air wars

air wars

This story is a bit late in running, but it’s a wonderfully coherent explanation of how things went down at the 2011 Zhik Moth Worlds in Belmont, Australia from Mothie blogger, rules guru, and one of our favorite young writers, Matt Knowles. Spoiler alert:  Nathan Outteridge won the Worlds with a race to spare, with Moth Squaddie Joe Turner in second and Event Chairman Scott Babbage in third.  Gulari was the first non-Antipodean, in fifth place. Here are the results.  Also a HUGE thanks to Aussie/French photographer Yann Audic/splash splash photography for this high res work from the Worlds.  Please respect his copyright and be sure to check out his full web portfolio for more great shots, and look for more features from Yann to come.

The US Moth Team is taking a much needed break on the reserve day to catch up on a bit of minor boat work (or in the case of Charlie McKee’s wings, major repairs), laundry, stretching, and sleep. Demonstrating the profound extent of their Moth-induced mental illness, Bora and Bear have decided to go sailing today just for fun. I’m staying on shore with ice packs, Advil, and a couple Heinekens.

Some boat breakages and a bad back have left me sort of sidelined in Silver Fleet, but have given me plenty of time to reflect. The scoring in this regatta consists of each sailor’s finishing place in the qualifying series plus the results of the nine final series races, with one drop to be applied to the final series race scores. With six races to go, Bora is the only US sailor in the top 10 (5th), with Brad Funk (3rd in the 2010 worlds) and Dalton Bergan (5th in 2010) carrying DNFs at the moment. There absolutely is time left for Bora to make a charge, but it needs to start tomorrow.

There have been two major stories running through the regatta here in Belmont: the US wing sails and the dominant performance of the Australian “Moth Squad.”

The Aussie Moth Squad (primary actors: Joe Turner, Nathan Outteridge, Tom Slingsby, and Ian Jenson) has been dominant. Their sailors hold 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 9th place. Simply put, they have checked all the boxes: start with highly talented sailors with very well set up boats, spend hundreds of hours of practice at the venue, and then harvest success.

As far as we’ve been able to gather the Moth Squad guys have made a few modifications to their Mach2s. The primary changes have been to cut off the tips of their main foils to reduce drag (at a penalty of slightly reduced lift and stability) and running very slow gearing on their wands/flaps. On a Moth, each wand position corresponds to a certain position of the flap on the front horizontal foil. If the wand is at x degrees, the flap is at y degrees. By adjusting the ride height controller (now standard equipment across the fleet), you can make the flap higher or lower (and the boat lower or higher, respectively) for each wand position. Changing the gearing is a bit different: gearing is the rate at which the flap position changes for a given change in wand position. Fast gearing means the flap moves a lot for a given wand movement. Slow gearing means the flap moves more slowly for the same amount of wand movement. A fast ratio can be draggy but also helps keep the boat at a stable altitude. On the other hand, in a flat water venue like Belmont, it is fast to use a very slow ratio, as the Moth Squad has demonstrated.

I’ve heard a few grumblings (mostly from other Australians) that the Moth Squadies has been quite exclusive as to who they will train with and also very tight lipped about the changes their made to their boats. I don’t fault the Moth Squad for this at all. Their performance has made clear the value of having a small team of talented guys working hard. Likewise, if they’ve found ways to make their boats faster, I can certainly understand the drive to keep that information close, at least until the end of the regatta. Again, it looks like they’ve got the formula just right, and everything else is just sour grapes.

As for the wings: after a contentious process in the days leading up to Worlds, three wings were successfully measured in. The initial plan was for Bora and Bear (George Peet) to race with them, but the team simply ran out of time to get the wings to where we needed them to be. Even help from the best small-boat wing designers in the world (Steve Killing and Magnus Clarke) can’t beat the clock. The three identical wings the US team brought to Belmont have shown great promise in certain conditions, but also considerable weaknesses. The biggest weakness is light air (marginal foiling). The wings also struggle at times downwind; if they are not set up and trimmed perfectly, they can be slow downhill. George and Bora decided their best chance to win the Worlds was to use soft sails. Had the regatta taken place a few weeks later, that decision could well have been different.

After all that we went through to get the wings measured, we felt that we owed it to the class to show what the wings could and couldn’t do. Charlie McKee stepped up to the plate and has been sailing the wings in both the Australian Nationals / Pre-Worlds and the Worlds. Even with just a few days to learn how to sail a wing moth, Charlie has put up some impressive top-10 race finishes. There have also been a lot of breakages and consequently, a lot of long nights for our expert wing repairman and coach Rob Patterson. I’m sure Charlie would be the first to admit that whatever success he has had on the water has been premised on Rob’s hard work in the container at night.

At the 2010 Worlds in Dubai, many people felt that the US team had blown its preparation by focusing on heavy air sailing when the venue turned out to be quite light and the paramount skill was getting on the foils, not going fast once foiling. The obvious question is this: by spending a huge amount of time and money on developing wings, has the US team again blown its preparation when none of our top sailors is even using a wing? The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. One could argue that we should have made a conservative investment by maximizing the time on the water we had and focusing on incremental rather than revolutionary improvements. On the other hand, it could be that the Moth Squad was going to be unbeatable at their home venue considering that the US team would lose months of training time due to winter conditions and shipping delays, so perhaps going all-in on wings was the right gamble to make at the time, even though it turned out not to be a winning one. Moreover, this sort of investment in development is the lifeblood of the Moth class, no matter the results here in Belmont.

None of this matters right now. At the moment all we’re focused on is helping Bora do what he needs to do in the next 6 races to win the 2011 Worlds. It’s going to take a huge effort to beat Nathan on his home turf, but the look of confidence on Bora’s face after racing yesterday suggests he has a chance to do it. -Matt Knowles.