“Creativity takes courage” was how Henri Matisse described the process that went into his craft. With so much resting on the shoulders of the sailmakers in this America’s Cup, it’s their creativity and utter genius that we are about to see in all its glory. Remember these names: Bouzaid and Fallow. These guys are the master engine room curators. The artisans of the Auld Mug. And despite the complex CFD and FEA programs (no I don’t know what they do either), it’s still the sailmaker’s eye that takes a lifetime to perfect and is in such huge demand this cycle. They are artists in the purest sense and their canvases, today, are monstrous technical murals tweaked and trimmed relentlessly.
Now I’m certainly 100% not being paid to say this and have no angle but I’ve been a customer of North Sails for about 30 years. I trust them implicitly. You order your sails, negotiate a discount (really? says my wife), crack open the plastic wrapper and are greeted by the beautiful blue sail bag with its yellow drawstring containing the crispiest crispness since crisps were invented. Set the mast to the tuning guide (3 hours of faff usually as I am so untalented and borderline stupid) and then hoist. Perfection. Works every time. Does exactly what it says on the tin. My boat points like a 12 Metre.
In the early noughties we got quite good in Etchells and started paying silly money on a Worlds campaign. Sails were arriving every other month, jibs were throw-away items, and then we heard a rumour that Jud Smith was making fast kites out of the San Diego Doyle Sails loft. Hurried phone calls. Wire transfers. Customs papers. Delays. Arguments with FedEx. You get the picture. The sail arrived on the morning of the ’01 World Championships measurement day and we took the decision to just go with it. And it was, I have to say, lovely. Good sailmakers make all the difference.
But in this Cup, good isn’t good enough. To be anywhere near Team New Zealand you have to be a superstar. And whilst regular readers will know this, my bet for the Challenger series is American Magic and their sail team is the one that arouses the most interest. Led by a Kiwi, and ex-Team New Zealander, Richard Bouzaid who is on secondment from Doyle’s and cutting Quantum cloth with Terry breathing down his neck, it’s a tight-knit affair and you can guarantee that they are the ones keeping the lights on at the base at night. I’ve yet to meet a sailmaker over the age of 22 that still has working knees and a perfectly functioning spinal column. This is hard work. I did about a week one summer in the Hood UK loft and knew this wasn’t for me. Far too hard. I have massive respect for sailmakers.
So what have they got up their sleeves? I was reading an old Doyle Sails interview with Bouzaid from way back in 2018 – remember those days when the virus wasn’t a thing and we all had a life – and he had just been trialling AC designs in the wind-tunnel at Southampton University.
You’d think that computers would be king but no – good old fashioned wind-tunnel testing is still alive and well. And as Bouzaid says: “In the past we used the tunnel for testing shapes and how the sail would fly. Now the tunnel is used more for analysing interactions between multiple sail combinations and the impact on balance and helm loads.”
Ah – so that’s the skill now. He goes on: “Airflow is much more random and complex than water. Every shift in direction and strength has a direct influence on the flow over the sail. Then, adding to the complexity, the sail shape changes with every trim adjustment, making accurate modelling extremely challenging.”
So that’s the challenge and I reckon the Magic Team has some of the sharpest scissors in this contest. It could well be a straight fight between Bouzaid at Doyle/Quantum and Burns Fallow from North Sails at Team New Zealand. Who’s your money on? Big professional and personal pride on the line. Bragging rights for decades. It’s a tough call.
Can’t wait to see what’s coming…
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