One step beyond

James Boyd gets under the skin of the F18-HT class

Wednesday August 6th 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: None
This article continues from The Daily Sail's look at the Formula 18 class .

Despite the success of Formula 18, they have competition. On the continent and in the States there is the newer and faster Formula 18 HT (High Tech) class. This is similar in concept to the F18 except that the rule allows carbon fibre and a minimum weight of 120kg (ex sails and battens) - roughly 50kg less than a standard F18.

This presents an interesting conundrum. Formula 18 is considerably the more popular class, but cat sailors are by nature speed junkies and a boat that is almost one third the weight of a standard F18 with otherwise similar dimensions, will have to turn heads.

Former Tornado sailor John Pierce, whose company Stealth Marine have just launched the first F18 HT in the UK, gives his view on why the 'HT' class is needed: "To be honest I see the F18 as a bit of a step backwards. It came out about 25 years later than the Tornado came on the scene. It is 2ft shorter, 2ft narrower and 15kg heavier. So it is not really moving things forwards."

However he does admit that the Formula 18 has helped move people on from Hobie 16s and Dart 18s. "I think they could have done the rule at 140kg and the cost would not have been much more and the boat would be superb," he says of the F18 rule.

The F18 HT rule was originally created in 1996 between the catamaran builders Bimare, Ventilo and Marstrand. In the event only Bimare and Ventilo have built boats and in the last two years Bimare have turned out to be the only major builder, at first selling their BIM F18 HT mainly in Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany. Early last year Bimare produced the Javelin II, which was developed in the States with the help of cat sailors Randy Smyth, Matt Struble and WF Oliver.

This proved to be the coup for the Italian manufacturer with the US sales and marketing being taken up by Oliver, who has succeeded in having the boat adopted as the one design for the newly revamped International Catamaran Challenge Trophy, the Alter Cup and this year's Worrell 1000 (if it had happened). It is believed there are 50-60 Javelins now sailing in the US.

Aside from the minimum weight criteria, the significant difference between an F18 and an F18 HT rules is that the latter is una (or cat) rigged. The rule states that the area of mast and main shall not exceed 20sqm, while the area of the spinnaker shall not exceed 20sqm either. The length of the boat must not be more than 5.52m while maximum beam is 2.5m and the total length of the mast shall not exceed 10.5m.

So will the F18 HT succeed? Pierce thinks that in the UK this will depend to some extent on the success of the International Catamaran Challenge Trophy. "They’ve rushed it through the first time. It is in America in supplied Bimare boats and it is expensive to do - $6,000 for the entry fee and boat. It is a five day event and you could be out of it after two days. They were trying to get a few Tornado sailors interested but it is only two days after the Tornado Worlds finishes which doesn’t give people enough time to get there. They are full up with American entries, but it is going to cost you $10,000 [as a foreign entry]."

Saying this Pierce when we spoke to him recently believed that he may have found sponsorship to field a UK entry into the ICCT. He will follow this up with sailing in the Gold Cup in Florida, the effective World Championships for the F18 HT.

At present the F18 HT is in direct competition with the F18 and this cannot be a good thing. Both are being pitched as 'the' performance catamaran to have and remarkably despite being the more high tech boat, the F18 HT seems to be marginally the cheaper, mostly due to the lack of jib and jib tackle.

We feel that the two classes really need to have more differentiation between them: the F18 HT needs to be the grand prix boat with carbon fibre widgets and other go faster features with a slightly more open rule giving it more of a development class feel, whereas the regular 18 should gear itself up to being the belt and braces class, suitable for Olympians-on-their-holidays as well as amateur husband and wife teams. The F18 should be a more modern, performance orientated version of the mass appeal Hobie 16/Dart 18, while the F18 HT needs to be a Tornado Sport eating supercat. The former should cost around £9-10,000 while the HT should be £11-12,000.

In reality the F18 is much better established - more than 100 boats turned up at their Worlds in Belgium, whereas around 30 (20 from the US and 10 from Europe) are expected at the F18 HT's Gold Cup. The F18 already has ISAF recognition, whereas the HT class is hoping to get it this autumn. F18 is certain to remain the dominant class at least in the short term, mainly because it has the heavyweight support from major manufacturers such as Hobie and Nacra.

Another issue which worries us about at least the F18 class is that at present it is wide open for someone to wade in with a race winning one-off. Looking at the class the popular misconception is that it is only open to production boats (and perhaps it should be) but at present it would be possible to turn up for example with a weight-optimised boat that is light in the ends and with the weight more centred around the main crossbeam. (Cat builder Taipan once tried this on one of their 5.7s, lightening it and then fitting it with a main crossbeam made of 0.5in stainless steel to get it up to weight.)

Saying this there doesn't seem to be a great culture for innovation in either the F18 or F18 HT class at present. "The classes around are the same as 25 years ago," says John Pierce. "The A-class is the only one which has moved forward."

Equally ridiculous is the F18 HT (or present incarnations of it) being used in offshore races. For events such as the Worrell 1000 the conventional F18 is a much more suitable piece of equipment simply because due to their higher minimum weight restriction the boats are more robust, capable of withstanding abuse be it from launching from a beach, in a seaway or colliding with something in the water.

British cat sailor Will Sunnucks for example knocked the daggerboard through the back of the case on his Javelin II F18 HT during the Tybee 500 (a mini-Worrell style race in the US)

"We were storming along on a spinnaker reach," Sunnucks told The Daily Sail. "And we saw a dark patch under the port hull and said ‘what’s that?’ CRASH. Daggerboard came up and smashed into the hull. Port hull pretty well sunk and we managed to gybe it round and get it into the beach and phoned up our ground crew who came along with another hull which we fitted to the boat and carried on. In fact by the time we had done all that the race officer had rung us and said 'put it on a trailer and take it' and we’ll award you a four hour time penalty which was very decent of him."

Sunnucks, who campaigns a Tornado and a Hurricane in the UK, has mixed feelings about the Javelin II. In comparison with the Stealth F18 HT (which we will be reviewing tomorrow), the Javelin II has a unique hull shape with very straight rocker and a wave piercing hull. The hulls worked well in brisk conditions, but Sunnucks says he found them sticky in light conditions and difficult to keep on course in sloppy seas due to the lack of rocker.

The Javelin II uses a similar una-rig to the Stealth but with a choice of a Petrucci sail or a Randy Smyth sail. "Randy had done everything he could to put area at the top of the sail, so he'd cut out area at the foot of sail to the extent that the clew is secured by an 18in long rope to the boom, more like a windsurfer sail," says Sunnocks, who was most impressed by the sail.

Despite his reservations, in flat water and big breeze, the Javelin is unbeatable thinks Sunnocks. "It would pierce waves upwind and it would point incredibly close. It would outpoint any other catamaran - whether that was because of the single sail or the shape of the hulls I don't know."

Sunnocks says during racing in the States they lined up against Inter 20s and Nacra 6s and they were generally in the middle of the Inter 20s while upwind he thinks they were faster than them.

In part two of this article, to be published tomorrow, we try out the brand new Stealth F18HT, the first F18HT in the country.

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