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This Article Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2016 - 13:07:39
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The Star boat is interesting for many reasons. The most obvious is that the best sailors have always gravitated to the class. In the past it was names like Melges, Conner, Buchan, North, Blackaller, Petterson, Driscoll, Ficker. These sailors honed their skills, both racing and technical, in the Star and went on to skipper America’s Cup boats. More recently, Percy, Grael, Cayard, have done the same. Racing in the Star Class always meant tough competition, so tactically you learned quickly.
Technically, the Star has also always had just the right formula of development within limits. This has allowed the curious sailors to develop ideas in an effort to find speed.
The Star was designed in 1911. It has lived through many technological changes and is now a modern-classic. More accurately, had the class administration not allowed the changes I highlight below then the class would have died like the dinosaur; meanwhile a number of other changes have been proposed and rejected. The key is sound management and the class has been blessed with that for over 100 years.
Names like Gordon, Burnham, Croce, Knowles, Schoonmaker, Thomsen, Allen, and now Lars Grael are among those who have lent their considerable experience and judgment to the Star Class. Today, Canadian Brian Cramer is the class technical director. According to Brian, 'The tolerances are tight enough that you can’t drive a truck through them, but loose enough that no one stops tinkering. That is the secret to our success and survival. As technology has evolved, so has the Star.'
The Star has gone from gaff rig to a Marconi rig, from wooden hulls and spars to fiberglass and aluminum, from cotton sails to dacron. The boat has gone from an open hull to unsinkable. The Star is one of the very few boats that is capable of sailing well in winds from 0-30 knots without changing sails or reefing! The mast that supports that wind range is proportionally very skinny and with just one set of spreaders.
Historic innovators in the Star were North and Nye with sails, Lippencott and Etchells, Buchan and Petterson with hulls, Buchan and Holt with masts, Duarte Bello invented the suction bailer. In the 50s and 60s the advantages that could be had from a ‘fast boat’ or a ‘fast suit of cotton sails’ meant winning the regatta. But these artisans were passionate enough about what they made to make their products for their competitors as well as for themselves. As the years went on products became standardized. This increased competition. However there is still today the opportunity to develop all aspects of the Star.
An interesting recent case is the P-Star and the new Folli. Mark Pickel designed an innovative boat in 2006. He gave his hull shape a higher prismatic than the then current winners, Folli, Lillia and Mader. On top of this he used the highest grade materials allowed by the class and applied excellent craftsmanship to building the boats.
The P-Star is not only fast, but a work of art. They were almost the same speed as a Folli upwind but significantly faster downwind in most conditions. At the 2012 Olympic Games, all but one of the competitors used a P-Star. It seemed if you didn’t have a P-Star you shouldn’t bother going out to race. But the class didn't outlaw or ban such a super boat. The class had seen evolutions like this before.
What happened is a passionate man, named Andrea Folli, son of Danilo, was determined not to be outdone. Folli and his team on Lake Como, the builder of more than 20 world champion boats since the 80s, designed a new shape and built a new hull mould. He halved the advantage of the P-Star downwind while maintaining the Folli's superiority upwind. Today, here at the Bacardi Cup in Miami, the top four teams are using new Folli's. The current world champion, Lars Grael, won in a new Folli. The class let natural evolution sort itself out.
I asked Andrea about his work in the Star class:
"I believe that in a one design class like the Star, the key to success is consistently replicating good performance in every boat you make. Two of the recent improvements in our production is the use of moulds built from a CNC-milled plug plus the use of CNC-milled keels as standard.
"The new moulds are extremely robust; they are built in epoxy and post-cured at high temperature to maintain their precise shape for a very long time. Now, the hull and the keel have both better lines and are also built even more precisely than before.
"The use of these technologies required investment, but it has allowed us to improve quality and save hours of work during some of the building and finishing processes: for example in the alignment of the hull-deck joint and the critical junction between the hull and keel.
"The Folli Star is built using E-glass and epoxy resin, vacuum bagged and post-cured at 65-degrees. The quality of epoxy resins has improved greatly over the years in both mechanical and toxicological characteristics: this makes the resin both easier and also safer to use," says Folli.
There have been several builders of rigs over the years but now the class is left with just one builder, Emmetti (although Rob Burton is working on a new Star rig in Vancouver). Why? Building a Star rig, a tapered aluminum mast that can endure 30 knots of wind and yet deflect properly in 5 knots, requires modern equipment, high quality aluminum, and craftsmanship. Massimo Tagliaferri has the skill, passion, tools and the right aluminum supplier to make these masts at a cost the fleet can afford. "The Star mast is a peculiar mast, it seems impossible that a tube so small could support a sail so big", says Massimo. Although he is the only builder today, he has not raised his prices in five years. This is the kind of person the class is blessed to have in support.
The Star class is a fraternity. Those who are transient to the class come to it for its competition, which is reason enough. A true Star sailor also sails in the class out of respect for the tradition and history of the class and is a life long member.
Another key ingredient in the Star Class has been the 'rolling tool box'. For 50 years, John MacCausland always had the parts you needed in his boat box, in the USA. Over in Europe, Alex Hagen was providing the same service. To keep track of all those little items, to always be available, willing and happy to help, nourished the class. John MacCausland Jr. has kept that valuable service going today in the USA.
While I am relatively young in Star Class terms, I remember competing against Bill Buchan in 1984 for the Olympic Trials. Bill had built himself a new boat in his garage in the winter of ’83 in Seattle. When spring came, he brought the boat down to San Francisco for an event. The boat didn’t perform the way he wanted so he drove it back up to Seattle, (actually Steve Erickson did), where Bill got the skill saw out, cut the topsides, from deck to chine, lifted the bow one inch and glassed the boat back together.
Bill went on to win the trials and the gold medal in that boat… number 6960 if my memory is correct. Bill would also get unanodized masts from Holt, and literally plane them down in the parking lot like they were wood, to get the bend he wanted.
Buddy Melges took a hull from Bill Gerard home to Zenda for the winter of 1977. When he came to San Francisco for the World Championship in October of 1978, the boat had acquired two longitudinal frames from bow to stern to stiffen the hull. He also had running backstays that were attached to a rope tail running through the deck, rather than a track. He had a flat, yarn tempered set of sails.
Dennis Conner was favoured to win. After all, he had won every race of the World Championship in Kiel the year before and had Ron Anderson crewing for him, one of the few guys who weighed 260lb and could hike the entire race (no baskets* then). It wasn’t even close. Buddy and Andreas [Josenhans] won the World Championship with incredible speed in the 25 knots wind of the Bay.
The Star has always been for the tinkerer… guys who like to try out their ideas. The class rules are a magic formula; trying things is allowed and even rewarded, within reason. Reason enough that competitors don’t get discouraged, they just try harder.
Torben Grael is here in Miami with his new Lillia. It is purple. That’s right, not white. But that's not the only innovation. He is bringing a Soling concept to the Star, actually one that was tried by his countryman Jorge Bruder at the '72 Olympic Games in Kiel… the self-tacking jib. This is a concept that may have performance advantages at the top end of the fleet but may also be good for the weekend sailor who wants to take a buddy along who doesn’t know much about sailing. The ease of tacking is obvious but the same holds true for gybing.
Today the Star is a modern boat, but a Porsche, not a Mercedes. Both are top quality machines, but the Porcshe is for a certain driver, the suspension is stiff and the gearbox is tight. The Merc is comfortable.
Why would you want to sail on a boat where you can't hike out? There are plenty of ways to win in the Star; experience, technical ability, innovation, natural feel, and physicality.
When the Finn class graduated in 2000, following the Sydney games, they came with their physicality. First Percy then Loof then Rohart then Kuznierewitz, and then a Laser sailor named Scheidt, dominated the class for the next 12 years. Fortunately, they all left so Torben and I are back to being competitive…
Nothing sails closer to the wind in under 10 knots than the Star. No rig is more complex and simple at the same time. Everything is interconnected. It is self-depowering. Mylar sails don’t work in the Star because they are too stiff to flatten as the windspeed increases. To understand the Star rig takes years but it is experience that can be put to use for a lifetime. Chances are, the better a sailor you are the more you will like the Star.
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