Christophe Launay Photography /

Golden wonder

Tim Powell gives us the broad update on Niklas Zennstrom's Rán and their new Audi MedCup TP52

Wednesday April 13th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Spain

It seems like only yesterday we were down at the high security superyacht dock in Palma, crawling around Niklas Zennström’s Rán 2 72ft Mini Maxi. Two years on and the Skype founder’s team is busy with the early throws of getting their new TP52 Rán 4 up and running ready to compete in next week’s Palmavela, used as a warm-up for the start of the Audi MedCup in Cascais next month.

With the TP52 class having reached Europe in 2005, one might think there is nothing new to say about them, however over this last winter stage two of the TP52's turboing has come into effect with new rules introduced that in essence restrict bulb weight, the combined weight of fin and bulb, minimum boat weight, minimum rig weight and minimum rig vertical centre of gravity (VCG).

For the teams the most brain power has been the new VCG rule for the boat itself, because under the old rule there was a limit to this, while now there is none. As the new Rán’s Project Manager Chris Hosking puts it: “In previous generation all of the boats were achieving the VCG limit so easily we were ending up with mountains of internal ballast and there was nothing to do to make the boats go any faster. Now it is a VCG limitless rule, so anything you can do to lower VCG has got to make your boat go faster.”

With the weight and position of weight in the mast and keel now locked up, this means that objective for teams has been to lower the weight of anything in between and most noticeable on Rán 4 is that the deck/freeboard is lower (as presumably have all the other new TP52s) increasing her ‘sleekness’ compared to previous generation.

Rán 4's talking point though is her gold painted bulb. The story goes that the Norse sea goddess Rán lived in the sea and used a net to capture sailors and drag them down to her. According to the mythology the way to prevent being captured was for the sailors to hold a piece of gold. While the crew is certain to like the idea of carrying gold on board with them, a golden keel is felt to have been more than adequate for her down below. As an aside Rán was the wife of none other than Aegir, which happens to be the name of Brian Benjamin’s new Rogers 82 and her net was at one point lent to Loki, another Norse god after which Stephen Ainsworth’s mini maxi is named.

Photographers will be delighted that Rán's golden keel also shimmers through the water when the boat is sailing - no doubt a trend that we will see on other boats in the future.

So why the TP52 and the Audi MedCup for Niklas Zennström? Tim Powell, who runs the team and who personally has been involved with the circuit since it started aboard John Cook’s various Cristabellas and Eamon Conneely's Patches , explains: “We have watched it over the last few years and it is the pinnacle of yacht sailing I think. It is a great circuit. The racing is fantastic and the coverage of it is awesome. It is such a professional circuit it is difficult to go anywhere else when you want to compete against the best. We have done Mini Maxis with Rán2 and that is a bit of a quieter year this year, in a state of flux. Bella Mente is building a new boat and it was a case of looking around and seeing what the next thing was going to be and this seems like a logical progression.”

However ‘quiet’ for the 72 still means shipping back from the Rolex Sydney Hobart to the UK post refit, then off to the Round Gotland, part of Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, the Rolex Fastnet Race, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and finally the Middle Sea Race. Incredibly this will happen in conjunction with the TP52 competing at Palmavela, all of the Audi MedCup events and the Worlds in Porto Cervo with any spare weekends taken up with London-based Zennström and his equally enthusiastic sailor wife Catherine sailing the Rán Farr 45 in the UK. Hats off to them - Rán has to be the busiest and most diverse private owner backed campaign outside of the America’s Cup.

“It is quite busy,” admits Powell who oversees the entire program. “Running two very high profile boats is quite an undertaking, but it is good. Rán 2 [the 72] will carry on into 2012 as well as Niklas supports the Mini Maxi fleet. The plan is to do this [the TP52] next year as well.”

With just a month to go until the first Audi MedCup event sparks up in Cascais w/c 16 May so the new TP52s are in various stages of preparation. But fortunately today these boats are very much known quantities says Powell. “There is a lot of knowledge on these boats now. The 72, when we were down here launching that, it was such a different boat to anything before that it took us quite a long time to get up and running. With the TP52 they are a little more like production boats in that you can put the sails on and go yachting straight off.”

A slight surprise for observers of this fleet is on the Audi MedCup circuit this year will be six brand new boats. Powell reckons that there will typically be seven or eigth competing in the Audi MedCup's TP52 fleet, but reckons they will be absolute top quality campaigns.

As ever the design process of Rán 4 with Judel-Vrolijk began with a weather study for the 2011 Audi MedCup and World Championship venues, the former which, oddly, still haven’t been formally announced, but are believed to be similar to those in 2010. Navigator and weather guru Steve Hayles of UGRIB carried out the weather study and from there the designers came up with a selection of alternatives for the team to choose from. Interestingly this seems to have resulted in two distinctly different breeds of TP52 – there are those such as the new Quantum and Audi Azzurra/Matador that are optimised for up the wind range, beamy affairs following the Emirates Team New Zealand mould, while preferring slightly softer conditions are Rán 4 and Udo Schutz’s new Container, which is being built from the moulds as Rán 4. More will become apparent when these boats line up for the first time at Palmavela next week.

In addition to the weather study there was the normal discussion over optimisation for upwind v downwind, but the boats are typically now being upwind orientated. Aside from their take on the expected wind and sea state conditions they will experience this year, another reason for going less extreme with the beam says Powell is because those boats are harder to sail well. “You have to treat them in a slightly different way to the normal type of Judel-Vrolijks. Because they are quite narrow on the waterline but really beamy when they come so in the lighter stuffer you have to sail them very very upright, which Team New Zealand managed to do. So the heel is more critical on those boats.”

In terms of how the new boat will sail compared to the old generation Powell reckons there will be a gain, because Rán 4 is longer, lighter and stiffer, but otherwise will behave similarly to the previous generation such as the Cristabella, Artemis and Matador boats. “It should be quicker than the old generation, on paper at least. Whereas they [the old boats] have a slight advantage of not having as much structure inside the boat it should be compensated for within the design. I think as soon as the breeze is up a bit the new boats should be quite a bit quicker than the old ones. I think the old boats will be better in the sub-12 knots because we have more stability and we are longer on the sailing length.”

With the TP52 some new faces are joining the Rán team this year in particular Gavin Brady who will be calling tactics with Powell moving on to main sheet. Also new to the team is ex-Volvo Ocean Race and BMW Oracle crewman Jon Gundersen, who previously sailed on the circuit with Mean Machine, who on board is upwind trimmer.

Tomorrow Rán 4's Project Manager Chris Hosking gives us the guided tour of this new weapon.

More photos from Christophe Launay/ Click on images to enlarge them.

Latest Comments

  • acarrau 13/04/2011 - 14:00

    Quantum & ETNZ were designed by Botin, not JV. Just a reminder. Thanks.

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