The Alto Section Mast…..Another Customer….

I understand from Sue and Peter Bannsiter at the Dinghy Show that Sue’s next birthday present is going to be an Alto section mast…..

They apparently weigh about 24-25 stone between them and feel from Graham Vials comment (see last week’s blog from Graham) that it might suit them well. We had good conversation too as to whether an Alto mast alone would deliver quite a few of the benefits of the new rig design. Interesting….

I wonder if Peter is going to gift wrap it??!!…..


More on that Alto Mast Section…. David Hume Speaks….!!

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?


David Hume

Graham Vials Speaks on the Alto Section Rig !!……

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.

Graham Vials

There’s Epsilons… and Epsilons….

In all this recent chatter about mast sections, we were reminded today that not all Epsilon Section masts are the same by any means….

Folklore has it that the old extrusion for the Epsilon mast section had become worn. In that state it was pumping out tubing with slightly thicker walls, slightly heavier per metre and slightly stiffer….. Sometime between 1998 and 2008, I forget exactly when, the story says that the extrusion was replaced and the Epsilon masts produced after that date were slightly less stiff.  In our last two boats (1998, and 2008), even to my untrained eye I would say that it was quite noticable even to the vague amateur eye….

So the Alto section is 8% stiffer…. I wonder if that takes us right back where we started from??…

FF Mast Section Evolution….. Alto…..

You’ve probably been following the Worlds and seen how authoritatively the event was stamped by Graham Vials and Chris Turner in very difficult conditions. They didn’t even have to race the last race, they were that far ahead….

Maybe I don’t recall correctly, but I don’t think Graham and Chris raced the British Championship immediately preceding the worlds. For much of that event it blew old boots and very familiar names came up as race winners – Steve Goacher and Charles both won a pair of races each. So we wont know for while how Graham and Chris stack in a blow – but my guess would be pretty damned well. So a new World order emerges… Does it mean a jot to the average Club Racer?? Well, it might do….

A couple of years ago, Charles, Brett and Gavin Tappenden set out on a journey to design the next big step in Flying Fifteens. The new boat is just packed with brilliant, inspired, carbon fibre led, thinking. I believe it also has new computer designed and positioned keel and rudder. They have brought high-tech computer design to an area which (amazingly) is still largely a trial-and-error, done by eye and feel, process of building and assembling a Flying Fifteen. It has been computer modelled to death, and Charles says the measurements suggest it will be a few per cent faster than an Ovi in a 100 minute race.  The result – hmm might be a bit closer than modelling suggests and at least a couple of Charles’ crews have assured us that it is indeed quick.

Then along comes Graham Vials in an Ovi Mk X and pretty much wipes the floor with everyone. How does this impact a club sailor? Well – the average Club Member is slightly less likely to pop out an order for a Charles type boat tomorrow – but Graham Vials was using a new mast section…… A Selden Alto… set with a new P&B rig, based around a slightly flatter mainsail, I believe…

Much earlier this year, we wrote in this blog about how difficult it is to evolve mast sections in Flying Fifteens – see the blog entries for March 5th and March 15th,… or easier just type “Alto” into the search bar on the right hand side of this page and hit enter…..

The main thrust of these articles was to say how difficult it is to buy anything from Selden other than an Epsilon section. They just don’t want to sell you anything else. We noted in March that there is a shift in the Fireball and 505 to a stiffer Selden section (8% stiffer) called the “Alto”. It won the Fireball worlds this year, I think….

Guess what – super quick new star, Graham Vials, is using an Alto Section…. The P&B newsletter today says that he is using an Alto with a Medium cut P&B Main…. and going like the clappers obviously. I must say that we tried a P&B medium cut on the flat waters of Datchet and in the light anyway, preferred it to the ‘Power Full’ design. So – all very interesting…. And that’s the answer to how FFs would get a wider choice of mast section on offer – Graham Vials will arrive and sort one out with P&B! The relevance at  Club level Racing? It might have been an exceptional year for mast damage, but I think our fleet has had three new masts in the last year or so….. So the evolution comes relatively quickly … After all, it’s not that many years since our fleet, and probably yours, was a good mix of Superspar and Epsilon. Now we seem to be just about all Epsilon…. The migration could come reasonably quickly…

However, if we vote for the new rig design later this year, perhaps section development has to start all over again anyway…..

You can compare Selden Mast Sections here


Those FF Mast Sections Again…

It’s funny that we should have posted articles about Non-Dom and the battle with Selden, and of the Alto Mast Section in the Fireballs….  Sue Bannister, BIFFA President, sent around a great newsletter last week. It contained an intriguing snippet about the Ovi FF at the Dinghy Show.

The Datchet staffers on the stand roster had failed (!!) to let me know it had an Alto Mast Section – very interesting. Sue says it is aimed at better gust response for lighter crews. If you see the blog entry for March 15th (or key “alto” into the blog’s Search bar) you will find a link to Selden’s mast section data. Basically the alto is more flexible fore and aft but stiffer sideways. It weighs about 5% more…..