Battle of the Foils

For some time now Peter Harburg’s Black Jack – the lightest of the super maxis racing to Hobart - has been touted as the one to watch, particularly if the race turns up some lighter air phases, as it frequently does. In this interview, recorded just after Black Jack’s win in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge, skipper Mark Bradford explains the thinking behind the foil design for the boat, how it’s used and why it needed to be
Crosbie Lorimer: In a little over a weeks time, more than a hundred yachts entered in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, will be sailing through Sydney Heads behind me here and turning right for Hobart. The Bow Caddy Media team with the support of Club Marine and Sail World will be covering the full event and talking to all of those involved, from the marathon sailors in the smallest boats to the sprint teams in the super maxis.

And to kick off our coverage, we spoke to Mark Bradford the skipper of Blackjack just after they won the SOLAS challenge last week, to find out a little more about the foil design on Blackjack and how they hope to use that to advantage against their super maxi rivals.

So Mark, a good day out on the water today?

Mark Bradford: Yeah, that was good wasn't it? Very enjoyable.

Crosbie Lorimer: And conditions pretty much suited you guys? Nice good steady northeaster, bit of sea running, thanks to an enormous fleet of spectator boats, but good conditions for you guys, yeah?

Mark Bradford: Yeah, look, I think it's a strange situation for us because we're never normally ahead of the spectator boats. We're normally in the boat behind while that's against the spectator boats. So it was nice to be out what we would call clear water.

Crosbie Lorimer: On that forward, canard is pretty good for these harbour conditions. I guess it gets you through tacks and so on fairly quickly, does that help you?

Mark Bradford: Yeah look, the great thing for us is it validates a lot of our thinking over the year and the hard decisions we've made that we had to make six months ago and I think the boat was good. I sailed on the boat in 2005 in the first Hobart and I think it was a great boat and it's got a fantastic track record. I think what we've managed to achieve now is we've really brought the boat into the modern game.

Crosbie Lorimer: And what have you done since Hamilton Island? What have you done with the boat, any sort of significant changes?

Mark Bradford: No, since Hamilton Island, it's the same thing our final sort of ... Hamilton Island, for us, was about figuring out the modes downwind and the types of sails and that's quite a big process to do that. And by the time you do all the studies and work out where you want to sit there and so our sails just came online for this weekend and we've ticked them off and we think we're on the right path, but hey, there's a lot of factors isn't there?

Crosbie Lorimer: So for the techo's who want to really understand these foils and so on, you've got Wild Oats with two dagger boards. She once had a forward canard but that's gone. You've got a forward canard, but it's lifting and rotating as well, tell us a little bit about what was the thinking behind that.

Mark Bradford: Weight. It's all about weight for us. Our whole thing, and those for you who know Peter Harburg know it's all about weight, which is fantastic because that's a nice place to be with a solid direction. So we chose one board just to save the weight, but the nice feature there is it contracts with the back rudder, as the boat was designed, but it can trim like a trim tab. So you can change your modes on the wind pretty quickly with the front board.

Crosbie Lorimer: Right, so you can separate it and just literally get extra lift in certain modes.

Mark Bradford: Yeah, it's pretty simple. You turn it up, you go high. You make it straight, you go faster.

Crosbie Lorimer: Yeah

Mark Bradford: Yeah, so Brian Hillier, who is our travel guy, he's ... You know so you've got the whole trim loop that it can do it in the air and he can also get you a quick result in the water. It's a quicker return in the water.

Mark Bradford: If you want to make a boat go fast forward, you can ease the sails off or sheet the sails wider or, in our case, you can straighten the front board. And that makes the boat track faster through the water. Then if you want to make it go high, you can turn it at a bigger angle and you can go on the wind at a higher angle.

Mark Bradford: In the beginning, it's always the numbers, because that's the science of it and that's what we've bought into. And then now we've got a little bit of sort of artistic flair to use, the skill of being a yachtsman, that we're adding on top which is just kind of the depth of our trim group. Simon Daubney, Vaughan Prentice, they're like as good as it gets so it's a pretty nice place to be.

Crosbie Lorimer: Well done and good luck for the big race.

Mark Bradford: Thank you.