Jeremy Leonard
of Surf City Racing turns in this innerview for your enjoyment

Who do you call if you want to design a state of the art, carbon fiber multihull with the intent of bringing back a serious piece of America’s Cup bling to your yacht club? My first call would be to Gino Morrelli and Pete Melvin of Morrelli & Melvin Design & Engineering in Huntington Beach, CA. Their names are associated with some of the fastest, most high tech multis on the water. You remember that 105′ Catamaran PlayStation that went so well? Well, that was one of their designs. With Gino on board they set a 24-hour distance record of 580.23 nautical miles back in 1999.  Added to the list of the accomplishments where their designs have reigned supreme are a handful of ‘A’ Class Worlds, a Little America’s Cup win, trans-Atlantic records, a Trans-Pac win, and too many regional event trophies to count. In a 2010 commencement speech at The Landing School in Maine, Gino Morrelli listed a whole, diverse slew of multihulls that their company has designed. Finishing up the list was their single monohull: a boat designed for Disney for their Jungle Book ride. These guys have multihulls sailing through their veins!

Morrelli and Melvin have their names on a wide and diverse swath of successful boats all the way from the Hobie Wave to the impressive Gunboat 90 and all sorts of incredible boats above, below, and in between. One of the most recent boats that the company conjured up, the Nacra Carbon 20, has been getting a lot of attention lately. It’s curved, foiling dagger boards and ultra-light carbon hulls make for one fast, cutting edge machine. When placed side by side with an AC 45 Catamaran, one can definitely see commonalities in hull design as well as all of the appendages.

Recently, Andrew MacPherson from Nacra, one of the top catamaran racers in the world, had the opportunity to show off the similarities between his Carbon 20 against the brand new AC 45, in New Zealand.  Needless to say, the C20 is fast, just not quite as fast as the AC45!  The BMO Racing Team used a matched set of Hobie Wild Cats to train for AC 33, showing that the smaller cats are getting out to play with the same ball of yarn as the big cats. Pretty cool stuff.

A Morrelli and Melvin multihull design that can be seen currently ripping around the San Francisco Bay, the venue for the next Cup, is the Prosail 40. The ProSail 40 is the closest thing that we have sailing around The Bay today that even resembles the AC45, let alone the AC 72. The ProSail 40 was a One-Design concept in the late 80s, that was very similar to the Extreme Sailing Series that has gained so much popularity in Europe. The ProSail 40 concept was an idea that came before its time, and perhaps happened on the wrong continent, as obviously illustrated by the success of the Extreme 40s in Europe.  Very similar in ideology to NASCAR: fast boats, spectator-friendly venues, logos all over the place, strict class rules and some hard green cash winnings, the Series unfortunately never really took off.  The ProSail Series teamed up with Hobie Cat, and the Hobie 21 was raced in conjunction with the 40s, adding a more attainable element to the racing for the common sailor. One similar idea being worked on right now is to have the Hobie 16 Worlds off of the City Front as a precursor to the America’s Cup. We’ll see if the Hobie Class Association and the AC’s Race Management Team can come together on that one.

 Morrelli and Melvin were part of the design team that built the BMWO 90 trimaran that crushed Alinghi in the 33rd America’s Cup, and after the event, everyone thought that the use of multihulls for Match Racing, and for the America’s Cup in particular, was an anomaly, a fad. Not so! Shortly after Ellison and his team at BMWO Racing won the cup, Gino and Pete got a call inviting their company to come up with the next generation concept for the boat that would be used in the 34th America’s Cup.  Out of this process, and after months of work, the AC 72 was born.

Luckily for all of us that admire the design work of Morrelli and Melvin, Pete wasn’t turned off from designing and building boats when the boat that he built when he was 6 years old, sunk. With an Olympic campaign aboard the Tornado in 1988, multiple time ‘A’ class world champ, Alter Cup winner, and almost 30 National Championships under his belt, Pete obviously has a few things figured out when it comes to making boats go fast through the water. Here in California, Pete can be seen racing, and placing in well, aboard his light blue Nacra Infusion F18 or his ‘A’ class cat, both designed by his company. Oftentimes, Pete will sail his F18 with his young son James, and place well in the top of the fleet.  It’s a family gig for Pete, as it should be.

I had a chance to catch up with Pete in probably what was the most interesting over-the-phone interview that I’ve ever done.  Pete and his crew were doing sea-trials off of the Eastern Seaboard on the way to Bristol, RI aboard the New Gunboat 90, I could hear the wind blowing and the hull slicing through the water in the background as we chatted.  He had to interrupt the interview several times to ask skipper Randy Smyth to slow down a bit. Classic!

SCR: Let’s jump right in, Pete. Are there many similarities between the AC 72s Design and smaller catamarans like the Nacra C20?

PM: The dynamics between how the AC 72s will sail versus the Nacra 20, there are a lot of things to learn from, really, any small cat, but certainly the Nacra 20 with the curved foils and the dynamics of how that boat reacts, there’s a lot of correlation there. Certainly we’ll learn some things about the characteristics of the foils.

SCR: How did the design team come up with the 72’ length?

PM: After the cup, in Valencia in February we were contacted by BMW Oracle team and asked to be a part of the conceptual design for an America’s Cup multihull. At that point we looked at a wide range of sizes and configurations from 60 to 90, catamarans and trimarans, and what we call hybrids, kind of like Alinghi was, a wide cat, you know a tri without a center hull.  So we looked at the full spectrum.  We looked at cost performance, loads and so on, culminating in a designer’s meeting in May in Valencia. And that’s when we were tasked with coming up with an America’s Cup Multihull. So working with the Oracle Team and some industry multihull experts to come up with the concept.

What we came up with in Valencia in May were two trimarans. One was about 70’ long. The characteristics of that were that its righting moment was about the same as the ORMA 60. Since people have a lot of experience with those boats, and the loads on the sheets are down to a level where you can sail that boat fairly aggressively with human power, you know, using pedestals.

Then another boat around 80’ had more righting moment, but to sail it aggressively would require powered winches.  Those are the two concepts that we presented in May.

One factor about the trimaran is that it doesn’t disassemble quite as easily as a cat, but at that time there ws no real benefit being associated with being able to transport  those boats on an airplane,  so we presented those concepts.

A monohull concept was presented by Bruce Nelson, and there was several days of discussion about the merits of mono vs. multis. Then we expected a decision to be made whither the cup would be raced on multis or monos and what size, etc. No one was sure what was going on, and about mid-June we got a call from the Oracle Team asking if we could work on the rule. At that point they we still didn’t know if it was going to be a multi or mono.

SCR: So, what were they assessing?

PM: They wanted to do more research, but they knew there wasn’t enough time to do their research and then wright a rule, so they wanted us to write the rule, for both the mono and the multihull.  Then we dug back in and took a look at the parameters They’d gotten more feedback from the teams, and also doing their research on venues and the event format, and so on.

So, it was determined that it was in fact desirable to have the boats transportable by aircraft, so we started researching different freighter aircraft, and what we came up with was that the Antonov, which has huge doors, and you can get something up to about six meters wide through the door, which is quite large, but there’s only something like 20 of those in service around the world, so they’re really not that available.  Then there’s a plane called the 747 Freighter, with a hinged nose cone. You don’t have the limitation of having to deal with a side door, you can just slide long pieces onto the main deck.  So we were looking at that and there are a couple hundred of those around, and it’s a lot less expensive to ship something on a 747 than an Antonov. We thought that if we design these boats so that they fit on a 747 Freighter, you can actually transport these things at a, well, moderate cost, it’s not cheap by any standard.  I don’t recall  exactly, but it was well over a million dollars to ship a boat from New Zealand to Europe aboard an Antonov.  I don’t remember for the 747 Freighter, but it was a fraction.

SCR: Did you meet up with the design team after you figured that out?

PM: Yes. We went back in with the other industry consultants and decided that it should be a catamaran for transportability, and our previous research told us that from about 90 feet to around 70 feet you weren’t going to give up that much performance, by going that direction, and about that time is when the wing sail option came in, and Russel Coutts decided that we should have a wing sail on the boat. They’re ultra-modern, and the team had had good luck with it on the trimaran.  Then it turned into  a catamaran with a wing sail.

Another main parameter of the event is to have exciting races in 5 knots, yet be able to sail in about 30 knots, and with a wing sail you can’t reef it, so that put a lot of pressure on us to come up with a rig size and the beam, and the overall dimensions of the boat so you actually could race in heavy winds. To be able to fly a hull in 5 knots, and also be able to survive in 30; you know, it’s not an easy task.

SCR: What about the venue, SF Bay? Did you design for Bay conditions?

PM: Yes! We always kept it in the back of our minds, we did some research into typical wind strengths in the summer. The idea that the cup would be in September sometime, and some of the trials would be all through the summer, you know, you’re right in the peak wind season. What we found from existing data was something like 12% to 14% of the days, you were likely to get 25 plus during mid summer.  We figured that at least a few races would be run in 25, but the intent was that you could still race these boats in 30.

Wings are a bit different too. You know, we have some tried and true methods for looking at rig sizes for soft sails, but wings are a different animal. We put a ton of work into our PPT, our Performance Prediction Software that we use, so we can adjust the aerodynamic qualities of the wing.  The first month or so was very technical so we had to basically design a boat for the rule, in order to make sure that the rule was going to work; that there was going to be a practical solution, not just words on paper and throwing it out there.  We wanted it to be a fairly tight box rule, so that the boats perform similarly, and they’re around the same cost. The idea is, of course that they want close racing.  If you made it super open, and one or two teams were light-years ahead of everyone else, it really doesn’t make for a good event. We really did our homework well, and made sure that the rule worked.

SCR: How did you design for the potentially extreme SF Bay chop?

PM: The concept boat that we came up with, has enough, we believe, freeboard and volume in the hulls to be able to be pushed pretty hard, whether it’s on the bay or wherever.  In the rule there are some minimum freeboard and volume dimensions. You can’t build a super low freeboard hull, some light-air speed machine.

SCR: SF Bay chop?

PM: So it’s up to the teams to design a boat that’s going to work.  With this rule, there are fewer restrictions with the dimensions of the hull, materials, panel weights and all of that kind of stuff. So it’s really pretty open that way.  Basically, you have to design a boat that’s not going to break. It’s totally up to you, it’s not up to some measurer to determine whether some little part measures to spec.

SCR: What would you like to see the course look like in The Bay?

PM: We’re so used to sailing windward/ leeward, so that’s what you think about. I know that the ACRM (America’s Race Management Team) are doing a lot of research into the courses…

SCR: The racecourse?

PM: It would be great to have some reaching. I remember back in the days when I was sailing Tornados, and Olympic stuff, we had reaching. It was pretty hairy sometimes; it was good fun. I think that would help the spectacle. You know, you never really reach the top speeds going upwind downwind. Any geographic thing that they can use to keep the boats racing close would be a good thing. Racing in the bay, as you know, it forces you to go one way or another, so hopefully the boats stay together.  With reaching marks we’re just going to have to start racing in those conditions and see how it turns out.  (Laughs)

SCR: Do you think wing sails will ever have any practical use, say, on a commercial or a cruising boat?

PM: Yeah. You know there are different types of wing sails. We’ve been working with a company called Harbor Wing Technologies and the U.S. Navy for about four years now, on a wing sail that’s on a mast that can rotate 360 degrees. You can tie it up and feather the wing if you’re at dock, or do the same if you’re in big wind. We’ve had a prototype sailing in Hawaii for about three years, and the Navy was so impressed with it, that they funded another round, and we have a 50 foot trimaran version of it now.

SCR: Great stuff, Pete! Thanks for the interview.

PM: My pleasure. Thank you.