A wall of improvement

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For a class declared as having ‘passed’ as recently as 2012 the TP52 seems to be doing rather well…

Although I see myself as a butler running a complicated house, some see me as a saviour and others as just lucky when it comes to my work as manager of the TP52 class.

For sure it is easier to look good in your profession when things go well. Then again, to be tested at times helps to become better at the job. Since being declared dead by most in the industry in 2012 when we were down to four boats, the remarkable resurrection now known as the 52 Super Series, built upon three owners deciding to set up a new series when the MedCup faltered, has since attracted about 20 owners. From 2014 to 2018 it was the motivation behind the construction of 20 new TP52s.

Confidence is back, as 52 Super Series experienced in her recently launched Technical Partners programme – chalking up names like Quantum Sails, North Sails, Southern Spars, King Marine, Longitud Cero and Botín Partners. Their contribution allows live TV links between races for interviews and race summaries. Some new 2018 boats still need to be launched but what I see so far makes me extremely happy to be part of this household.

Besides the 20 most recent boats, from their moulds another six or seven boats have also been built to date including the PAC52s in California and the recent Sydney- Hobart winner Ichi Ban. Plus the TP52s no longer taking part in the Super Series are all actively racing as far as I can see.

About 80 boats, built to the highest standards at the time, continue to give pleasure to what must be about 1,000 competitive sailors. And not just pleasure – a good number of sailors on the 52s are professionals. They have to bring home the bacon in preferably ample quantity. Most pros will never be singled out in this magazine, but this year’s 52 Super Series line-up includes names well-known to Seahorse readers, some even in mainstream media.

Not least of course will be another round between tacticians Terry Hutchinson (Quantum Racing/American Magic) and Vasco Vascotto (Luna Rossa Challenge) – this time as warm-up to a greater cause, the America’s Cup. They do not come without help, however: expect Francesco Bruni on the helm of the Botín-designed, Persico-built Luna Rossa, with Jimmy Spithill as strategist and Francesco Mongelli as navigator. On Quantum Racing (Botín Longitud Cero) her owner Doug DeVos will mix helming duties with Dean Barker and Ian Moore will be navigating.

Main picture: Harm Müller Spreer’s Platoon has improved rapidly each season; they are the current TP52 world champions and finished second behind Azzurra in last year’s Super Series. A new Judel-Vrolijk design built by Premier will do nothing to slow them down in 2018

Above: No pressure… the deck and transom of the new Botín-designed Azzurra for the 2017 Super Series champions is gently lowered onto the hull at King Marine in Valencia. Much of the deck gear is already in place and Azzurra were out sailing just three weeks after this photo was taken

Even Vasco cannot race two boats at the same time so the 2017 Super Series champion and my personal tip for yet another overall podium finish, Azzurra, Botín design and King Marine build, will sail instead with Santiago Lange (threetime Olympic medallist including gold in the Nacra 17 in Rio) for tactical perspective next to Guillermo Parada on the helm and Bruno Zirrilli as navigator.

Other teams relying on paid hands on the tiller are Provezza (Vrolijk/Persico) with Peter Holmberg, as in 2017 guided by Tony Rey and Nacho Postigo. Also the new Paprec (ex-Rán) with Cédric Château on the helm, Valentin Sipan on tactics and Jean-Charles Monnet on the tablet.

Leading last year’s owner-driver department and dedicated to becoming the first owner-driver to win the 52 Super Series is the owner of Platoon (Vrolijk/Premier), Harm Müller Spreer, bringing very much the same team as in his TP52 World Championship- winning year, mastered by John Kostecki (tactics), Jordi Calafat (strategy) and John Barne (navigation).

There is, however, an impressive list of owner-drivers sharing Harm’s ambition…

First on the water this year and on the helm of his new Sled (Botín/Core Composites) was Takashi Okura. He relies on ETNZ’s Ray Davies for tactics, Adam Beashel as strategist and Andrea Visintini for navigation. Sled is a good example of a team who take their ‘homework’ seriously with dedicated coaches for afterguard (Rod Davis), speed (Murray Jones) and performance (Masanobu Katori).

Not taking any risks, their chef is Italian (Vincenzo Stamilla) and physio Japanese (Akito Suzuki). All team chefs have a few more mouths to fill as no team now goes into battle without a boat captain, a rigger, a boatbuilder, a tender driver, a sailmaker, plus by then you need a friendly but competent manager to co-ordinate the troops.

Every TP52 team also has a German Shepherd to bark at managers, measurers and anything or anybody getting too close. In the case of Sled the Shepherd is from New Zealand and combines his barking with trimming the mainsail (Don Cowie).

Alegre (Botín/Longitud Cero) is helmed by her owner Andy Soriano who continues to put his trust in Andy Horton to politely tell him the way. Kelvin Harrap is the strategist and Will Best the navigator.

Onda (Botín/King Marine) from Brazil is filled with Olympic ambition… and medals. Owner-driver Eduardo de Souza Ramos is a double Olympian (Star, 1980 and 1984) Eduardo secured six-time Olympian Robert Scheidt (five medals, two gold) as tactician and André ‘Bochecha’ Fonseca, who sailed three Volvo Ocean Races and represented Brazil at the 2008 Olympics in the 49er, as project manager and strategist.

New to 52 Super Series and, bar a few outings in last year’s acquired 2014 TP52 Phoenix, new to TP52 sailing, father Hasso and daughter Tina Plattner enter the pool at the deep end with a new Botín design built at Persico. Both of their TP52s will race in the upcoming PalmaVela but only the new boat will race in the 52 Super Series. This under the tactical super vision of Ed Baird. Their navigator is Shane Elliott and the team compete under the South African flag, a welcome first for Super Series.

Tony Langley will helm his latest Gladiator, a 2017 Botín design, though Langley’s previously announced partnership with Ben Ainslie Racing is ‘on the move’ as the BAR America’s Cup programme reorganises.

Xio Hurakan, born as the 2011 Quantum and owned by Marco Serafini, will attend two or three events.

From the nine new boats seven are from Botín and two by Judel-Vrolijk. Both would not be at the level of TP52 design they are without each other and I guess they closely follow and appre ciate each other’s work. So what will we see the first time sheets are pulled in earnest?

Last year Platoon was the most allround Vrolijk boat and showed ample pace, certainly as soon as the breeze was up – enough pace to force Botín to rethink his work for the upper wind range. Meanwhile, Botín’s 2017 Interlodge/Gladiator was clearly pressing Vrolijk to catch up in lighter conditions.

Expect from both studios faster boats upwind over the full wind range we compete in (5-30kt) and all new boats to be close in speed downwind, not noticeably different from the slippery 2015 boats – possibly marginally slower in the light due to hull volume distribution and appendage design and positioning being even more driven by upwind acceleration and keeping a comfortable high mode in the toolbox.

Refinements in hull and rig engineering to create stiffer boats and match higher loads are an easy prediction. Much work will have gone into engineering, mainly by specialist companies like Pure Engineering and SDK Structures.

Expect the new-generation boats to bend about 15mm in total over their length for a headstay load of eight tonnes. Quite something when you think about it.

Hull weight is for me easy to extract from the internal ballast numbers. The 2018 Botín boats have on average more interior ballast than their 2015 predecessors. Partly this has to do with Botín no longer using a steel frame in the keel area, which offered a relatively cheap and solid solution and at a VCG level was hardly different from where you would otherwise park the internal ballast.

All fins now have a stub-socket conn - ection to the hull. Also the equipment is lighter except for the new model engine. I expect to see around 125-150kg of internal ballast in the new Botín boats.

As the Vrolijk boats have invested some of their relatively high 2015 interior ballast number in beefing up high-load hull areas there will be considerably less spread in ballast weight between the boats. Altogether I expect to see no more than a 100kg range, one third of the previous generation.

In the longer run this means we could go down in displacement but as long as older generations still race in the Super Series we will stick where we are now (6,950kg).

All nine new boats have rigs supplied by Southern Spars and rigging mainly by Future Fibres, now a Southern subsidiary. Both companies’ products have ‘grown with the class’ to a standard that is near impossible to achieve in a one-off environment, as is the case with the boats.

To explain the complexity of these at first sight rather simple rigs is not that easy – best compare a Formula 1 car with a high-end sports car. In knowledgeable hands with continual attention a formidable weapon but too specialised for average use. Never mind they are built in the same shop (from new mould designs), all the rigs are different and will react a little differently under the same load as a result of Southern translating clients’ wishes in different material orientations and positioning of spreaders, deflectors, rigging and so on. Of course the result then is only a start point for further tuning.

At the heart of the changes from previous rigs is the never-ending search for higher loads, so stiffer sections, followed by the search for less drag. Most teams switch to solid carbon rigging to fight drag, like RAZR, but at what price in reliability? For sure this is not a product to try at home…

Cautious teams will have a spare rig and rigging and most will replace rigging as soon as there is any suspicion of having taken a hit. Long term I feel the resilience of this product will have to improve to achieve wider appeal.

Keeping it all sane to some extent is the document not many read, the TP52 Class Rule, in which the rig has its own box as it is defined in weight, VCG, materials and dimensions. At first sight possibly strange but without the box the rigs, like the boats, would be much less refined as then most effort and money would go to being conceptually different from the others and the resulting pace of action and reaction would not allow much time for refining concepts. Imagine a fully open class with only 52ft LH as restriction and you know what I’m trying to say. Then you will not worry about a gramme here or there!

Typically rigging is not specifically limited for weight or diameter by the class rule; this so far hardly triggered reliability problems, just hope solid carbon rods will not push us into further regulation.

As in the rig department we see just one main supplier for the deck gear and hydraulics: Harken. But certainly Harken is not without competition. Specialised companies like Jon William’s Stayinphase, KZ Racefurlers, Cariboni and many more find their way onto and inside TP52s.

But you do not get where Harken is by being lazy and there are so many upgrades by them for the 2018 TP52s of which quite a few have trickled down from the AC50. A quick list shows the Air250 winch with its low-profile drum and winch base now moulded into the deck in construction for weight saving and increased efficiency.

Winch systems nowadays come with a ‘performance optimisation gear kit’, so that each winch can be assembled with different gearing and optimised for its specific function. For example, runner winches will need to be slow and powerful and primary winches fast and just powerful enough to trim upwind.

New-model winch gearboxes, easily spotted as coloured yellow if you ever get inside a TP, are reduced in size and weight, again as a development straight from the AC50. Where the boats still have blocks we see Harken’s new V-Blocks with titanium caged V-bearings and sheaves and carbon side plates. Hydraulic systems have been improved with new-version dump valves and the Kick Y-Valve to which a red-coloured quadrant for control by hand while hiking can be added.

Sailing is multitasking in the sense that where you put your weight shall not be decided solely by the job at hand – better the job is brought to where your weight adds to the performance of the boat.

To end under water, keel fins are milled from a solid billet of high-tensile steel and fit into a laminated socket in the hull, while bulbs are milled to perfection from oversized lead castings. As with hull construction, also in this department the TP52 rule keeps things level and sort of sane. No extreme limits, no extreme materials, all to scantling guidelines and drawings to be approved by DNV GL. Not idiot proof but not without reasonable margin either.

Not timeless but trying to encourage a realistic pace of development and its associated spending. High-level sailing does not mean accepting equipment failure and endless spending as the ultimate decisive factor. Then again 52 Super Series and the TP52 Class are just one of the many ways to Rome. It is, however, good to see our road continues to be well trodden.
Rob Weiland, TP52 and Maxi72 class manager

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