Editorial January 1, 2005 Issue

True Trickledown

We often pay lip service to the notion that many of the design features we enjoy aboard our boats first came into existence in the realm of extreme sailing. Whether it be the America's Cup, the singlehanded offshore arena, or some other pocket of activity beyond the mainstream, more often than not, these are fertile grounds for pioneering and refining equipment and applications that soon enough do benefit the the rest of us.

Consider the fully battened mainsail. Though early Chinese mariners were known to use full-length bamboo battens aboard their lug-rigged ships, the modern introduction of full-batten mainsails can be ascribed to the world of iceboating, a decidely extreme subculture within our sport. In recent decades, sailmakers have rediscovered the advantages of fully battened mainsails, and these have become a relatively common application on boats from beach cats to serious offshore cruisers.

Or consider the concept of moveable ballast. Yes, merchant mariners in the golden age of sail evidently did move their cargo around on board to trim the ship for a particular point of sail, but in the modern era, we're indebted to designers and practitioners in the singlehanded arena for refining concepts like the canting keel and water ballast chambers.

And what of the advent of asymmetrical spinnakers now seen so regularly aboard mainstream recreational sailboats? Again, we owe a debt to our speed-seeking brethren in the ranks of the America's Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race (née Whitbread Round the World Race).

With certain exceptions, the application of twin steering wheels was popularized by their appearance in America's Cup competition; and the use of twin rudders became acceptable after they were initially advanced and proven aboard Open Class 60 designs.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention and the need in these arenas may seem superfluous at first glance, but the results almost always have broader application. Certainly most of us wouldn't bother ourselves for an extra tenth of a knot of boatspeed or the ability to shed a mere pound from our running rigging (each considered colossal gains in those more rarefied ranks), but the solutions derived from quests like these often evolve into products upon which we all rely.

Where would be these days without the solid boom vang? How inconvenient would certain boats be if they lacked a bank of rope clutches?

Last month in our Headings column we attempted to bettter understand the mechanics of trickledown technology in our interview with Olaf Harken. This month, beginning on page 12, we review some of the more salient features seen aboard this year's fleet of Open 60 racers, which are currently competing in the Vendée Globe. It may be hard to imagine a Catalina 30 with a canting keel, but is it really that far removed?

-Dan Dickison

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