Matthew Sheahan reports from Valencia on the eve of Act 10 11/5/06

Reminiscent of the Harmony hairspray ads of the ’70s where viewers were invited to consider whether ‘she’ was or wasn’t wearing a hair product, so the question as to whether Chris Dickson’s latest boat USA87 has two keels or one is a big topic of conversation here in Valencia.

On the eve of Louis Vuitton Act 10, the first of this year’s America’s Cup season, Dickson appeared keen to fuel the speculation.

“This is the most innovative America’s Cup boat ever designed and built. From the mast through the hull and the structure and the appendages, she’s a very different boat,” he said. “It’s going take a long time to get the best out of 87, but we’re happy enough to go and start the process.”

“We’ve sailed USA-87 for 20 days, 100 hours on the water and 50 hours of testing, which isn’t a lot for a new boat,” he continued although he was happy to confirm that the new boat is indeed quicker.

The speculation surrounding the appendages on the new boat has arisen as a result of the bowsprit that has sprouted from the bow and the position of the mast, which is considerably further forward in the boat. Such configurations are frequently an indication of twin keels, the red hull of NZL-20 being the best known of the radical arrangement.

Yet despite the widespread speculation, there is a school of thought that says that Dickson’s new boat has a conventional keel configuration, but one that is mounted much further forward than is normal. But why?

Making fuller forward sections and shifting the centre of buoyancy further forward in the design could help to reduce the angle that the stern profile emerges from the water, thus allowing the hull to pick up additional waterline length more quickly. Doing this would mean moving the keel forward and with it the rig.

But while he would be drawn no further on the specific details, once again he appeared to scatter a few more hints.

“We’ve got enough of a handle on the new innovations to get her around the course,” he said.

He did however put one question firmly to bed, the issue whether the team would racer the new boat or not.

“As of today we have a measurement certificate to say that USA-87 is a Cup class yacht and we’ll race her in the next two Acts.”

Two more brand new boats will join the American team on the race course tomorrow when Emirates Team New Zealand set out in NZL-84 and Luna Rossa take ITA-86 out onto the playground.

Of the opening matches that are due to kick off at 1400 local, none should tax the big boys with the new toys and with around 6-8 knots forecast, no one’s expecting to see too much revealed.

Dickson’s secret would seem to be safe for the time being leaving the ’70’s ad to have the final word.

‘So fine and gentle ? you’re the only one who knows for sure!’