49er crews check out new carbonfibre rig which will be phased in for 2012 Olympics 11/7/07

In the 49er boat park yesterday in Cascais, as crews waited for race news, attentions shifted from the unpredictable weather to two new carbon fibre rigs which were on display. Since its launch 14 years ago, technology has moved on and the class is now looking at a major overhaul.

Julian Bethwaite, who designed the 49er class explained: “The 49er design is 14 years old now. At that time it used state of the art technology and what has happened is that time has marched on, as it always does, and with it, so has technology. The cost of carbon has become more realistic where as before it was astronomical and not a feasibly option. As a material, it’s also becoming much more available across all sectors like cars, aeroplanes etc so it is a logical time to move towards using it for our rig too.”

Two prototype masts are on display in Cascais, one designed by Southern Spas in New Zealand and the other by Australian company, CST. These will be tested by elite and amateur sailors over the coming months with a final decision expected by September and first masts available by Easter 2008.

There are significant benefits towards going for a carbon rig. Not only will there be a performance gain with the boat but it is believed to also save the average sailor a significant amount of money over a period of time.

The change in mast design has in turn affected the sail size which will increase in surface area by about 0.5 meters. Bethwaite explained: “If you kept the same sail but put a carbon rig on it, all the sailors would have to loose about 5kg and that’s a big call. It’s therefore a fine art of how much bigger you make the rig and whilst both proposals initially went too large, then went too small we have eventually found a number which I think has worked well.”

The introduction of the new mast will be a phased approached, with Olympic crews adopting it for 2012.