Is this Alinghi's 2/3rds scale AC90?

We look at Dan Meyer's new 66ft Judel-Vrolijk designed, Alinghi inspired, IRC boat Numbers

Tuesday November 20th 2007, Author: James Boyd, Location: United States
A long way away from Valencia, a new 66 footer was quietly launched in Rhode Island in October for one of the US's top race boat owners, Dan Meyers. For almost a decade Meyers has campaigned a series of boats called Numbers, and unusually, given the number of quality US sailors there are, these have always been sailed by a world class roster of ex-Team New Zealanders of the Butterworth-Coutts generation. At the recent East Coast IRC Championship in Annapolis, there were many familiar faces on board, free from their 'swirl' emblazoned grey uniforms of the Alinghi team, such as Brad Butterworth, Murray Jones, Lorenzo Mazza, Curtis Blewitt and Juan Vila. Many of the key Alinghi sailing team, including Warwick Fleury and Simon Daubney, had input into the sail wardrobe which was designed by Alinghi's own sail designer Mike Schreiber. The new Numbers was designed by Judel-Vrolijk, Rolf Vrolijk being Alinghi's Principle Designer, while the structure, build, and part of the project management was carried out by Dirk Kramers and his SDK business partner Steve Koopman, Kramers being Alinghi's Chief Design Engineer. The boat has a lifting keel like another recently announced 90 footer...

Given all this, it wouldn't take the most imaginative conspiracy theorist to conjure up the notion that the new Numbers might be a two-thirds-ish scale version of the new AC90 Cup boat, a boat that Alinghi claim they only started to consider in July after the Cup was over, this 'unfair design advantage' of course being one of the major concerns of BMW Oracle Racing and the other disgruntled challengers that has led to the future of the America's Cup currently being in the hands of a New York Supreme Court judge.

"No. It is a good rumour though," Brad Butterworth told thedailysail when we queried him about a possible relationship between Numbers and the new AC90. "The AC boats will be far more high tech - stiffer, more powerful. That was a stupid propaganda thing out of Oracle. We’ve had this project going for years."

While Alinghi perhaps haven't done themselves any favours leaving themselves open to such conjecture, the fact of the matter is that the new Numbers is a 66ft IRC boat that has more in common with Judel-Vrolijk's highly successful TP52s that have won the last two Breitling MedCups, than the AC90, a rule that has no bearing on IRC. The only possible argument is that in the new Numbers Judel-Vrolijk have had the opportunity to try their hand at designing a lifting keel arrangement to examine how their controversial 'canting keel' structure (that harnesses the forces found in the weather shroud to minimise fall-off in the keel foil), works around it. But according to Rolf Vrolijk they also use a similar structure in their TPs and it has since been copied by other designers.

But then it is not as if lifting keels are anything new. Bill Buckey and Charles Brown's Maximus has one as do numerous superyachts.

So why does the new Numbers require a lifting keel? For the same reason as Maximus and the superyachts - to minimise draft so that it makes the boat more practical to use. On Numbers the lifting keel allows draft to be reduced dfrom 4.8m to 3.3m. As John Barnitt who helped with the project told us when we were padding around on her deck in Annapolis: "We wouldn’t be here otherwise. On the eastern seaboard [of the US] it means being able to go into marinas or the fuel dock or the travel hoist. We took the weight hit to add that structure for the pure convenience of being able to to get the boat in and out of port easily and safely."

Brad Butterworth and Dan Meyers

The background

The relationship between Dan Meyers and Brad Butterworth and the Kiwi posse dates back to the late 1990s when Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth regularly sailed with John Risley, a Canadian and Chairman of the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Clearwater Seafoods, one of the world's biggest seafood exporters. Risley was coaxed on to the Board of Directors of Team New Zealand but unfortunately this happened just at the time that Coutts and Butterworth had their fall out with the management of the Kiwi Cup team, duly allowing themselves to be poached by Ernesto Bertarelli to start Alinghi.

Dan Meyers, who made his fortune in student loans, was at the time a friend of John Risley (and has since become a business partner) and over the course of time has effectively taken over the Numbers sailing program. "John built three of them and I bought two of them and then we decided to race together, melded the two programs together," explains Meyers. Meyers' previous Numbers have all been secondhand, including a former deVos family OD48 and ultimately a Farr designed Carroll Marine 60 - recently sold to Dennis Conner. The new Numbers is the sixth boat to carry this name, but significantly is Meyers's first new build.

"The Farr 60 was a good training platform for us," says Meyers. "We had that for about three and a half years, then we decided we could have a bit more fun in a more modern boat. That’s what we were really after. We were interested in sitting down with our friends to help us think about this project and we’ve sailed for so long the question was how do you go out and have a bit more fun."

John Barnitt recalls the specific moment: "We were doing the Caribbean circuit and were sailing on a reach in the Carroll Marine 60. We went around the top mark, jib reaching and one boat, quite a bit smaller, just sailed through our lee. It was obvious it was time for a more modern boat."

In coming up with the new Numbers Barnitt and Butterworth shortlisted some naval architects and ended up, not that surprisingly, with Judel-Vrolijk. According to Barnitt, part of this decision was based on chemistry, who Meyers would enjoy working with and in putting the new boat together, Meyers seems to have very much enjoyed being part of the technical process.

"From our perspective, one of the great things about Rolf was that he wanted me to understand what we were doing," says Meyers. "That, I found, made it fun. One thing we did was we came to England and went to Gosport to see the tank testing. I’ll be honest with you - I thought it was going to be so far over my head and it wouldn’t be interesting. But we rode the carriage and it was fascinating! It was like being on a giant erector set."

While many of the Alinghi design team were involved in the creation of the new Numbers, so were many of the sailing team in their particular areas. "I didn’t know what was going to happen in the Cup, so I was hoping that to keep a bunch of the guys we sail with together with this project," explains Brad Butterworth. "They are all eager and keen to be involved." Aside from the sails, already mentioned, this extended to the likes of Curtis Blewitt and Josh Belsky having a hand in the layout of the foredeck and pit areas respectively.

Meyers recalls: "Brad and I have been talking about this project for several years and we were trying to figure out what the best time for him and the boys was and when the best time for us relative to the Farr 60 was. I think the timing has worked out really well." However he adds that the Numbers crew is not only from Alinghi - non-Alinghi sailors such as Hamish Pepper and Robbie Naismith also regularly sail with him and on board in Annapolis was also venerable bowman and ex-Pirate Gerry Kirby, currently with Ken Read's Puma VOR team and Sean Clarkson, who sailed the last Cup with....BMW Oracle Racing.

The new Numbers was built by Eric Goetz and as with his relationship with Vroljik, Meyers says he got on well with the Rhode Island race boat builder. "One of the things we wondered about with this boat is that because we have a lifting keel that we couldn’t have a straight companionway ladder. So there were all kinds of questions as to how you would get up and out of the boat with the lifting keel assembly sitting right in the middle. Eric built a mock-up of about 20-30ft of the middle section of the boat, just for the purpose to see what it was like for everyone, but especially me to be able to get up and down the companionway ladder."

Why not an STP65?

An obvious question about the new Numbers is why she is an IRC 66 rather than one of the new class of STP65s. According to Barnitt when the Storm Trisail 65 footer rule came out originally Meyers had been heavily involved in it, but then it lost momentum. "Then it got some more push when Rosebud was launched but then they revised the rule and now its being modified again now for the next boat. So that rule seemed to be in a state of flux and it supports a lot of offshore sailing."

The key difference between Numbers and the new STP65s is that she is an inshore boat. Meyers has no interest in Bermuda Races or Pineapple Cups, but has a program that will include Key West and Miami Yacht Week in 2008, before the boat is brought to Europe for Cork Week and Cowes Week and then heads for the Med and the Maxi Yacht Rolex Worlds and Voiles de St Tropez.

"If you look at the IRC ratings for those type of boats [the STP65s], they all rate about 1.5. And this boat rates about 1.5. So we look forward to sailing against them and we should sail pretty evenly against them from a handicap standpoint," says Barnitt.


While their boat is newly launched, so far Barnitt says their experience with IRC, still something of a new rule in the US, has been a good one. Having seen our inteview with the RORC Rating Office's Mike Irwin on thedailysail where Irwin stated that IRC was not a rule suitable for grand prix race boats, Barnitt says that while Numbers was in the early stages of construction at Goetz, he called Irwin, who was able to placate him. "He said 'run your trial certificate, stay within the process, contact us when you are ready to measure the boat' and we did exactly what we said and it just worked. The final measurement was exactly the same as the trial certificates."

They are hoping that the IRC rule doesn't get changed to nail them and Rolf Vrolijk points out that to avoid incurring penalisation at the IRC's next upgrade they were fairly conservative in the design of the boat: "We didn’t try to figure it out. As long as you make sure the boat is fast for its length and for the performance, the speed factors are correct and it balances correctly the boat will perform well and then of course you cannot put it in an extreme corner, because you know you’ll get hit by uncertainty. So you have to put it in the middle and we’re still not 100% sure that is the right way. You can do boats like Juan K or the English guys are trying by making them heavy and putting on teak decks on it and an interior. but that is like the old days. We don’t want to do that any more. We wanted to make a nice race boat and sail it well and they will win a few races and lose a few races, but that is the way it is. We didn’t want to do an IRC rule beater. We had some ideas like that at the beginning with bow shapes and canards but then you might have it for two months before they nail you."

Aside from this IRC has also allowed them to sail a high performance boat compared to their previous IMSers. Meyers finds this particularly appealing: "I am no naval architect but IMS towards the end went to really flat bottom, really slab sided, really short rigged, very slow, poundy … and you looked at those boats and you went ‘gee, do those boats look more fun than IMS boats from two or three years earlier?’ and the answer is absolutely not. This boat is heaps better as a boat than the 60 footer. You have to give some slack to the 60 footer - it was designed 11 or 12 years ago. This boat is fun and safe. We hit 20 knots surfing last year in the 60 footer and the boat was virtually out of control and I couldn’t be on the helm and Brad was driving the boat. I would politely say it was ‘marginal’. You turn around with this boat - we went over 20 and it was a hoot and never did we feel we couldn’t carve the bow down a little and slowed down a bit." At the East Coast IRC championship Numbers hit 20.5 knots and there is no doubt much more to come.

Meyers, who steers the boat, also says the demands of the helmsman are quite different. On the 60 he says he had to fight the helm upwind but it was almost neutral downwind - on the new boat this is reversed.

The new boat

One look at the new Numbers and it is clearly a Judel-Vrolijk design. The flare in the run aft with the slight chine is similar to the J-V TP52s, but Vrolijk says they have also put a lot more volume forward. Hence the boat seems to snow plough slightly at mark roundings, but otherwise looks very stable under spinaker.

Seeing the boat underway her rudder seemed a long way forward of the transom. Vrolijk confirms this and explains: "The reason is that rudders are more effective if you can put them forward. It is just about not getting them too much into the wake and still behaving. They are move effective the more down you put them into the water and the further they are away from the stern wave. It is about having the right balance and the right tracking behaviour. It is a bit like a plane. The best plane is a one wing plane, a delta wing. Everything else is about balance, finding the right combination of balance."

In the creation of Meyers' new boat J-V carried out many CFD studies. Obviously IRC is a secret rule, but the designers had some pointers and once they had narrowed down the options they moved into the tank, to examine different length:beam and beam:displacement ratios. Aside from being an inshore boat, Numbers is obviously designed to be sailed in the typically light to moderate wind conditions found on the east coast of the States - that will bode well when she comes to the Med in 2008.

Her Southern Spars rig has three sets of spreaders that are arced back. According to John Barnitt, Stark Raving Mad - Jim Madden's Reichel-Pugh designed 66 footer - has them too. "Your measured area on the jib is part of the handicapping. We haven’t really pushed that area. We may choose to in the future. It is easier to have the space for them in the foretriangle now than come up with it later," he explains.

Holding up the Southern Spars rig is E6 carbon rigging. The advantage of this is lower windage over PBO (read more about this here) as the rigging is continuous and there are no terminations at the spreader ends. On Numbers they have gone a stage further by locating the chain plates below deck.

According to Barnitt this is nothing new. "Actually boats 20 years ago had the shrouds downstairs. I sailed on an AC boat with Lowell North in 1985 and it had turnbuckles downstairs. The difference is that these boats almost always sail downwind with the apparent wind angle forward of the beam, so we spent a lot of time on windage consciousness."

The cockpit is large, wide and shallow with its business end well forward - the helmsman stands about 6ft forward of the mainsheet track. The mainsheet is very simple - just a 2:1 with the dead end attaching to a spectra loop passing through an eye on the boom. The mainsheet runs forward along the boom and back, passing up through a tube to the central mainsheet winch. The Harken winch package includes three coffee grinders. Generally the deck seems very clean and uncluttered and this is less to do with lines being fed below deck - few are - but more to the lack of a spinnaker pole - downwind chutes fly off the fixed bowsprit.

Similarly there are hydraulics on board, but these have been kept to vang, outhaul, cunningham, jib cunningham, etc on deck and the keel hoisting mechanism down below.

Thanks to the lifting keel box being mounted immediately at the bottom of the companionway, this area is slightly unusual with twin hatches that slide away laterally. And forward of this and immediately aft of the mast is the pit area, requiring the pitman to stand in the companionway. Vrolijk says this arrangement works for inshore racing, but he wouldn't have had it this way if Numbers had been designed for offshore use.

So aside from some regattas in the US, Meyers, his team and their new boat will be heading for Europe next year, but in the UK and Ireland it is hard to think who they will be racing against. Numbers inevitably made mincemeat of the TP52s in Annapolis. She may have to wait until she gets to the Med before she finds any real competition on the water.

Aside from making waves with their new boat, travelling the regatta circuit in addition to Numbers will be her mother ship, Meyers' newly launched Royal Huisman-built 170 footer Meteor, a design by Gerry Dijkstra based on the East Coast/Grand Banks schooners of old. So if you see a sailing vessel blocking out the sun in Cork or Cowes, you now know what she is.

As to whether Alinghi have achieved a 'design advantage' with the new Numbers, the argument is frankly marginal. Several teams such as BMW Oracle Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand and possibly Team Origin are expected to be involved with the TP52 circuit next year where, aside from the lifting keel aspect of Numbers, they will get a similar opportunity for some extra-curricula boat design and development and crew training. In short, aside from seeing the Alinghi boys on holiday, it is great to see an owner in Dan Meyers getting so much enjoyment from his sailing and those around him ensuring this happens.

See video of the new Numbers and the rest of the new US fleet here

More photos on the following pages...

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