Having grown-up in Rhode Island, I had been awed by the sight of the America's Cup 12 meters tacking up the Narragansett Bay. When I saw one at a lein sale at a local boat yard, my brash, youthful self thought that it seemed a sound investment. 8 years latter, I realized that I am still not a millionaire and that my 25 ton lawn ornament, while a fine subject for design ideas, wasn't really helping me materialize my dreams. So I tried for a couple years to sell her. However, it seems that there are more 12 metres than 12 metre owners. So in the summer of 2008 ( luckily before the scrap market collapse! ), I chopped her up.
A Little History:
In 1983, Australia II won the America's Cup, ending the longest winning streak in history. Many complained that the Aussies, with their winged keel, had cheated. They said that such appendages were not allowed by the ever more complicated 12 Metre rule. The wings on Australia II's keel provided several small advantages. Of course, small advantages can be all that one needs when competition is so close. For one, the 12 Metre rule allows no more than 9' of draft. So putting lead wings at the bottom of the keel provided the greatest increase in righting moment with the least increase in displacement. Also, the wings were angled down to pull the hull into the water. To modern thinking, with planing hulls, this would seem rather disadvantageous. However, consider that as the yacht heels, the center of buoyancy shifts to leeward, the center of hydrodynamic effort for the wings is along the centerline, so the wings create and additional righting moment. Thirdly, the wing's hydrodynamic force has a lateral component which pulls the yacht to windward. Thus the yacht is stiffer, so more sail area is presented to the wind and points higher into the wind. So the Aussies took the Cup down under. Rhode Island was in an uproar that summer, but we could say that this new challenge rekindled the competitive flame.
For the next Cup, in 1987 in Freemantle, St. Francis Yacht Club hired Gary Mull to design their Golden Gate Challenge entry. Mr. Mull and his assistants, including Phil Kaiko, drew up Design no. 181. Her hull was fabricated from aluminum at Stephen's Marine of Stockton as hull M-200. Lloyd's certified the hull and she became known as 12 Meter US-49. Then her top secret 40,000# winged, monolithically cast, lead keel was bolted on and her 90' mast was stepped and Tom Blackhaller and his crew, including Paul Cayard as tactician, began sailing her around San Francisco Bay, to train for the Cup.
This was the last time the 12 meter rule was used for the America's Cup. So these were the fastest, most aggressive, most technologically advanced 12 meters ever made. Any one of them would knock the socks off their more vintage sisters.
Skipper and crew are part of what win a race like the America' Cup, but an advantageous design is another important factor. US49 was the trial-horse, or training prototype, but in the big money game of the Cup a team does not just have one boat. Gary Mull decided to make a new interpretation of the 12 Meter Rule and designed what became known as US61 or as she was affectionately dubbed, "The Geek". The Geek disposed of the winged keel and replaced it with a slender torpedo shaped bulb, much like today's IACC boats. Another radical feature of the Geek was a canard, forward rudder. One can imagine how this could enable some very fast turning and even some spooky sideways movement. However, it can also be like throwing and arrow backwards. Super-sonic jet airplanes with similar forward vertical stabilizers have a computer to control the pitch of these wings. At times the boat displayed incredible speed and agility, but she was also rather squirrelly. In the end, Blackhaller said that he felt that he really hadn't had enough time to get used to the Geek before racing.
Although St. Francis' team did not win that Cup, San Diego's Stars & Stripes, with Dennis Conner at the helm, did. The Cup was brought back to America (where it belongs). The 12 Metre rule had been used since the 1957 America's Cup challenge, replacing the majestic and even more prohibitively expensive J Class. By the end of the 1987 the rule was felt to be rather archaic, complicated and restrictive. The next Cup Challenge disposed of the 12 Metre rule and became a free-for-all freak-show with catamarans and other sailing abominations. So now we have the IACC rule which yields reasonably traditional looking monohulls, but with a deeper draft and much less displacement than the 12 Metres. These planing hulls really get-up and go. Raising the spinnaker no longer transforms the yacht into a quasi-submarine but rather skips her across the surface of the water at speeds near 20 knots. Carbon fiber, disposable hulls might make the race more exciting for NASCAR fans, but the modern America's Cup seems to lack the classic elegance of the Hereshoff, Vanderbilt, Sir Lipton, the J Class, and the 12 meters.