(Not so) Speedy Maltese

Andrea Caracci tells us about his slightly too new Manuard-designed Proto Mini

Thursday October 22nd 2009, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
20th on leg one into Madeira and currently lying 15th on the second leg of the Charente Maritime-Bahia, Italian Andrea Caracci must be a little disappointed with his performance, considering his Speedy Maltese is one of the hot, brand new designs from Mini designer of the moment, Sam Manuard, and this is also his third Mini Transat in a top class Proto. His boat is also one of the most technically advanced in this year’s race. However it looks unlikely that in this race Caracci will better his top Mini Transat result to date – in 2005 he campaigned Manuard’s own 431, Tip Top Too to 10th place overall, following this up with a DNF in 2007 after his boat dismasted between the Canary Islands and Cape Verdes.

Prior to the start of this race Caracci was aware of the shortcomings of his present campaign. “The problem this time is that I have built this boat by myself and I spent much time in the shipyard and little time at sea. So now I am ready, but I haven’t sailed a lot with the boat. I qualified sailing in the Mediterranean, but the final testing was never done. It broke and I modified it and made all these things, but I have never tested the full power of this boat. That is a small point!” This was partly due to his only starting the build of his boat in November last year.

Speedy Maltese has much the same powerful, beamy hull shape with substantial chines in its aft flanks, as the other new generation Protos and including the other new Manuards - leg one winner Bertrand Delesne’s Entreprendre Durablement and Stéphane le Diraison’s Cultisol-Marins Sans Frontieres, which led the Protos into the Doldrums on the present leg, only to be trounced afterwards by Thomas Ruyant.

“It is a little bit flatter, especially behind the keel,” says Caracci of the differences between the hulls of the new Manuards. Why? “Through my experience - because Tip Top Too was a really flat boat with a lot of wetted surface, I asked Sam for one like that, but with less wetted surface. So we have worked with the weight, but also the shape of the hull. It is a bit more narrow at the back too.”

But the dramatic feature of Speedy Maltese – or at least compared to what are a reasonably conservative bunch of Protos in this race - is the ability to rake her mast. (Saying this Thomas Ruyant’s race winner, Faber France, the same boat Isabelle Joschke campaigned in 2007, has a mini-ORMA style rotating wingmast that can be not only be raked, but also canted to weather).

On Speedy Maltese the mast head can be moved fore and aft by up to 2m, although Caracci says he typically moves it by only 1.5m now and only between vertical and aft.

“I found it really easy to use and really simple,” says Caracci. “With Minis, you have different sail area configurations, so you could have maybe a small mainsail and a big spinnaker or a big mainsail, etc - so the possibility of balancing the boat by moving the mast is easier than all the other things. So this is a good solution, I think it is very easy and very simple.”

Upwind typically the mast is vertical but when the wind increases and Caracci reduces sail to the big jib and two reefs, he can crank the rig back to balance the boat, reducing the task of the autopilot. “If you make the helm light, the autopilot works less and that reduces the energy requirement and all the other things. And also downwind if you are close reaching with a big kite, the boat always tried to bear away and you can put back the mast as far as you can to get more balance.”

Rake adjustment is achieved by having the mast step sunk into a well on deck. Caracci explains the reason for this: “The attachment of the shrouds are at the same height as the maststep, so it is on the same axis which means you can move the mast without changing the shroud tension. It is really easy to move - you release the headstay regulator and the mast moves back. It is just a loop on the headstay, back to the cockpit, on a halyard stopper. It is very easy. In the Mediterranean I used it upwind in 30-35 knots in a thunderstorm and everything worked well. We made the stability test and it works. I have made it better and better, because I reinforced the spreader and made a better system to control the tuning of the shrouds. I hope it will work well downwind and in strong wind.”

A further complication is that the mast is millennium rigged with the diagonals passing through the tube, just like Cup boats of old. According to Caracci they chose to do this because it means they can shed a set of spreaders, thereby reducing weight and drag.

While the rig is a development, the keel on Speedy Maltese is a relatively standard canting Proto affair, moved side to side by a rope purchase system below deck. Caracci says that when he spoke with Sam Manuard, the designer had recommended that he confine developments with the boat to one area - in this case, the rig.

Caracci is proud that his country is embracing the Mini Transat. In 2005 he was the sole Italian. This year there are nine. “Maybe I was an example. Perhaps people talked about me! I am hoping that the Mini class will grow again in Italy. It is a fantastic boat and it teaches people how to sail in the sea, not just on short trips around the harbour. Without big risks you can go far from the shore and learn how to sail. It is the best sailing school you can find. I am really happy if this sport finds people in Italy.”

Back in the real world, Caracci has a job as an aeronautical engineer, although for the last year he has jacked this in to focus on the Mini.

In terms of his budget, he acknowledges that mounting a Proto campaign can cost an astronomic 300,000 Euros, but he managed to do it substantially cheaper than this. “I was really lucky. I found many technical sponsors that gave me materials and workers to do all these things but I didn’t find money, cash to do this. So I spent a lot of my money, but if you compare with a normal Proto budget, employing carbon boat builders to do work, make moulds, fittings, etc a lot of stuff I got for free or very cheap. So for me it was possible to be here with a budget of 75-80,000 Euros with a new boat. Otherwise it would not be less than 200,000 Euros, for a new boat, getting here and one season campaigning it.” He reckons a new Proto can be built for 120,000 Euros if it is done on the cheap or 150,000 Euros if it is carried out by a professional boatbuilder.

In the case of Speedy Maltese, Caracci built it himself, seemingly all over Italy. The female moulds and subsequent hull and deck mouldings were built to the south of Naples by a new company called Maltese (hence the name of the boat). (It is believed that Speedy Maltese is one of the only new Minis to be built with a Nomex core - although it has been pointed out that the Rowan Composites-built Rogers designs were Nomex cored.) Once bulkheads were in he took the boat to a place near Trieste where a friend of his, who competed in the 2007 Mini Transat, has a small boat yard. Here the boats was finished, fitted out and painted.

Due to the lateness of the build, his first event was in Spain at the beginning of the summer and Speedy Maltese was not in great shape for this without her 160lt a side water ballast working, no vang, no kites and breaking her rudder 50 miles into the race. After Naples and Trieste, so the boat spent the rest of the summer being worked on in Genoa where she was repaired and modified.

Aside from his technical backers in Italy, Caracci has also received considerable support from his club, the Yacht Club Italiano, where the President there, Carlo Croce is a fan of the Mini. The club, who are also behind Giovanni Soldini’s Volvo Ocean Race campaign, has helped Caracci considerably in terms of organisation and logistics.

The question is will his result in this race prompt him to return to the Mini class in order to realise the full potential of his boat or will it simply put him off?

More photos on the following pages...

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