Some of the kit at the Superyacht Cup in Palma owes its development to America's Cup thinking


Sailing aboard Charles Dunstone’s Hamilton 11 was one of the more enlightening experiences of last week’s Superyacht Cup, especially as far as new technology was concerned. Aboard was North Sails man Neil ‘Strapper’ Mackley (picture shows from left to right, David Bedford, Neil trimming and Charles steering) who explained to me what the odd hissing sound was whenever we furled the headsail. “It’s the pneumatics,” said Neil rather enigmatically.

Hamilton’s pneumatic system (used for things like sliding hatches etc.) is also linked to pipework laid into the 3DL matrix of the headsail leading to inflatable battens. These tubes set into the leech of the sail can be pumped up to 10 bar according to Neil and then, when the sail needs to be furled, they can be deflated to allow furling to occur.

Charles Dunstone’s new ‘inflatable’ cost about $70,000 and represents direct trickle down from America’s Cup technology although I’m told the Cup boys have reverted to ‘hard’ battens – there’s not much call for furling in AC boats.

Another development from Am Cup is the use of what on the face of it are asymmetric sails that don’t need trimming. “Emirates Team New Zealand have done a lot of work developing a sail that is more forgiving, that doesn’t collapse so easily and is more efficient,” said Neil.

When you look at the sail the luff stands well out to weather and it is this ability to make the sail set and ‘stand out’ that makes it more stable and virtually self trimming. This makes gybing easier too and during the Superyacht Cup it was amazing to see so many enormous yachts going through numerous quick gybes without a hitch.

Finally Strapper showed me something nasty. A titanium leech block which had ‘exploded’ while Hamilton was reefed in 40 knots on her way to Palma. A pin had worked lose and the thing had literally been torn apart by the reef line. The mainsail battens were broken and the main given a severe thrashing but the fabric of the 3DL survived.

This led to some extraordinary tales of batten incidents. Two involved broken battens that had been flogged out of their pockets. The shattered ends descended like spears and on both occasions actually penetrated the deck. In one incident a crew member was below in his bunk and awoke to find a batten unnervingly close to his torso the offensive item having buried itself in the deck and passed clean through the deckhead. Air battens sound a much safer bet?