We initially chose the Alto rig because we were a little lighter than the other leading teams. The Epsilon is very well proven with teams that are 27-30 stone combined, but we were approaching the worlds with crew weight nearer 25 stone. People are often too keen to follow the trend previously set within the fleet and it’s fine to use proven kit where you are the same weight as the best in the world, but it makes no sense where you are nearly 2-3 stone lighter than your competitors. I strongly believe there are advantages to sailing the Flying Fifteen with less crew weight. Downwind the performance gains are massive – and you can always gain more places downwind than you ever can on a beat. We therefore needed to choose a rig that would allow us to remain competitive upwind in the medium winds.
Seldon recommended the Alto mast – which is almost the same stiffness fore and aft as the Epsilon, but a little softer sideways in the top section. We rigged the new boat with the Alto, and it soon became apparent that the new mast felt very good in the boat – especially with a slightly modified luff curve by Alan Bax – which suited the Alto mast well.
In theory the Alto mast should probably have been slightly slower in light to medium breezes, but we saw no signs of any decrease in performance. The mast definitely had advantages above 12 knots of breeze, where the mast becomes more responsive and the boat tends to drive forward in the gusts rather than wanting to round up into the breeze. Consequently we could sail with less weather-helm and reduced drag from the rudder. Another concern was that pointing ability would be affected by the softer mast – but this was simply not true. Once the mainsail flattens off the jib is able to be sheeted slightly harder, which retains pointing ability.
We set the mast up with the same rig tension and standard P&B pre-bend, as used on the standard Epsilon rig. This provides the perfect mainsail depth in conditions up to kicker sheeting. Once the breeze increases the kicker tension would start to bend the mast and reduce mainsail depth – reducing power. The main advantage however was the responsive top mast, which automatically releases power in the gusts. Consequently the boat would almost sail itself in the gusts, with only minimal mainsheet adjustment required.
A very interesting and refreshing article by Graham on the new mast section. Yes I think it is fair to say, from the grunting you tend to hear, the Fifteen open fleet has gravitated to the heavy weights over the past decade.
Way back when I sailed a fifteen on the open circuit, we probably had about eighteen stone aboard, but the boats were softer, less rigid and possibly more forgiving then, so we were still quite competitive.
Nevertheless, on the strong recommendation of Charles Apthorpe I purchased a Proctor E section mast. So over the winter of 1995/1996 I put an Ovington Smoothy together in my garage. The new boat was constructed around the E section, with a beefy kicker led back to the mainsheet control, finger tip control of genoa halyard – rig tension – on the console and a double purchase at the bridle end of the mainsheet, otherwise a strict minimum of string, pulleys, blocks and consequent expense. We did not need carbon to keep this baby down to weight!
The concept was to sail the Fifteen like a big dinghy, which essentially I think it is, and let the rig do the work. We hoped to concentrate on placing the boat on the right place on the course, rather than on masses of coloured lines sprouting from the middle and sides of the cockpit. It worked well for us, both on inland and open water, Although now the boat is only enjoyed for club sailing – anno domini -. both me and the boat!
It is hoped that our sailmakers and other open fleet alumni continue to develop Graham’s ideas. We need the fleet to grow and prosper, so a bit of extra lateral thinking to develop a fifteen with less need of ‘beef’ or ‘grunt’ might serve to enhance the appeal of the class to a broader section of the sailing fraternity. The Fifteen can be such a rewarding and enjoyable boat to sail it should not depend on size.
Perhaps it’s a shame that Graham let slip that ‘nugget’ about downwind speed and place gains. What is the aspirant club sailor going to do with his tape measure now? He is sure it’s all about rake, but it could be about the mast!
It’s a challenge, will the fleet pick it up?