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The technology behind the new superyachts

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August 14, 2005

The technology behind the new superyachts

The technology behind the new superyachts

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August 15, 2005 New Zealand super maxi 'Alfa Romeo' has the potential to shatter race records around the world, predicts owner and skipper, Neville Crichton, having spent two weeks testing the new super maxi prior to the Hahn Premium Race Week at Hamilton Island (20-27 August 2005). After the Whitsundays regatta, the first major record in the sights of Neville Crichton is the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race mark of 1 day 19 hours 48 minutes 02 seconds for the 628 nautical mile race in the Tasman Sea. "Given a relatively constant breeze of 15 knots with slightly sprung sheets the new boat will average 22 knots and we can sail the course in 1 day and 5 hours," he says with confidence.

The new 'Alfa Romeo', the 30-metre (98-feet) successor to the 27.5-metre (90-feet) world champion of the same name that took line honours in some 74 races in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, including the 2002 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, is the most technically advanced ocean racing yacht in the world today. She is a magnificent example of the latest concept in design, engineering, construction, rigging and sails.

Designed by the US firm of Reichel/Pugh and built of carbon fibre composite by McConaghy Boats in Sydney, Australia, 'Alfa Romeo' carries a towering 44 metre carbon fibre mast built by Southern Spars in New Zealand with the latest concept in 3DL and mylar sails designed by the Sydney loft of North Sails.

Each company has contributed to a racing yacht that can only be described as awesome in concept and a quantum leap in the already advanced technology of modern yacht design, engineering and construction. McConaghy Boats, who have now built 10 maxi yachts in carbon fibre describe the building of 'Alfa Romeo' as the biggest and most complex project they have ever undertaken.

Race performances are expected to be just as awesome with race record predictions no idle threat. Overseas in 2006 the new 'Alfa Romeo' will be an outstanding example of Australian and New Zealand boat-building techniques and workmanship.

Like her predecessor, she is registered with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland and carries the sail number NZL 80.

'Alfa Romeo' will begin her racing campaign at the Hahn Premium Race Week at Hamilton Island later this month, from 20-27 August. She will then be sailed to New Zealand for some final checkout before returning to Sydney in October to begin an intensive lead-up campaign for the 2005 Rolex Challenge and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. In January she will be shipped to Europe to contest all the major offshore events in the Mediterranean and other Northern Hemisphere waters.

Owner/skipper Neville Crichton, a lifelong sailing enthusiast and, in his own right, a world class racing helmsman, commissioned Reichel/Pugh to design him a super maxi boat to the 30-metre length overall (LOA) maximum set for two of the world's great traditional races, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and the Rolex Fastnet Race.

"I would have liked to stay with a 90-footer but when the CYCA (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia) and the RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) set their maximum LOA at 30-metres for the Hobart and the Fastnet Races we had to go up to 30-metres to be competitive," Crichton explains.

As it is, the new 'Alfa Romeo' will face some strong competition in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race with four other maximum LOA boats expected to compete in the 2005 race - the new Maximus, owned by fellow New Zealanders Charles St Clair Brown and Bill Buckley, the rebuilt Australian boat Skandia, owned by Grant Wharington, a yet-to-be-launched new Wild Oats for Bob Oatley, and another New Zealand boat, Stewart Thwaites' Konica Minolta which, like Skandia, raced to Hobart last year - and also did not make it. "The 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is shaping up as an extraordinary clash of the super maxis and a race that could well see the record broken," predicts Crichton. "Around the world we will see race records shattered by this new breed of yachts."

Although the new 'Alfa Romeo' has yet to sail in fresh to strong breezes, Neville Crichton and his crew are predicting amazing numbers from the new 98-footer. "My gut feeling is that she will be 20 per cent faster than the previous 90-footer…capable of 35 knots downwind in any sort of a reasonable fresh breeze; 20-22 knots on a reach in 18 knots of wind; 12 knots hard on the breeze to windward. The big difference is that this new breed of 30-metre boats are capable of sustaining high speeds," says Crichton.

"If we can get 15 knots of constant breeze all the way to Hobart we will break Nokia's record!" "Of course, it all hinges on the weather. The Hobart record set by Kialoa stood for 21 years, until just bettered by Morning Glory in 1996. Then Nokia shattered that time in 1999.

"If we get the same conditions as Nokia, strong winds on the beam, we could do it in a day…but realistically we could reach Hobart this year in a day and five hours." When he commissioned this new boat, Crichton himself was making a quantum leap forward in the many yachts he has campaigned so successfully.

Not only would the new 'Alfa Romeo' be the biggest racing yacht he had ever owned, but it would be the first for him with a canting keel.

While he says that there is not a lot more that can be done in developing super yachts sailed by small crews, some significant advances have been made with the new boat. In addition to the canting keel the boat has water ballast, two rudders fore and aft of the keel and hydraulic winches. The rig is taller than any super maxi built to date, enabling the boat to carry a huge mainsail and massive asymmetric spinnakers.

CONSTRUCTION

The planning, engineering and building of the hull, keel and rudders of 'Alfa Romeo', the 10th maxi yacht built in carbon fibre composite by McConaghy Boats in the Sydney, Australia, was the biggest and most complex project yet completed by the internationally renowned boat-builders.

From a male plug, McConaghy's built the carbon fibre composite hull using the latest prepreg systems developed by Structural Polymer Systems (SP) which sent out from England three of their technical experts to assist with the project. Extensive use was made of high modulus carbon fibre over the Nomex honeycomb, with Corecell foam used in high load areas. Because the hull is so narrow, many longitudal stiffening planks were also used for added strength.

Having the canting keel operated by a single hydraulic ram added to complexities of the engineering as did the extensive electronic control systems required for the canting keel, the two rudders and the hydraulic winches. Precision alignment of bulkheads and canting keel structure was critical, with all jigs being computer milled. Highly specialised steels were also used for the components of the hydraulic ram which was built by Central Coast Hydraulics. "It was a new generation of complexities in boat building," a spokesman for McConaghy Boats added.

The Hull

The metallic silver painted hull is long and lean-looking with a short bowsprit. The coachhouse is low and encases the hydraulic systems that control the jib cars and Cunningham controls. The open cockpit runs from aft of the coachhouse and main companionway to the transom, clear except for the twin steering wheels set on stylish individual consoles with instruments in front of the helmsman. Instruments are repeated on the mast. Remarkably, the new bigger boat still weighs only about a tonne more than the previous 'Alfa Romeo'.

Below Decks

The stylish interior is white with highlights of black carbon fibre and warm red upholstery for the bunks/seat. Even the toilette is carbon fibre! A large part of the accommodation is taken up with the encased engine, the twin hydraulic systems (for keel and winches) and encased electronic systems, with the fully equipped nav station set just below the helmsman's position on deck.

Apart from through the main companionway, light comes into the interior through a series of small ports through the deck and with the white interior the long open saloon (for want of a better description) is quiet light and airy - except the dark cave at the bow which houses the forward rudder controls. A carbon fibre table in the shape of a water drop hangs from the deckhead just aft of the galley but the focal point is the canting keel system which can be viewed through a polycarbonate clear cover. You can even see the water below!

RUDDERS

The two rudders are solid, high modulus carbon fibre for added strength, as are the rudder stocks. The rudder bearings are 400mm metal, custom made by a Berry, NSW, based company called Private Part. The forward rudder, controlled by a massive hydraulic arm in the forepeak, can be used three ways in conjunction with the main steering rudder - offset at an angle of up to 2 degrees to give the boat extra lift when sailing to windward; fixed to work in tandem with the main rudder; or "floating" when running downwind. The main rudder blade incorporates a "string pot" positive sensing device which instantly detects the angle of the rudder. This is fed into the boat's computer system which then tells the hydraulic ram exactly the angle to position the forward rudder.

CANTING KEEL

The canting keel is high tensile steel with a special calcium lead bulb and is controlled by a single hydraulic ram which can swing the keel 45 degrees either way from the vertical. "We felt that it was better to have one over-built ram than two rams," says Crichton. "In fact, probably the whole boat is probably over-built."

The canting keel system meets the new international rules requiring recovery angles and back-up systems, both mechanical and hydraulic introduced following the capsize of Skandia in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.

For the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, 'Alfa Romeo' will have on board a specialist canting keel technician who has a specially built console on deck aft of the twin steering wheels. "I fought against canting keels, they add to the design and engineering costs," Crichton points out, before adding: "If properly engineered, they are no problem in the operation of the boat and they do improve the performance."

WATER BALLAST

In addition to the canting keel, 'Alfa Romeo' has water ballast. The equivalent - or more - of having the entire crew standing at the transom!

ENGINE POWER

Power to drive the boat at up 13 knots, plus the two hydraulic systems for the canting keel ram and the deck winches, comes from a Yanmar 250 horsepower engine. McConaghy Boats have also designed a special propeller retraction unit which lifts the five-blade fixed prop back into the hull, leaving a flush surface when under sail.

RIG

Towering just over 42-metres above the deck, the Southern Spars carbon fibre mast is superbly finished and shaped, with a five-spreader in-line rig. Standing rigging is no longer metallic. It is PBO rope - a composite that is not only stronger but 30 per cent lighter than the once conventional stainless steel rigging and even lighter than carbon fibre rigging. Running backstays and two sets of check stays and an inner forestay control the mast shape.

SAILS

A major factor in deciding the sail inventory for the new boat has the CYCA's decision to drop the previous upper speed limit, a computer handicap figure, for the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Thus, the sails are bigger, the huge reaching spinnakers lighter - the biggest is 805 square metres. By comparison, the new 98-footer will carry 35 per cent more sail area than the 2002-built 'Alfa Romeo'.

North Sails in Sydney have once designed all the 3DL working sails and spinnkers, the spinnakers cut in the Sydney loft, the working sails imported from the USA. For the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart, the new boat's working sails will comprise an offshore mainsail with headsails comprising a #1 light/medium, #1 heavy, #4 heavyweight jib, #5 heavyweight jib, jib topsail, genoa staysail and a drifter windseeker.

The reaching and running sails will comprise a Code 0 and six asymmetric spinnakers - #1A (VMG), #2R (running), #3A (VMG), #4A (heavy running), #5A (heavy running) and #6A (very heavy running) plus the mandatory storm trysail and storm jib. The offshore main is 314 square metres, the #1 genoa 208 square metres and the biggest spinnaker is 805 square metres. The spinnakers are flatter, similar to those carried by 18-foot skiffs, to enable the super maxi to sail much close to the apparent wind.

WINCHES

All winches are the very latest from Harken. The four primary winches are new generation 1130s, three speed hydraulically-powered, push-button operated with carbon fibre tops. They are capable of 90-metres a minute in first speed and have a safety rating of nine tonnes. The runner and mainsheet (AC65.2) traveller winches are also hydraulically operated but the four AC990 pit winches are manually operated.

THE CREW

'Alfa Romeo' will be sailed to Hobart by a crew of 20, including the canting keel technician and a dedicated navigator. The previous 90-foot 'Alfa Romeo' Shockwave raced to Hobart with a crew of 24. There will be five designated helmsmen, including Crichton himself and sailing master Michael Coxon whose company, North Sails Australia, has built the 3DL sails for the boat. The new 'Alfa Romeo' has been designed as an all-round boat for offshore racing, not a boat for square running but one with a strong upwind performance and capable of fast reaching.

"In the Med most of the courses are upwind with some reaching legs; these days we gibe downwind to achieve the optimum angles and that is what we will be doing to Hobart," says Crichton.

As the Kiwi yachtsman says, the competition for line honours in this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be the toughest ever, "unbelievably close" but he is confident that the new 'Alfa Romeo' will repeat the remarkable racing record of the 90-footer he sailed to a Hobart Race line honours win in 2002 and then in 2003 and 2004 went on to conquer the world's best maxis in the Northern Hemisphere.

'ALFA ROMEO' TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Owner/skipper: Neville Crichton Club: Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Sail No: NZL 80 Designers: Reichel/Pugh, USA Builders: McConaghy Boats, Sydney, Australia Construction: Hull - carbon fibre composite. Keel - steel; Rudders and Mast - carbon fibre; Sails - 3DL carbon/mylar Mast: Southern Spars, Auckland, New Zealand Winches, deck gear: Harken Winches Sails: North Sails, Sydney, Australia LOA: 30.0 metres Beam: 5.2 metres Draft: 5.2 metres Mast: 44 metres (42.2 metres above deck) Sail area: Mainsail: 314 square metres #1 genoa: 208 square metres #1 Asymmetric spinnaker: 805 square metres Weight: 25.5 tonnes

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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