Touching Base on The Race - SailNet Community
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Touching Base on The Race

PlayStation shows it's pre-addition form on the Atlantic.
It's late September, 2000, and the start of The Race is just under 100 days away.  Steve Fossett’s 105' PlayStation sits in the shed at Green Marine in Lymington, UK, undergoing a refit to lengthen its bows by 20 feet. Early this month the work was going on at a feverish pace with some of the PlayStation crew joining the team from Green Marine to keep three separate shifts moving around the clock. Fossett and his associates hope to relaunch the boat by mid-November.

Meanwhile, activity elsewhere among would-be competitors in The Race is beginning to heat up. At the request of event organizer Bruno Peyron, all eight skippers attended a meeting in Southampton on September 15. Despite a barrage of media hype, to date only three entries have completed their qualifying voyages (PlayStation, Grant Dalton’s Club Med, and the Polish entry Polpharma-Warta), two have yet to launch (Cam Lewis’s Team Adventure and Loick Peyron’s Code 1), and one re-launched this weekend—Pete Goss’s Team Philipps. The eighth entry—revealed at the Southampton summit—is Yvan Bourgnon’s 60-foot trimaran Bayer en France. SailNet checked in with Pete Melvin, of Morrelli & Melvin (PlayStation’s design firm) in Newport Beach, CA, for an overview on that team’s rebuild project as well as his outlook on the rest of the field.

SailNet How is the progress coming along on the bows?

Pete Melvin Pretty good, I think. They’ve got the inner skin down on the mold. I haven’t heard anything for a couple of days, which is good. I think the guys have their heads down over there and they’re concentrating on getting it done. They’re about halfway through the lamination. Gino [Morrelli] is over there now and we’ll get a good report from him when he’s back.

SN Twenty feet would seem to be a pretty major addition; what other areas are being modified to compensate for this change, if any?

PM We’re not really altering anything else too much. We’ve been approaching this pretty much as planned. We’ve been doing the structural engineering as they’ve been building the pieces. Essentially what we’re doing is a scarf on both hulls. You cut the old piece off and mate the new piece up to it and laminate over both of them. It’s not quite that simple, but that’s pretty much what you do. The joint ends up being a glue joint actually. There are lots of joints like this on the boat; in fact we did the same kind of scarf when we had some fire damage after the boat was first launched. So we’re relying on the same kind of construction in this case, which we do with a pre-preg material from YLA up near San Francisco.

SN Will this change make PlayStation the largest, widest vessel among the eight lining up for The Race?

PM Well, Team Philipps is actually 70 feet wide, so that boat is the widest, but we’re going to be slightly longer, and we’ve always had more sail area.

SN From the standpoint of a designer, what is the greatest challenge you face when it comes to a major modification such as the one PlayStation is undergoing?

PM There are still a lot of judgement calls that we have to make on the structural engineering end of things. We’re doing the same type of analysis on the new structure that we did on the original design. Adding length to the bows has an effect on the entire structure, not just the hulls, and we need to consider this ripple effect because the hull extensions affect the other areas like the crossbeams. Still, the boat hasn’t broken, I mean the original structure hasn’t failed, so we’re pretty sure that we haven’t exceeded our load limits plus our safety factors, but no one really knows what the actual loads are on these boats. We don’t have strain gauges on everything, which is what you’d need to get all of that data. We’ve got load cells on most of the major rigging components—shrouds, headstays, mainsheet—in all we’ve got 16 different ones scattered throughout the rigging, so we can at least know what the stresses are on those components. But the forces exerted on the boat as it slams through waves are really unknown. Knock on wood, but it doesn’t look like we’ve exceeded the design limits yet.

Fossett (fourth from left) with PlayStation's sailing team.
What about the crew situation on PlayStation? Has the team made much progress in terms of acquiring all the crew it will need?

PM I’m a little removed from that. I do keep up with what’s going on, but Steve could give you a more informed answer on that issue. I know there are a lot of discussions going on at the moment.

SN How about the other teams out there; are you watching them closely to get an idea of their performance potential?

PM We try to keep tabs on them to see what our competition is doing. But really, at this point, there’s not much we can do if we perceive a performance weakness in our program relative to something they might have. Basically, windy conditions and advanced sea states are what drove the decision to make these bow modifications.

Obviously Team Phillipps is a wild card. The design is still a brilliant concept, so we’ll have to see if the rebuilt boat will hold together. I’m sure they’re anxious to see what happens themselves. Cam Lewis and the Team Adventure group definitely have an uphill battle ahead with so little time left. They had initially hoped to glean information from Club Med and the other identical boat, but Grant Dalton [Club Med’s skipper] has been very secretive. He hasn’t let Cam near the boat. They’re obviously benefiting from some of the sailing trials and problems that Grant has had, and hopefully Cam can correct any of those problems. I did hear through the grapevine that both Loick Peyron [skipper of Code 1] and Cam are modifying the bow structures on their boats so they don’t have the same crash-box failure that Club Med had.

It’s really a crapshoot trying to predict who’s going to make it and who is going to finish first. I think that if half the fleet makes it that would be pretty outstanding. But, I’d be lying if I told you I could predict the outcome.

SN What about Yvan Bourgnon’s Bayer en France? Can this 60-foot trimaran really be a player in The Race with opponents that are roughly twice its size?

PM Over the long haul, the small boat will be five to 10 percent slower, especially in the bigger seas. You can sail those 60-foot tris pretty fast if you’re pushing the boat hard in perfect conditions, particularly if you’re driving the boat by hand. We saw that in the Quebec-St. Malo Race where some of the 60s almost equalled Club Med’s 24-hour record, but trying to make one of those boats stay up with something twice as big is going to be difficult. Still, if they finish, they’re likely to beat half the fleet.

SN It sounds like you don’t really expect all of the entrants to make it around the globe. Can you explain?

PM You have to consider that there are all sorts of hazards on this course. And most of the boats are very new; all the teething problems that we’ve been seeing are likely to continue occurring after the boats start. Then there are the elements of huge storms and big waves and the possibility of hitting floating objects. It’s important to realize that a lot of the global and distance record attempts have failed because the boats have struck floating objects. And then there’s also the human element. These boats are huge and the size of their gear makes them potentially more dangerous than normal-sized boats. And with waves washing over the boat and through the trampoline, those are huge forces to contend with.

SN How would you distinguish the crew on board PlayStation from the others?

PM Different programs have positioned themselves differently. For instance Steve has gone with people that he’s sailed with in the past and he’s comfortable sailing with. All these guys have offshore experience and for the most part they’ve put some time in on PlayStation. I would say that probably only 25 percent of the crew has southern ocean experience, which could be a factor, and there’s also a shortage of helmsman-types on board, which could be a concern too. Dalton, on the other hand, has some of his tried-and-true mates on board, people he’s gone around the world with, and he’s also recruited some multihull specialists to try to keep the hammer down underway. All of his guys are professional sailors that are being paid to do this, whereas on Fossett’s crew, about half of them are unpaid guys he likes to go sailing with. And the guys on PlayStation tend to be older than most of the rest of the crews.

SailNet will be checking in from time to time with Melvin as the start of The Race (December 31, 2000) approaches. Stand by for additional updates.

Peter Melvin is offline  
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