painted into a corner

painted into a corner

The F18 class has offered some of the best multihull sailing and racing for the past decade. The roll call of sailors in the class is the definitive who’s who of multihull sailing, and ever since the Tornado was dropped from the games, the F18 and A-Cat have been the top level of small cat sailing around the world.

The class growth has been strong, and even during these tough economic times, fleets on all continents are growing, with worldwide annual sales well over 300 new boats.

Pressure has been increasing on the big production builders like Hobie, Nacra, and AHPC as they face tough competition from small, dedicated builders such as Cirrus, Phantom, Mattia and Windrush. These smaller builders sell direct to customers and by removing the dealer margins and avoiding outdated distribution models, they can spend more on the build, and the quality of these boats is said to be outstanding.

The political in-fight resulting from this conflict has been going on for months, and recently resulted in one of the strangest rulings ever handed down for an International Class. One of the new builders contacted the Class about legality of certain paints, and as the F-18 is an ISAF class, the governing body was asked to rule on the meaning of the Class rule on paint.

The answer that came back was ridiculous: All F18s with a gelcoat finish were made illegal because gelcoat was completely left out of the approved build materials list designated by the Class. Painted boats were allowed only if the paint was applied as maintenance – not original. In other words, the vast majority of F-18s were kicked out of the class in one day thanks to ISAF and some confusing class rules. Note that the big production houses use gelcoat because it is cheaper to buy, though far more labor intensive to apply properly, and most of the big guys build their boats in low-labor countries. The smaller builders paint their boats, since they can do so in a fraction of the time that gelcoating would take.

Responding to the ISAF clarification, the Class apparently responded by issuing an Emergency Ruling allowing gelcoat boats to race, though new boats that come with paint from the factory are, we’re told, still illegal.

But the strange part of this ‘new ruling’ is that nobody can tell us how it was approved. There was no vote of all National Class Associations, as the Class Constitution clearly requires. The rule change just appeared one day on the ISAF website with no explanation at all, though follow-ups have claimed that a ‘clarification’ that bans large numbers of boats from their class doesn’t actually require a vote. Really?

The F-18 Class Technical Committee made a half-hearted attempt to explain the situation in a letter to the class, the author stating as justification (without any citation, or even searchable Google results), that “on various occasions over the last few years, the Council have stated that they do not want “painted hulls” within the Class.” We certainly couldn’t find the references this writer claimed, but then again, author Don Findlay begs all the readers to keep all comments about ‘gelcoat-gate’ out of the public eye, something that makes us awfully suspicious. Findlay also writes that “Council have sort [sic] one of the most experienced scientists in the field to give an authoritative comment. To date that report that has not been received.”

Casting an ugly light on Findlay’s implication that painted hulls were never really meant to be part of the F-18 class is the fact that the Class-approved wood-epoxy construction method ensures that paint is the only way to surface coat these boats, and that painted hulls have been racing as F-18s for a decade.

So, as the saga drags on there has been a questionnaire sent to all National class associations (NCAs) asking for their views on painted hulls. The questionnaire refers to the impending report by Andy Claughton referenced above, but they want all NCAs to respond to the questionnaire immediately – like the waiter asking for your order before giving you a menu.

If you’re in the F-18 Class, hit up your NCA and find out what’s going on, and if you want the chance to sail your painted boat, or think you might want to paint your boat one day with something like this cool color scheme, make sure they know it.