All photos from Laurens Morel/ unless otherwise stated

Red devil

Mark Bulkeley talks us through the newly wingsailed M20 catamaran he raced at Texel with Herbie Dercksen

Tuesday June 28th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Netherlands

The sailing world continues to go solid wingsail crazy. The latest to be fitted with one is Herbie Dercksen’s M20 catamaran, centre of attention at last weekend’s Zwitserleven Round Texel Race in Holland.

This year’s Texel race was a carnage-filled affair, held in brisk 20 knot winds, with the normal hair-raising launch off the beach through the surf, followed by collisions throughout the course of race - including several high profile victims like Carolijn Brouwer on her Viper and British fellow M20 skipper Will Sunnucks, who got hit prior to the start – and with a 15 minute section of the race where the crews found themselves sailing in just 0.5m of water thanks to the low tide.

While three Nacra F20 Carbon cats were first across the finish line, led by Mitch Booth and son Taylor, Dercksen and Mark Bulkeley aboard their bright red Zwitserleven-sponsored wingsail wonder defied the bookies and not only completed the course, the first of just two M20s to finish, but put in a worthy performance on their first competitive outing with their new rig.

“To be honest I don’t think anyone on the beach gave us any chance of getting the boat around in one piece without breaking it!” commented Bulkeley, adding that the amount of time they had sailed in Texel was about the same as they had been able to put in prior to going there. They did break a few things, notably a daggerboard when it touched bottom, but nothing wing-related.

The red M20 is in fact the same Marstrom-built platform Dercksen and Bulkeley used when they set the Round Texel course record two years ago. Since then it has evolved. The standard M20 has a main and kite but no jib, so they added a jib to help manoeuvrability and then, emulating Will Sunnuck’s boat, they widen the beam by 2-3ft, the increased stability adding power. They then replaced the straight daggerboards with curved ones, that now seem to be standard fit in the A-Class, providing added vertical lift.

While Dercksen (who with Mitch Booth created the Extreme 40 class) would ideally like to be running a Dutch America’s Cup campaign if he could find adequate backing, fitting his M20 with a solid wingsail has been something of consolation prize. Initially it started as something of joke, but after Bulkeley stopped sailing with Oman Sail and had more time on his hands around Christmas time, Dercksen made the call to press ahead with it for real. His time being tied up with his eXtreme RIBs, Dercksen handed over the project over to Bulkeley.

The wing on the red Zwitserleven cat is based on the moulds for Adam May’s Moth wing, the parts built by Kevin Driver at the Boat Yard in Beer, Devon with engineering work carried out by John Levell, who has worked on Nigel Irens and Benoit Cabaret's big tris like B&Q, IDEC and Sodebo. However as the M20 is rather larger than the nimble Moth, the moulds were extended by 1.3m bring it up to 17sqm, although, as Bulkeley admits, in hindsight it is still a bit small. Like Oracle’s USA17 trimaran (but scaled down somewhat), the wing features a removable 1.2m tip which they ended up not using for the Round Texel, a mistake in retrospect Bulkeley believes.

The components of the wing were shipped to Holland where they were assembled by Driver, Bulkeley and Mischa Heemskerk at the DNA Factory (where they build A-Class cats).

Like all the solid wings built recently outside of the C-Class, the wing is a two element affair supplemented by a masthead kite and in the future probably by a jib. Twist can be induced in the rig via the two camber arms up the height of the wing, via a quadrant at the foot.

Like C-cats the wing sheets from a point on the trampoline rather than the rear beam because the loads are so much smaller. As Bulkeley points out, with the wing the mainsheet is 2:1 and can be trimmed one handed whereas with the softsail it is 12:1 and definitely requires both hands.

They are currently using a 33sqm spinnaker, which Bulkeley says was too big for the conditions they saw on Saturday. While the wing is stayed with shrouds, for added security they have running backstays.

In initial trials, carried out near the factory where Dercksen builds his eXtreme RIBs, the wing suffered a few breakages, notably the main camber control arm and it was felt that the rear element needed stiffening. With these changes made they took the boat out in 15-18 knots last week - the first time they had twin trapezed on board. According to Bulkeley they promised themselves that if they came through that trial unscathed – which they did – then they would take the boat to Texel.

Given all this and their lack of time on the water, their result on the water in the Round Texel was commendable, even managing to pull off a 14th place on handicap.

“The handicap side is interesting,” recalled Bulkeley. “The measurers didn’t know what to do with the wing when we got to Texel. They were going to penalise us 50% of our mainsail area as an efficiency rating, but in the end they penalised us 20%. They were convinced that we were going to be twice as fast as anything out there. We were trying to tell them that there is no historical proof that a wingsail is faster than a softsail.” If you put a softsail on an AC45 would it be any slower? “It would be interesting to see,” says Bulkeley. “The Moths haven’t really made the wing work. The A-cat didn’t make the wing work. It works at times, but not consistency.”

To give their wing more potential Bulkeley reckons they need to increase its area. He says they can add around 1ft to the trailing edge by cutting some new ribs and slotting them in. This would increase the wing’s area in the order of 3sqm.

His view from the Round Texel was that the wing caused the M20 to pitch more. “Whenever we had a patch of flat water we had bursts of speed when we were 20deg higher than the Nacras and similar speed. But as soon as it went a bit lighter or a bit shifty, it became quite hard to read the wing and then when we got back into the choppier water it slowed down a bit again.”

This could be alleviated by making the wing lighter. At present it weighs in at 56kg, but Bulkeley says that about 10 of this is the necessary paint and vinyl for their sponsor branding. “If you did it with a straight carbon fibre finish with no branding, it would come in at about 45kg. If you made all the parts in an autoclave with the pre-preg, you could get it down to the high 30s. The total weight for the other rig, with mainsail, boom, battens, mast, etc is probably mid-30s, so I think you could it get it fairly close.”

For Dercksen and Bulkeley their big moment of the year, the principle reason they built the wing, was the Zwitserleven Round Texel Race and now they have completed this Bulkeley says they are uncertain of where to go next with their project. In July they will sail it some more before working out a list of modifications they wish to make.

Unfortunately for the F20 class, racing is slightly sporadic outside of Texel and a few other handicap events like EuroCat in Carnac. This may change with Nacra’s F20 Carbon gaining some popularity.

Weymouth Speed Week? Bulkeley likes the idea of this. “We had a top speed of 22 knots on the waves on the GPS. The top speed we’ve done with the soft sail is 25 and that was in flat water, so I am pretty sure we have the potential to be very quick with it. But waves, especially seem to be quite a problem, just keeping the boat going. It never really felt you could get the boat in the groove. It always felt it was always bouncing off the waves.” Ideally it sounds like instead of the M20 they need a purpose-built platform to take the wing and the unique load and pitching characteristics it creates.

Bulkeley says that if there was enough demand they might think about putting the wing into production, although there are no plans at present.

Aside from the on-the-water aspects, they have already done a lot to improve the practicality of the wing. The first part was to ensure that wing and boat could be transported in one trailer. As a result the wing breaks down into six parts and these hang next to the boat on the trailer.

They aim to be able to rig and step the wing with just two people. This is possible with a block and tackle, says Bulkeley, but it remains easier with three. The platform and the wing are assembled and then the platform is positioned on its side – to do this they have two large aluminium plates/stands that fit into the beam recesses. Then the wing is offered up to the ball it sits on on the main beam, the standing and running rigging then attached. With the rig in place, a block and tackle is then used to ‘right’ the cat, bringing the wingsail upright with it and ‘hey presto’ - ready to go sailing after the shrouds have been further tightened.

“To build the wing from scratch takes about 1-1.5 hours and in that time the other person can build the boat,” says Bulkeley. “Then it is another 30 minutes to capsize it, slot the wing in, attach everything and get it upright again - so a relatively quick process and in time you could get slicker as well, but it is really early days.”

Bulkeley says that he is pleased they achieved most of the things they set out to do for Texel. In particular because it was blowing both during the race and in test sailing the week before, he feels much more confident with the boat. “If you think about how many hours I’ve sailed cats and been learning about them. I have 10 hours of wing sailing and my knowledge now compared to where it was is through the roof and I have only just scratched the surface...”

What is needed now is for ING, Shell, Frotis Philips, Azko Nobel or one of the many other Dutch giant corporations to come on board to help fund a 72ft version...

Video of the new beast below. Click on the bottom RH icon to view full size.  


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