While Sailing was among the sports at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, high winds cancelled the competition. So it was then four years, at the 1900 Paris Games, when Sailing’s 112-year Olympic history began.
Beginning May 20, 6 of the 8 sailing events were held on the River Seine at Meulan, a small town 20 km away from Paris. The other two events were held off the coast of Le Havre on August 1-5.
The International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU), the international governing body which would later become International Sailing Federation (ISAF) and now World Sailing, wouldn’t exist for another six years. This meant there was no one established international rule book for sailing so the 150 competitors from six nations would have followed their local rules – which must have led to some confusion on the water.
It also meant that the boats were not standardized like they are today and were instead placed in different ‘Ton’ categories according to the Godinet rule which considered displacement, length, and total sail area. The events in 1900 were: 0 – ½ Ton, ½ – 1 Ton, 1 – 2 Ton, 2 – 3 Ton, 3 – 10 Ton, 10 – 20 Ton, 20+ Ton and an Open Class.
Despite the lack of structure and less than ideal wind conditions, the competition would be a relative success. The French were the big winners, dominating with 24 of the 39 available medals. Yes, 39 medals, as each race had a medal and not just the overall ranking. Also, the French had the home field advantage as nations weren’t limited to one team per event.
Yes, some may say it was the good old days.
However, despite the home-nation gold-rush, it was a Swiss sailor who captured the public attention. Hélène de Pourtalès, one of the crew of the winning 1 – 2 Ton class, made history when she became the first ever female Gold medalist of the modern Olympic Games.
SUNDAY, AT THE 12 METER YACHT CLUB IN NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND ORGANIZED BY DAN NERNEY WE WERE PRIVILEGED TO LISTEN TO JOOP SLOOF PRESENT HIS STORY OF THE KEEL ON “AUSTRALIA II” WHICH CHANGED THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICA’S CUP.
JOOP SLOOF WAS AN AERODYNAMIC ENGINEER WHO HAD BEEN HIRED BY PIET VAN OOSSANEN WHO RAN THE DUTCH TOWING TANK IN WHICH THE TESTING WAS CONDUCTED FOR BEN LEXAN THE NAVAL ARCHITECT WHO DESIGNED AUSTRALIA II.
JOOP PRESENTED A COMPELLING CASE THAT IN FACT HE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE KEEL DESIGN USED ON “AUSTRALIA II”.
THE AUDIENCE COMPRISED OF THOSE WHO LIVED THE EVENTS AND THOSE WHO WERE NOT EVEN BORN WHEN IT ALL TOOK PLACE. HALSEY HERRESHOFF, WHO HAD NAVIGATED “LIBERTY” AND ALSO A PHD IN AERODYNAMIC ENGINEERING WOULD HAVE HAD A SPECIAL PERSPECTIVE SUGGESTED WHEN ASKED. HALSEY SUGGESTED THAT THE KEEL SHAPE, IE. THE WINGS WOULD NOT HAVE MET THE CHAIN GIRTH MEASUREMENT REQUIREMENT OF THE TWELVE METER RULE. AS FAR AS I KNOW THIS WAS A SUBJECT THAT WAS NEVER PURSUED.
BARBARA LLOYD, WHO COVERED THE AMERICA’S CUP HAD INTERVIEWED JOOP SLOOF AT THE TIME AND WROTE A THROUGH STORY; AGAIN NEVER PURSUED.
THE CONCLUSION OF THE STORY IS THE THE RIGHT THING HAPPENED TO HTE AMERICA’S CUP FOR THE WRONG REASONS.
Flying Dutchmen who won America’s Cup with a keelAustralia II, which won the 1983 America’s Cup with its secret weapon – the winged-keel. Picture: Tom R RaglandAustralia II at Newport, Rhode Island, after winning the 1983 America’s Cup
The longest winning streak in organised sporting history was broken on September 26, 1983, when Alan Bond’s Australia II broke the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year hold on the America’s Cup.
The revolutionary winged-keel was the key and all credit was given to Ben Lexcen, an immensely congenial, self-taught Sydney yacht designer.
That was what Australia believes. It was also what Bond had to convince the New York Yacht Club to believe because in 1983 it was against the America’s Cup rules to employ a designer who was not a national of the challenging club’s country.
But it was not true.
Suspicions were rife from the beginning that Lexcen was not the originator of the groundbreaking keel design. In 2009 Dutchman Piet van Oossanen claimed responsibility for the original design of the keel’s winglets and admitted accepting $25,000 in what he believed was hush money from Bond to keep the secret.
Now his claim has to be qualified. The man who kept the secret of the keel’s origin longest and who has best claim to be its designer has now come completely out of the shadow.
He is another Dutchman, Johannes “Joop” Slooff, a retired fluid dynamicist with a degree in aeronautical engineering, who has laid out his case in his book Australia II and the America’s Cup: The Untold, Inside Story of the Keel.
The evidence he presents to support his role as the keel designer seems irrefutable.
In 1981, Oossanen was the representative of The Netherlands Ship Model Basin, also known as MARIN (MAritime Research Institute of the Netherlands), contracted by Bond to conduct tank testing for the Cup challenge, and Slooff had been recruited by Oossanen from the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory.
Slooff, whom I met with his wife, Lia, in Newport while covering the historic 1983 America’s Cup for The Australian, spoke with me from his home in Uithoorn after the release of his book this week.
“Ben Lexcen wanted to test variations on a conventional keel when he came to Holland in May 1981 at the NSMB’s Wageningen test tank,” he told me.
“He may not have been aware I had been asked to join Piet for the keel design when he arrived.
“He wanted to benchmark test the Australia model with a couple of other conventional types of keel with thicker sections that can accommodate more ballast.
“I had by then been thinking about the winged keel for two or three weeks but as my real work was with aircraft I told him of my thoughts.”
For those two or three weeks, Slooff had been talking with van Oossanen about the keel shapes to be investigated through fluid dynamic computations at his department at NLR.
When Lexcen arrived, he put forward the proposal for the upside-down keel and the winglets, and included from his computations the relative dimensions, twist, taper, cant angle, section shapes and such.
“I had been arguing for years that an upside-down keel should suffer less from loss of side force through free water surface effects than ordinary tapered keels. My department at NLR had done research on winglets for aircraft around 1979-1980 and I realised that they would also be very effective in reducing the resistance due to side force of a sailing yacht when sailing upwind,” he said.
Slooff stresses that he and his co-worker Harm Sytsma had been studying the aerodynamic characteristics and performance improvement aspects of winglets for aircraft wings for the Fokker aircraft company.
“I argued that they should also work on sailing yacht keels and, probably, even better, because of the smaller span and the associated larger drag-due-to-lift of a keel as compared to an aircraft wing. In other words, they could improve the performance of a sailing yacht through a reduction of the underwater resistance when sailing upwind.
“Besides, winglets could accommodate additional low-positioned ballast that would improve the yacht’s stability and upwind performance further.”
Well aware of Lexcen’s status as one of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes with a legendary status akin to that of Phar Lap and approaching that of Donald Bradman, Slooff stresses that “nothing of what I have said or written changes the fact that Ben Lexcen had full design responsibility and was free to adopt or reject whatever was proposed to him.
“Ben and the Australian syndicate management had the courage to adopt something radical that had not (yet) proven its superiority. For this reason, the success of Australia II, in my opinion, is and remains an Australian success.”
Those who have followed this saga across the past three decades will doubtless hark back to the stories of Lexcen fixing endplates — like little wings — to the rudder of his 18-footer Taipan nearly 20 years before Australia II, but his biographer Bruce Stannard wrote: “Ben told me he had tried the winged keel idea before but was unsure whether it would work.”
Lexcen said to Stannard: “I had tried fins or wings on 5.5s and dinghies and they never worked or if they did I couldn’t tell the difference.”
Slooff says: “If he played with winglets in the 1960s, then why didn’t he put them on Southern Cross in 1974 and on Australia (I) in 1977 or 1980? And what about inverse taper (of the keel)?
“With three of the main players — Lexcen, (Warren) Jones and Bond — no longer among us, I will probably never know the answers to these questions.
“What is certain, however, is that Ben Lexcen never told me about his 1960s winglets.”
There is no one left from that triumvirate at the innermost core of the victorious 1983 campaign to speak for Lexcen who died in 1988 from a heart attack, aged 52.
Jones, executive director of Bond’s challenge and the tough no-nonsense end of the victorious 1983 campaign, died aged 65 after a massive stroke in 2002, and Bond died during heart surgery last June, aged 77.
John Longley, the project manager, who also sailed aboard Australia II, said it was difficult to say who had been responsible for what part of the enterprise when so many people had been involved.
“You have to remember that Benny was alone, surrounded by Dutch technocrats, there were plenty of ideas flying around and I know he was twitchy about the whole deal later because he told me.”
I was aware Slooff had played an important role in the keel development when I met him, but when I asked Lexcen about Slooff’s role when we were together in Newport after the series had ended he was uncharacteristically evasive.
“He’s a very friendly guy,” isn’t he, Lexcen said, and gave me one of his crew “boxing kangaroo” ties, which I still keep as a treasured memento of that Cup.
Australia II skipper John Bertrand, now president of Swimming Australia and busily preparing his charges for the Olympic trials, visited the test tank in The Netherlands with Bond and Jones on a lay day during the 1981 Admiral’s Cup series where he was racing Bond’s Apollo V with many of the sailors who would crew Australia II.
He says only someone of Lexcen’s eclectic mindset could have brought the whole boat together successfully.
“That was his genius,” Bertrand told me. “He had a dynamism, an extraordinary ability to accept what was different and see the merits. A great lateral thinker.”
Bertrand recalls Bond and Jones were at war with the New York Yacht Club which was constantly trying to nail them on the rules.
“They even wanted us to stop using Microsoft Windows because the software wasn’t created in Australia,” he said, citing a challenge that was quickly dismissed.
Bertrand also pointed out that the rule that barred competitors from using designers from countries other than their own has now gone — but that even in 1983 was constantly being bent with yet another Dutchman, Johan Valentijn, adopting Australian citizenship to work on Bond’s 1977 challenger Australia, taking up French citizenship to design for the French in 1980 before pledging allegiance to the US and signing up with Dennis Conner for 1983.
Yachting veteran James Hardy says he spoke with Lexcen at Lexcen’s home in Clontarf, Sydney, and the designer told him he had seen “some blokes testing end plates for aeroplanes in the test tank and had asked them ‘couldn’t you do something with those on a boat?’ ”
But how can we ever know, says Hardy, musing on the elements that combined to bring about historic victory, how can we ever know exactly which piece of coal makes the whistle blow?
FROM SAILING SCUTTLEBUTT
Keeping Keels Attached in the Future
Published on March 14th, 2016
Stan Honey, chairman of the Oceanic and Offshore Committee at World Sailing, is excited. Too many boats are losing their keels, and he is eager to share some of the progress being made to reverse this trend. Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck met with Stan for an update, with additional comments added by Dr. Jason Smithwick, Head of Technical & Offshore at World Sailing.
What are some of the initiatives about how we’re going to keep keels attached?
Stan: The first initiative which has now been approved and budgeted by World Sailing is to have a report writing committee that gets launched to write a report summarizing what happened in any particular incident that World Sailing determines may provide useful information to the sport.
For example, it might provide useful information on ways the Offshore Special Regulations (OSR) could be improved, or may provide useful information in whether the plan review process is working, and whether plan reviewed boats have keels with adequate structure.
The model for that is really the report that Rear Admiral (Rtd) Chris Oxenbould, Chuck Hawley, and myself did for the Vestas Wind grounding during the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race. We were asked to write a report and only state on what happened. Our task was not to assign any blame, but just to simply lay out the facts on what occured so that our sport could learn from it.
Of course, what we’re all thinking about is the aviation model. Aviation has more tools to use to encourage information to be made public, but aviation does an astonishingly effective job in how whenever there is a major accident in aviation, there’s always a report that becomes public later. It may be a few years later but there’s always a public report.
Jason: When World Sailing determines a report is needed, we would initiate that report on the basis that no other outside body is already conducting an investigation. For example, if the US Coast Guard is already looking into a loss of life then World Sailing will await the outcome of that report before initiating our own work.
Public reports are a big step.
Stan: The entire industry benefits from this kind of information. As a result of that, in addition to other things, aviation has just achieved a staggering level of safety. Sailing has fewer mechanisms to deal with in terms of the rules and certifications, but, nevertheless, we’re trying to get to the point where when the keel falls off or when there’s a major accident, there’s a report that does not seek to assign blame but rather just to lay out the facts so that people can learn from it.
We will be making a rule change to the OSRs. There’ll probably be a submission at the 2016 World Sailing Annual Conference in November that will put in a requirement as part of the OSRs, that by participating in an event and by holding an event, a competitor and the organizing authority agree to cooperate with the report should an important incident happen and should a report get written.
Sounds like a rule requirement is needed, but also a culture created wherein this kind of information is shared.
Stan: Yes, and it’s the culture that’s the most important one because it’s certainly true that it’s difficult for the rule to be that effective because most rules are designed to influence our behavior during a race, and these are rules that seek to influence our behavior after a race. Many people argue that such a rule is unenforceable and it can’t work. On the other hand, such a rule can help set the culture of the sport in an appropriate direction.
Additionally, such a rule can help owners do what they want to do anyway, which is to help the sport. If an owner is involved in a major incident, they may get encouraged by their builder, their designer, or their insurance company to keep the report private. But this rule would give the owners the ability to say, “No, this is a race boat. I insured it to race and these are the rules of racing, and it says I am to cooperate with a report. That’s what I’m going to do, and that’s the understanding.”
So the rule may not be binding, but it may help to change the culture and it may help the owners to do what they want to do. The insurance companies deny ever encouraging somebody to keep something quiet, as they would. And when you ask the insurance companies about these kinds of changes, they’re hugely supportive. They said, “Hey, wait a minute. Has there been a misunderstanding? We don’t make money when keels fall off.” They’re saying that they’re huge advocates of anything the sport can do to solve the problem of having keels that aren’t adequately attached.
Jason: World Sailing wants to engage the insurance companies within our framework to make plan review more cost efficient. For example, a boat that has had plan review and in-build inspection may have a lower premium to offset the cost of such certification.
Explain the plan review process.
Stan: Yes, we have a plan review process. A plan review is required on any new boat to be built that’s going to race under the OSRs under Categories 0, 1, and 2, although Category 0 frankly isn’t really used. The races that would use the Category 0 basically do their own derivative requirements. Examples of Category 2 is the Fastnet Race and Sydney Hobart.
ABS used to be in the scantlings definition and plan review business some years ago, but they chose to get out of it for smaller recreational boats, so World Sailing now has a new plan review process in partnership with Classification Societies and Notified Bodies which has been a requirement from January 1, 2010.
The most active of the notified bodies that does plan reviews is DNV GL. One of the things that we look at every year is if it is working. Meaning are keels falling off boats where their design had gone to plan review? And the answer prior to two Novembers ago was, “No, it had never happened.” But now the answer is, “Yes, it has happened.” In fact, there were two Class 40s that dropped their keels just before the 2015 Annual Meeting. World Sailing is working with the French authorities to discover the cause of these failures.
So we asked David Lyons, a structural engineer and naval architect, to review the plan review process to determine if it was working. And he confirmed that obviously as people learn more, you change and evolve the plan review process to address new kinds of construction practices and so forth. While he felt that overall the process was working, he pointed out something that’s kind of an obvious omission, which is in almost everything else that humans do.
He found that if something is important enough to be plan reviewed – whether it’s an elevator, an airplane, a building – it’s important enough to do an inspection, an as-built inspection, or an in-build validation is the other term that’s used. David pointed out that this may be something we’d want to consider.
The immediate reaction of our whole community is, “We can’t make this sport any more expensive.” There’s a lot of aspects of the plan review that doesn’t kill people, meaning if a hull comes delaminated, or a deck comes delaminated, or a rig falls over, or a rudder breaks, for the most part, it’s not an instant catastrophe where people die. But when keels fall off, that can be an instant catastrophe leading to immediate loss of life. So what comes to mind is, if we’re going to do an in-build inspection, could we do just one inspection, and can we focus only on the keel attachment since that’s the thing that kills people.
So David’s going to consult across a broad range of the industry experts and look at whether it would be affordable for our sport to extend the plan review process to include an in-build inspection, and as part of a plan review, you’d have to pick when should the inspection take place, at what point in the build, so you can still see what you need to see. As we all know, the beauty of having an inspection process is by nature it can improve things because of the heightened attention by everyone involved.
So the project to come up with a proposal for an in-build inspection if it’s viable, it may not be, turned out to be too big a task to ask David to do as a volunteer. We’re all only human. So we asked for a quotation, and we got a quotation for $40,000 US. For the past month or so I have been trying to raise funds for that.
World Sailing initially committed to fund $10,000 of that. Matt Allen, who is the president of the SOLAS Trust, which is an assistance organization founded by the CYCA following the 1998 Sydney Hobart Race disaster, has offered to cover half of the project – $20,000.
Then RORC and ORC both committed to cover $5,000 of it as well as contribute technical expertise. And both of those organizations have substantial technical expertise in this area, embodied in guys like James Dadd who did this kind of review for the Volvo Ocean Race boats and of course the ITC of the ORC which is a broad strong group of naval architects. Sailing Yacht Research Foundation (SYRF), which is the American sailing and research foundation that also has strong technical people involved like Dina Kowalyshyn and Jim Teeters, has also agreed to pay for $5,000 as well as provide some guidance input.
So overall I was delighted to discover that there was a number of organizations throughout our sport that almost overnight agreed that this was a good idea to consider and agreed to help pay for this initial feasibility study.
Along with the feasibility study there’s a go or no-go decision point. If it looks like it’s feasible and that this will make sense, then there would be a proposal for in-build inspection that will be done by October so we’ll get to review it at the next World Sailing Annual Conference in November.
If it gets approved, we’d probably take another year after that to put it in place, but nevertheless I’m delighted that we’re starting the process to both gather more information about these incidents and get it public where it can do some good, and then also see if we can directly address the problem of these keels falling off.
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