Saturday, June 8, 2019

J/70 Sail Development- A Perspective

J/70s sail testing
(San Diego, CA)- Recently in San Diego, a group of one-design champions with 11 world titles between them came together for an intensive J/70 sail-testing session. The primary goal was to quantify whether new upwind sail designs would prove faster than the existing J/70 inventory, which has been on the podium at every class world championship so far. Tim Healy, President of North Sails One Design, explains it this way: “We wanted to look at some different concepts and either prove that we’re on the right track or cross some ideas off the list, to further advance the performance of our sails.”

A secondary goal, Tim says, was to better understand the existing designs and how tuning and trim plays into performance. “A sail design can be improved, but unless you understand how to trim and tune it properly, you’re not going to get the benefit. Our current designs are very good, but we also wanted to make sure we’re really getting the most out of the sails.”

With these goals in mind, Tim invited one-design experts from a range of competitive keelboat classes to go sailing and then brainstorm ideas for improvement. Mike Marshall put his own worlds-winning drive to work as the telemetry expert, coach, and debrief leader. “My goal is to not be the most vocal person in the room,” Mike says, “but to be the person who facilitates. Trying to get the best input out of every single person.”
J/70 North Sails testers
How It Worked
Each morning before leaving the dock, the two J/70s were tuned to the same base numbers, and teams of four were carefully combined to be within ten pounds of each other. Tim Healy and Will Welles steered. The group sailed in both the flat water of South Bay and outside in ocean swells, in breeze that ranged from five to thirteen knots.

On each of the four days Mike ran a series of five-minute telemetry runs, using the proprietary equipment he helped to develop, which has set new standards for sail testing. Running up to twenty-two tests each day built an impressively large data set of accurate VMGs for each boat. Skip Dieball, who trimmed for Tim Healy’s team, had used the telemetry to prepare for his win at the 2015 Etchells Worlds. “It was incredibly valuable in determining the fastest setup and fastest equipment combination.”

Having world champions as rail meat, Tim says, was a lot of fun. “They are so competitive! On every test, everyone was doing everything they could to try to win the test. Then in the end, Mike would tell us who beat who.”

A Potent Mix Of Personalities
After sailing, the two teams got together for a debrief to share thoughts about the results. A discussion with so many champions led to surprising insights each day, Mike explains. “Put nine competitive sailors in a room together, and you come to a lot of really good conclusions. Everyone brings their own experience. Zeke Horowitz brings his Flying Scot and his J/22 experience. Eric Doyle brings his Star experience. Will Welles brings his many years of J/24 sailing and Skip Dieball, his Etchells and many other one-design classes success. Vince Brun has 40 or 50 years in this business, and he’s always got something very valid to say as well as always being an absolute pleasure to have around. Tim Healy brings his encyclopedia of knowledge of all the things that he’s won. It’s highly beneficial to get all the different opinions and thoughts and combine the various viewpoints.” Skip Dieball was also impressed with the debriefs: “World champions everywhere! It was fun to collaborate and discuss what we felt, how we set up the various designs.”

Tim agrees that the wide range of perspectives helped everyone improve. “Eric Doyle, for instance, is a hands-on guy. When it comes to manufacturing, it’s always great to bounce the idea off him: ‘Hey Eric, what do you think?’ Then he says, ‘We already tried that with this class. It didn’t work.’

“Mike is the technical guy,” Tim continues. “And Zeke is more of a seat-of-the-pants guy, so it’s refreshing to hear his point of view. They all shared different experiences with sail development programs, what’s worked and what hasn’t. There were so many different talents at that table that you could always find somebody to say, ‘I can help with that.’”

What They Learned
Sail testing is all about making better sails, and Tim says that, while looking at new shapes and more user-friendly construction techniques, they took the time to drill down to the tiniest of details: the shape of a telltale window, the placement of a tack grommet, how the webbing is attached to the head of the jib. “We could talk all day about batten pocket construction and come up with examples from another class.”

Both Tim and Mike agree that if they had the four days to do over again that they wouldn’t change a thing. Eric Doyle says the telemetry was so helpful that he would never go sail testing without it again, though it falls to Mike to explain why. “We’re constantly trying to improve our sails, but at the end of the day, how do you do that? With telemetry testing, you end up with a solid, concrete answer, an indisputable fact. 85% of the time, those facts are confirmed by what people feel on the boat. When they aren’t, you can look further into why.

“Of course, I have opinions about which sail is better and why,” Mike continues. “But the two-boat testing system keeps it scientific and organized. It really pushed our development path forward, giving us answers as well as new questions to ask.”

Tim agrees that the scientific approach left him confident about their conclusions. “The bottom-line goal is to prove that we’re making a better sail. We had some good concepts that we got more data from. And we now understand the tuning and the trim even better than before.”

A three-time World Champion himself, even Tim was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of expertise they gathered together. “I know these guys. I talk to them every day. But when you stop to think about it, the knowledge base is pretty impressive.”