North Sails LOFT NEWS
THE IMPORTANCE OF SAIL SELECTION
Shane Hughes tells us about the A-Zero and the longevity of North sails onboard Melges 32 ‘Red’ at the Regata Chiloe Santander in Chile
This January, North Sails Shane Hughes left the cold Irish weather and the Northern hemisphere behind and headed south to Chile to compete in the bi-annual Regata Chiloe, one of Chile’s biggest and most prestigious regattas based around the beautiful southern island of Chiloe and the protected waters between it and the Chilean mainland. Shane had been invited by Pablo Anfruns and Rudolf Mijac to race with their team on the Melges 32 Red. For those who have not experienced it, Melges 32 racing is fantastic fun. The boat is very powered up and can easily sail in as little as 4 knots of wind but really comes into her own in 15 knots plus downwind! Having had a break away from sailing the 32 for a few years, it reminded me what a truly special boat it is.
With only one other Melges 32 based in Chile right now (the newly acquired ‘Pepe Pato’ owned by Jose Tirado and Patricio Lopez) both boats were entered into the IRC division, not historically the
Melges 32’s strong point with its big sail area and light displacement. So expectations were set firmly in pessimistic mode.
However, Shane underestimated how the format of the regatta along with the traditional winds for this event (light!) would play into the Melges’ strengths rather than its weaknesses. Thankfully Pablo, the helmsman, and co-owner had not overlooked these factors and this had formed his reasoning for purchasing the Melges 32. The regatta format is a mix of coastal races, with some inshore windward-leeward races. While the 32 would struggle a little on some of the inshore races, the longer coastal races actually suited the boat, especially with downwind or light upwind legs.
One area of concern in the lead up to the regatta was the absence of a Code Sail on the Melges 32. The boat had been almost exclusively raced in One Design configuration, with no need for any code sails, but this regatta format demanded a sail that would work on the reaching and super light wind legs. With the help of Dave Lenz in the North Sails UK design office, we set about designing an A-Zero for the race.
With such a long bowsprit the Melges 32 does not offer the option to set a true Code Zero sail, as you can not generate the cable/luff tension required to furl the sail properly thus the choice of an A-Zero which is hoisted, deployed and retrieved the same as any other spinnaker onboard. This in itself presents a challenge because if you build the sail from too stiff a material (laminate or 3Di) the sail will be very difficult to hoist and recover through the fore-hatch but use a softer nylon material and the sail will not have the stability to retain its flying shape, especially as an IRC zero which requires a big mid girth (>75% of foot length) . The compromise we struck was with Contender’s MaxiKote 200P. A great choice that produced a really stable sail shape that was easy for the crew to handle and work with. We also added North’s Velcro stop tabs which allowed us to roll the head and tack sections to make strong wind hoists easier and safer.
The sail performed superbly and despite us using it infrequently (as is often the case with code sails!) it ended up winning us a coastal race where we were trailing our opposition Melges 32 for 70% of the race up until we hit a parking lot under a headland. They hoisted their biggest A2 Asymmetric and we hoisted our A Zero. From 100 meters behind, we sailed straight by them and even caught up to the other boats in our size range! We hit the new breeze first and won the race by some distance! The lesson learned, bigger is not always better especially in very light conditions. Shane stated:
“We used a full North Sails inventory, which bar the new A Zero, was from 2011 when the boat competed in its last World Championships in Palma. The Main and J1/Light jib were 3DL, while the J2 and J3 were 3Di Endurance. The A-2 asymmetric we used was a little newer, both made of AirX nylon. It really was a testament to the durability of both 3DL but especially 3Di that the sails had retained their flying shapes incredibly well. Granted they had not been used extensively in the interim but as you will see in the below pics, you would not guess they were 7-year-old sails.”
The 3DL sails were just beginning to show the first signs of de-lam in high-density fiber areas and while this did not affect the performance of the sail at all, it does highlight what a huge advantage 3Di has over all of the ‘string’ sails from this perspective. The 3Di sails still looked brand new! No ill effects of being sat in the bag for that extended period. Unfortunately, the predominantly light winds meant they mostly remained in their bags, but the J1 held up superbly and ended up being the workhorse headsail for the team.
At the end of a thoroughly enjoyable weeks racing, both Melges 32’s ended up at the top of the leaderboard with our team taking the win. This surpassed expectations on all fronts for the owners, especially in their first year in the boat. This promotes the future growth of the Melges 32 in Chile. There was quite a lot of interest in the boat, especially regarding its performance against other boats of similar size in the coastal races.