there have been radical policy changes in the declared profit centres of the business model, particularly with regard to TV and venues. 
The calendar still has gaping holes in it, and the eventual big race boat rule does not address the original promise of containing costs where they do not lead to outright performance or where they are absorbed by minute gains. Specifically, the AC72 rule started out admirably by restricting the key speed producing factors and imposing equipment limitations. But subsequent changes have driven up initial and ongoing / logistical costs beyond recognition whilst simultaneously the value available through exposure has dwindled.
Again, the AC has never been 'cheap', nor should it be. 
The issue is not the size of the investment but the relationship between investment and return. 

The graphics and television coverage are remarkable and technically brilliant. 
But, as with any project lacking pre-defined benchmarking, it is impossible to judge how much better the results could have been, or what would constitute an unremarkable result or a failure. 
The commercial considerations that should come first and foremost if viability and sustainability are the goal seem to be forgotten: the true measure should be efficiency - the value for money to a stakeholder represented by what is being produced against the cost of producing it. 

In this context I am surprised at the apparent willingness of commentators to marvel about technical excellence without reference to the resources available. 
Given enough money to hire enough talent, technical excellence should be expected, not marveled at. 
Technical achievements are of course admirable, but they are even more so when they dwarf the available resources. 
That is why TNZ beating the Americans in 1995 on a shoestring budget and with wooden wings on the bulb is more remarkable than America^3 winning in ’92 with a virtually unlimited budget… 
One would do well to examine the quality of the Extreme 40 coverage that uses radio controlled UAV’s and other ideas that save money to increase the value on the bottom line.

But one must not dwell… The experience was fulfilling and worthwhile. 
For sure similar chances will arise again in better times. 
Right now the lessons learned are valuable and I intend to apply them to our other work whilst sharpening the focus for 2012.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 Retrospective Part 2 of 4

Fortunately, the chance arose to apply these lessons when Carbonicboats was hired almostimmediately by the then Official Challenger from Italy.
Having carefully done my homework on their funding, management, and philosophy, I was impressed by the commercial approach they advocated and (vitally) comfortable that the backing was in place to implement the strategies they had formulated.
Specifically, they showed proof of having in place the underwriting necessary to get through the campaign, and they presented some innovative plans to independently increase the value offered to partners through initiatives taking advantage of up-to-the-minute social media tools. 
As with any business, these are two key components: capital to get a product to market, and a coherent strategy to recover the investment.

Armed with this knowledge, I was enthusiastic about bringing on board some of the key players I had already worked with, as well as some outstanding new talent both in the technical realm and in the sailing team.





AC45 purchased and loaded. Next stop Portugal...
As the key deadlines passed for qualification and entry (deadlines that had already been postponed and whose associated barriers had been considerably lowered), it became clear that the commercial viability of the proposed format was being questioned by many, with good reason. 
The uncertainties that persisted exacerbated the lack of confidence in an already bear market. Question marks still existed on venues, dates, budget capping mechanisms, balance of power, competitiveness of the existing players, commercial arrangements, allocations at the race villages, and broadcast deals…



In a further change to an already moving target, the ACWS was effectively de-coupled form the CSS and the AC ‘proper’, altering the nature of the commercial proposition that teams were presenting to prospective partners. 
This radical change was a revelation that the new ‘democracy’ could easily be ‘tweaked’. 

For those who had already paid up, and done the necessary work to be in a position to take on the original calendar, the change had significant implications. 
The stated motivation for the change was that, as things stood, there were only three Challengers. 
But that is still the case when one looks at the AC today, as distinct from the ACWS.

Accumulating uncertainties surrounding an event that had been totally reinvented after shedding all momentum due to several years of unglamorous litigation, an incredibly volatile economy, and a difficult relationship between the team owners and event organisers, led to the last minute (the day before the first race) exit of what was the only funded and staffed Italian team in the event.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 Retrospective Part 1 of 4

It is that time of the year again: summer (Southern Hemisphere) and fast approaching festivities to welcome 2012…
I thought it timely to reflect on 2011 and update the blog that has been somewhat neglected among the hectic activities during this very interesting year.

It has certainly been a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. Very interesting times. Great satisfactions, some disappointments, many challenges, and constant growth and adjustment.

As well as the usual ‘bread and butter’ consulting gigs, Carbonicboats was involved at the start of 2011 in what was then the Australian Official Chellenger for the 34th America’s Cup. 
As always, our role was a technical one: in this case co-coordinating the preliminary work on assembling the design and shore team, planning timelines, design strategy, budget projections, cash flow scenarios, logistics, advising on the technical feasibility of offerings made by the marketing team, and setting the foundations for what was to become the team culture on the design and build side of the operation.

Great flexibility was called for as the rules of the game were still very fluid. They were being refined as time went by and feedback materialised. 
A rewarding part of the process was taking part in the Competitor Forums, where talented and very experienced brains came together to flesh out the vision of a spectacular, modern, fast and commercially viable reincarnation of the Phoenix that is the America’s Cup. 
Hopefully some worthwhile contributions were made to discussions on the Protocol, the Class Rules, the RRS AC Edition and overarching strategic considerations.

Adam South, Dario Valenza, and Nev Whitty (front to  back) 
on the prototype AC45 in Auckland. Image credit: Unknown
History will show that the Australian Team was one of the many that did not make it to the start line in these unique and changing times.
Much was learned and clearly there was a genuine passion driving the initiative.
Perhaps in a bull market the outcome would have been different.
However an honest analysis does reveal certain shortcomings which should serve as case study lessons.
From my point of view (inside the team but outside the PR team), the principal error was a failure to engage those outside the team - the sailing community first, and the greater public as well.
A dedicated group was working hard on the project and achieving significant traction in some key areas, but this was not being communicated to the outside world. The excitement of the new format was not being conveyed. The talents, passion and qualifications of the key players were not being made known.
I believe that such communication would have been instrumental to overcome public skepticism. Only those directly responsible will ever know the thinking behind the decisions that led to the lack of outreach and engagement. 
In my estimation there was a need for a concerted effort to communicate, to engage, to involve and to excite. 
Instead those in charge insisted on positively excluding the press. 
Perhaps part of the reason for the silence was the rivalry between different would-be leaders of competing syndicates within Australia, but that seems like a poor reason for what borders on secrecy in a venture that relies on visibility and fan base to justify investment.
The silence left open speculation about troubling lack of unity within the syndicate leadership, and conceivable conflicts of interest that may have played a role, but this brings us into the realm of conjecture so I shall not probe any deeper in this context.


Australian uniforms on a boat with the iconic Auld Mug logo, for the first time in many years.
Hopefully it will happen again soon.
The work carried out on the technical side was well structured, promising and very satisfying. Analysing the outcomes I am confident that the structure, programme and personalities involved in the design effort were easily up to the challenge of producing a competitive boat, and the connected ‘machinery’ to maintain, repair, and develop it in a campaign under the conditions that were posited at the time, and within the constraints imposed by the initial brief. 
In an honest and self critical internal appraisal aimed at improving future performance, very little emerged that our tech team would have done differently if given another chance. 
The lessons learned and the relationships forged, beyond making the exercise worthwhile, became valuable tools for the next project.