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A-Sail Evaluation

Technical Committee and Current Status: August 2015

A Constitutionally-defined Technical Committee was appointed by the Executive Committee and ratified by the Governing Board at the July meeting. This Committee has been reassembled in order to address new ideas specific to the Lightning, such as the Asymmetric Spinnaker rig. The Technical Committee will begin to formulate the process through which all proposed design changes must go. The Technical Committee is defined in the Constitution to provide support for the Measurement Committee pertaining to the Official Plans and Specifications of the Lightning. The individual members of this committee are: Jamie Allan, Tom Allen, William Cabrall, Jr., Bill Clausen, Greg Fisher, Ryan Flack, Neal Fowler, Alberto Gonzalez, and Ched Proctor.

We took advantage of the large gathering of international Lightning sailors at the Worlds in Buffalo and had a test A-sail-rig present. After evaluating the boat, they have released the following statement:
“Those who had a chance to sail the boat definitely had some good rides and much fun. However, the boat was more demanding physically than our current configuration in the breeze and with the costs and efforts required to convert our many boats to a new rig, we have decided to table the idea at this time. Many good ideas have come from this endeavor—and these ideas will be considered by the Technical Committee. The Lightning Class continues to evolve—whether it be with improvements to the rig/sail design/hull or with changes to our regatta schedule or media and publications—we strive to meet the needs of our existing members while being attractive to potential members.

We appreciate the efforts put forth by the Independent Committee that worked on the A-Sail project. Your hard-work and dedication to improving our Class is truly what makes the Lightning Class a Class Act.”

A-Sail Roundtable Discussion Summary: St. Pete March 16, 2015

A gathering of approximately 75 interested Lightning sailors gathered to discuss the Asymmetric Spinnaker Trial one afternoon in St. Petersburg during the Midwinter Championship.  Many thanks to the SPYC volunteers who served delicious cheeseburgers and complimentary adult beverages during this gathering—SPYC certainly knows how to make us feel welcome!

The short report from the gathering is the interest level was HIGH! Our members are passionate about their boats and our class. We went to the meeting to discuss the A-Sail concept. We came away with a clear need to formally evaluate and prioritize changes to the boat--call it “Big R & D”.  We have many members with ideas, expertise and great insight which we need to channel into a defined process.

Through the A-Sail Trial we saw some great passion and dedication of time, money and efforts of the team that gathered in early February to do the initial testing:  Bill Faude, Larry MacDonald, Rob Ruhlman, Abby Ruhlman, Tom Allen, Ryan Flack, Steve Hayden, Fisk Hayden, Jeffrey Hayden, Angie Hayden, Nick Turney,  Jim Thompson, Will Jeffers, Will Tyner, Jeff Linton, Amy Linton, Laura Jeffers and Kip Hamblet.  The list reads like a “Who’s Who” of Lightning Enthusiasts!

The Executive Committee will begin to formalize and kick-start this “Big R & D” over the coming months. 
In the meantime, read some of the comments and ideas that were shared in St. Pete. Many steps must be taken before a change of any sort is adopted.  Some of these (in no particular order) are:

  • Roundtable Discussions/brainstorming.
  • Testing.
  • Funding.
  • Analysis of testing.
  • Cost analysis.
  • Impact Analysis
  • Further testing.
  • Test drives by membership.
  • Rollout plan development.
  • Governing Board vote (for a specification change).
  • Membership vote (for a design change).
Other Comments during the Discussion:
  • An Asail makes jibing simpler
  • An Asail is more tactical downwind
  • An Asail is less tactical downwind
  • A larger spinnaker will plane faster
  • The current lightning design sails downwind well.  Other boats do asymmetrical kites better.
  • Would this increase the cost of a new boat?
  • The lightning is more economical than most other classes.
  • Many Asymmetrical classes can self-right/have keels so a knock-down is  not so impactful
  • This needs to be tested with kids/older sailors/families
  • Are there other changes/improvement we can make with a lower cost which would be equally as effective?
  • There were several questions regarding the estimate of how many Lightning owners would make the switch.

The idea behind this endeavor is to determine what is best for the class as a whole and how to maintain our status as the strongest one design class.  This design change (or any design change) wouldn’t come to a vote unless there was widespread support from all Lightning sailors.  The key will be to make the prototype available for as many people to test as possible. This next step is in the works and should be afloat this summer.

A-Sail Evaluation Weekend
Preliminary Download For Class Members - February 12, 2015

By Bill Faude ILCA VP/Marketing

January 30, 31 and February 1 a group of Lightning Class Association Members informally selected for their expressed interest and varied skill sets assembled in Sanford, FL to evaluate the two Asymmetrical designs along side the current Symmetrical kite. The following are some FAQs (and answers) about the weekend, the initiative, some general impressions and some indicated next steps.

I was surprised to see this happen. Why wasn’t it better publicized?

While the E-Blast mentioning the test weekend itself went out the week prior, there was a report about the project given at Governing Board Meeting in St. Petersburg in March 2014. Planning has been ongoing since those presentations.

Why do this now?

This trial is a component in a broader initiative ongoing in the class for generations: Keeping the boat itself and our Association practices contemporary and whenever possible innovative, so as to maximize the attractiveness of Lightning ownership.  Said a different way, there is a tradition in the ILCA to try new things with both the physical boat (aluminum masts, fiberglass boats) and the Association (Introducing The Junior World and International Masters Championships, the Lightning Boat Grant Program).

Is anyone looking at what changing to an A-Sail has done to other classes who have done it?

Yes. I have interviewed boat builders who have both built new and physically  retrofitted E-Scows and I-20 Scows. I have also interviewed owners in E-Scow and M-20 classes who have communicated many of the pitfalls and hard feelings that were unintended consequences of rule changes in those classes. Obviously, there are a lot of different perspectives on whether these shifts delivered on their objectives. It is true that the most significant E-Scow events are enjoying record attendance and the backlog of new orders for the E-Scow is at its longest in the boat builder’s memory.  More perspective is better. If you know someone who has a perspective to share, I’d be happy to contact them or you can report back.

Who is funding this initiative?

Past President Rob Ruhlman contributed funds for an initial analysis of the current Lightning rig and sail plan executed by the North Design Services. This initiative resulted in the design of the two A-Sail alternatives, which were then made production-ready by North Sails. Rob’s contribution funded production of the sails.
Everyone who was present in Sanford paid his or her own way. In addition, Kip and Ruth Hamblet donated transportation/use/gas for their powerboat. Fisk Hayden secured another member of the Lake Monroe Sailing Association’s powerboat.

Who participated in the weekend?

Tom Allen Jr., Ryan Flack, Angie Hayden, Jeffery Hayden, Fisk Hayden, Steve Hayden, Abby Ruhlman, Rob Ruhlman, Nick Turney, Kip Hamblet, Larry MacDonald, Bill Faude, Jim Thompson, Laura Jeffers, Will Jeffers,
Kevin Morin, Will Tyner

This group includes both major commercial boat builders; 3 past class Presidents; 4 former World Champions; at least 4 North American Champions; one former chief measurer and the current leader of the technical committee. The Class Executive Committee and the current Chief Measurer are well informed about the initiative.

What was the objective of the weekend?

There were several objectives,
The primary weekend objective was to take the first step in evaluating whether sailing the Lightning with an asymmetrical spinnaker, larger in area than our current symmetrical design, would make the Lightning more exciting/enjoyable/attractive to sail and particularly, would it make it possible to safely enjoy the non-displacing characteristics of the existing Lightning design, more often.

A secondary objective was to see if one of the two types of Asymmetrical designs would prove itself significantly preferred.

What were some of the challenges?

In order to even get on the water, we needed to see if it was possible to create very low-cost, safe and practical boat and rig modifications that could be made to two boats without reducing their value. Both builders made boats available for the test, but to keep things as consistent as possible, 3 Allen boats were used. The two boats flying A-Sails were Allen charter boats. Steve Hayden owns the boat flying the conventional kite.

The rig modifications were done primarily at Allen Boat Company following a great deal of collaboration between Nickels and Allen representatives and thorough review of the forces quantitatively predicted by the rig/sail designers. Both builders provided running rigging. Neither sprit was designed to retract. Both were made of existing mast/boom sections mounted on the deck using a forward-facing gooseneck clamped to the mast and then sliding through a fiberglass ‘cuff’ at the stem that slides over the bow. To test the masthead Asymmetrical design, another fiberglass cuff holding two short spreaders employing the current stainless spreader bar stock was designed to slide down from the top of the mast. Two jumper stays were anchored from holes drilled into the mast cap (the only holes drilled.) The jumpers dead-ended using c-hooks around the existing spreader bars.  Although these rigs were certainly successful and elegant, aesthetic beauty was not an objective. When looking at pictures of the testing, please note that these are limited-use installations.

Modifying new boats and retrofitting existing boats was not a part of this test. Thinking that far ahead is out of scope, but it is likely a retracting carbon sprit arrangement physically/aesthetically akin to what can be seen on competitive designs would be appropriate.

What did you test?

We tested two Asymmetrical spinnaker shapes.  One hoisted to the top of the mast. One hoisted to the current spinnaker hoist point. Both were identical in area, approximately 20% larger than our current spinnakers. The masthead kite is designed to fly off a shorter sprit than the fractional version.

What were some general impressions?

    (These are shortened to remove verbosity or booziness and I have tried to eliminate most irrelevant ones…)
  • The masthead A-Sail looks modern. People all smiled and said ‘wow’ when it first went up.
  • Even the sailors inexperienced with A-Sails could gybe easily, immediately.
  • In the 6-11 knots of breeze we had, the current aluminum rig was plenty strong and the extra spreader/jumpers seemed about the right length.
  • The existing main shapes did not look to be wrong for the stiffened mast…but it’s much too early to be sure.
  • Thinking about sailing in heavy air people wondered if gybing the A-Sail would be safer than gybing our current symmetrical version and if that might allow sailors of varied abilities be comfortable sailing in more breeze.
  • It seems like sometimes keeping the jib up might be faster and sometimes it is slower. The cross-over is probably different for different sprit lengths.
  • Lake Monroe in Sanford is a good sized lake and Sanford itself has a very nice, ped-friendly downtown. It would be a good place for a big regatta.

What was achieved?

We validated the boat with the Asymmetrical spinnaker physically works on a Lightning. Both designs were quite easy to handle in deploying and gybing and recovering. There were competent sailors aboard, but literally from the first hoist the sails were easy to handle. They never ‘shrimped’ the kite or got wraps in the gybes.  Sets, Gybes and Douses, were executed with all three crew inside the cockpit.

The Class received significant mentions in the online sailing press about the initiative. This bolstered our reputation as innovative in one-design sailing.

Within the wind conditions we experienced, we validated the performance predictions generated in North Design Services’ documentation, on the water. Broadly, in the lightest breezes we experienced, the A-Sails achieve better VMG than the symmetrical design. In breezes where the symmetrical rig’s pole can be pulled aft and none of the alternatives can plane, the symmetrical kite is at least as fast as either A-Sail…unless the A-Sails are flown wing-on-wing which is not thought to be user-friendly enough to be practiced regularly. The mast-head A-Sail does allow the boat to plane in breeze under 11 knots with crew weights in excess of 500 pounds. The boat goes through the water slightly differently while planning under the masthead A-Sail. The bow rides higher owing to the A-sail pulling the bow up from the sprit. This is consistent with experience on other designs. The helm load while planning under the A-Sail is comparable to what it is using the symmetrical kite.

Of the two Asymmetrical designs tested, the masthead design was unanimously preferred. It was faster than the fractional alternative (in the breeze we experienced). And it just plain looked more contemporary and aggressive.

What more needs to be learned first?

The members in Sanford sailed downwind approximately 10 miles with the A-Sails in breeze from about 6 knots to about 11 knots. This was a good start, but it was agreed that further testing especially in breeze between 15 and 20 knots should be undertaken to be confident the rig/boat is safe with the A-Sail before progressing to any ‘next steps’. 

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but about how much would it cost to retrofit a Lightning?

The short answer is we don’t know yet. Obviously the cost would be based in part on the volume of parts purchased, new boats built and boats retrofitted.

But, in other classes, both with sprit lengths similar to and longer than our test length…with sails similar and larger than our test shapes, the costs have been in the ballpark of $3,000…including the sprit, spinnaker and labor. That is the best number available as I write this. Note, the Lightning Class would have about double the number of boats to retrofit than the E-Scow did.

Next Steps:

The group assembled in Sanford agreed that there should in fact be next steps. We mean this literally. Nothing we experienced would exclude A-Sails from further consideration.

In ILCA, where all boat-owners are equal and bound by our 70+-year-old Constitution, no change to the design of the boat would ever be contemplated without a majority vote of some kind. Frankly, our Constitution prohibits passing rule changes that increase the cost of the boats significantly—something moving to the A-Sail would do. But, we have legalized new materials/designs that have resulted in even more ‘pay-to-play’ cost increases. It seems a constitutional review of how our moves to fiberglass and through to oval aluminum mast sections were passed would be in indicated.

After assurance that the boat behaves manageably in heavier breezes, it is hoped that a number of boats will be retrofit with retracting poles and made available to members to sample. Simple logic would indicate that nobody would vote to authorize a cost-increasing rule change without having sampled the alternative rig and come off the water saying, “We gotta have that!”

Jeffery Hayden’s videos from the testing:

A-Sail Testing Day 1         A-Sail Testing Day 2


Your comments and questions are more than welcome. They are requested. Please direct them either to the Class office or to me directly.   (312) 593-5153

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