North Sails NEWS

June 14, 2019


Pro & Amateur-helmed Teams Merge On GC32 Flying Catamaran Circuit

📸 Sailing Energy

While the America’s Cup may have migrated to foiling monohulls, foiling catamarans remain very much alive and kicking with the GC32 and the GC32 Racing Tour. This year the circuit absorbed the GC32 teams from the Extreme Sailing Series including Alinghi, Red Bull Sailing Team and Oman Air and with at least ten boats now regularly competing, and entries from afar afield as Australia, Argentina, and the USA, the GC32 Racing Tour is back firing on all cylinders.

North Sails has supplied GC32 teams with their one design sail wardrobe since the first examples were launched in 2012. At the time Laurent Lenne and Andrew Macpherson were conceiving the boat with designer Martin Fischer, they worked hand in hand on the sail plan with Gautier Sergent at North Sails France.

Then, as now, the sail plan hangs off a ‘classic’ catamaran rig with a rotating wing-section tube with a substantial section – 320 x 140mm – to allow luff tension to be maintained, with a single diamond and shrouds leading aft to each hull. Forestay and gennaker attach to a tubular bowsprit that extends forward from the mast step.

A wing, like those found on the America’s Cup catamarans, was never seriously considered, partly due to their logistical headaches, but mainly because the boat was conceived to be attractive both to pro and owner-driver teams. While the typical catamaran rig described might take a little getting used to for say a Melges 32 team, it is much less daunting than a full wing. Besides, the primary focus for new crews is learning how to use the foils and make the boat fly. Fortunately for its size, the GC32’s foils are large, and this makes it surprisingly easy to ‘fly’ the boat and promotes stability with very little impact on speed. Reaching, the boats have been known to touch 40 knots.

The GC32 has just four sails – 55.3 sqm mainsail, 24.17sqm J1, 19sqm J2, and a 88sqm gennaker. Fairly early materials evolved from 3DL to RAW 3Di in carbon, same for the gennaker.

“The biggest development has been with the gennakers,” says sailing legend Bruno Dubois, former head of North Sails France and North Sails Europe VP. Dubois was in Villasimius, Sardinia for the first event of the 2019 GC32 Racing Tour, managing the CHINAone NINGBO team, skippered by New Zealander Phil Robertson and with a crew otherwise identical to that of China’s Sail GP F50.

📸 Sailing Energy

An influx of America’s Cup teams to GC32 between San Francisco and Bermuda saw some using their gennakers in light conditions upwind – now common practice. Dubois explains: “The gennaker has a pretty straight exit and you can see people sailing upwind with the luff flogging, but they are using roughly 80% of the sail area. You don’t point as high, but it can get you out of trouble. As soon as it is flogging too much, typically in 7-8 knots, they roll it and go to the J1. That flogging, and when you furl upwind is when the gennaker, takes a beating.”

Teams are permitted five sail buttons annually, the fifth being for a spare gennaker. Typically top teams replace their sails annually, however, teams dipping into the circuit with chartered boats – like CHINAone NINGBO – round up secondhand sails from other teams. In Villasimius the Chinese were using a two year old main and gennaker. “I am surprised how nicely they’d held their shape,” said Dubois. “They are hi-tech sails but seem to go from season to season with no real problems.”

After a small hiatus last year over how the GC32 Racing Tour and ESS might unite, now this is resolved, the circuit for flying catamarans in which you don’t need an Olympic medal to steer, is on the ascent again. It is run by an active Class Association, with a familiar industry figure Christian Scherrer managing it. The Class received World Sailing recognition in 2017 and is now allowed to hold World Championships, the second of which takes place in Lagos, Portugal over 26-30th June.

“The good thing with the GC32 is that it has its own niche between the small foiling boats and the big ones,” concludes Dubois. “That is why it is so attractive to both private owners and pro teams or America’s Cup or SailGP teams who want to train between events as we are. The boat is so forgiving – we have three Chinese on board out of five crew and it is the perfect opportunity for them.”

📸 Sailing Energy
📸 Sailing Energy
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