2011 February 17 NEH Response

Dear Bob:
     Thank you for your correspondence regarding our possible use of carbon fiber spars.  We must apologize for taking so long in replying, but as you can imagine this is a matter of importance to us and we wanted to consult with various members of our fleet.
     We must say that your preliminary negative ruling comes as a bit of a surprise; there has been no further discussion since early last year.  It is a matter of some regret to us that during last summer’s Worlds no one from the WCA evinced any interest in looking at, never mind sailing, the boat we had rigged with the prototype spars.  Doing so might have cleared up some misconceptions, as it certainly did the previous summer during the North Americans, when several sailors – Jordy included – tried out the prototype rig.
     What becomes apparent from your letter is that the WCA and the Northeast Harbor fleet have been discussing the matter of carbon fiber spars under some misunderstandings.  Quite likely we may be responsible for such a lack of common ground, and obviously we need to be clearer about this project.  Please bear with me and allow me to review the issue.
     As the last fleet to sail with the original wooden spars we have for several years attempted to equalize our rigs in order to provide more level racing.  While we have had partial success in eliminating some of the inequalities – in weight, balance point, and flexibility – inherent in wood, the obvious solution was to change to a different material that could give us strictly one-design spars.  We use the word “original” advisedly, since our masts are 8 inches shorter than the design specifications; they were built that way from the beginning, and continued to be replaced to those dimensions, with the approval of the designer, although there has never been any official recognition of the fact.
     Over the course of three years, we repeatedly brought the proposal to adopt aluminum spars to a vote at our AGM, and for three years the Northeast Harbor fleet overwhelmingly voted against such a change.  While the advantages of aluminum spars might have been obvious in strictly racing terms, a large number of our owners and skippers are also IOD sailors, not just racers, and felt that the aesthetics of the boats were simply too compromised by aluminum spars.  As the largest fleet of IODs in the world, and certainly the largest assemblage of wooden IODs, we treasure the beauty and “feel” (for lack of a more precise term) of our classic yachts.  We also took very seriously the comments we heard from some of the fleets (Bermuda and San Francisco included) that the conversion to aluminum spars resulted in structural problems on the older wooden boats.  We would like to add that at no point in our deliberations the availability, or temporary lack of availability, of aluminum extrusions was a determining factor against the adoption of alloy spars.  We have concluded that to convert from our current wood spars to a 30 year old aluminum section is a backward step which will degrade our boats.
     It was at this point during the debate that the notion of investigating carbon fiber spars was first introduced.  Further examination of the possibilities of the material suggested that for our purposes it would quite possibly make a better replacement for wood than any other option.  Carbon fiber provides a much cleaner – indeed, more elegant – design, with no stainless steel fittings riveted or bolted on to an aluminum tube, it is acoustically far more pleasing, is virtually maintenance-free, and – a matter of paramount importance to us – its lighter weight and greater available stiffness greatly reduces the loads and stresses imposed by masts on old wooden hulls.  A significant point against the material was, and continues to be, although to a lesser extent in our case, the cost.
     We wish, once again, to clear up an ongoing misconception, and emphasize that at no time have we considered a transition to carbon fiber spars because they are “exciting,” “trendier,” or because they presumably enhance the performance of the boats.  IODs most definitely do not need any performance enhancement, and our strong belief in this should be evident from the fact that we continue to prefer the original ¾ rig profile, unlike the several fleets that switched to a 7/8 rig to improve performance.  
     There has been one other ongoing misunderstanding that we would like to clear up.  While all the spar manufacturers we approached during our research agreed that a carbon fiber mast could be built in any desired configuration (i.e., single or double spreader rig), they unanimously also pointed out that the material clearly pointed to a simplified single spreader configuration, and that any other design (double spreaders with jumpers or single spreaders with jumpers) was unnecessary, more expensive, and illogical; indeed, the only reason to consider it would be to satisfy a sense of tradition.  They furthermore unanimously agreed that to build a mast which could accept a variety of configurations as suggested by the WCA would be not only illogical, but also impractical and expensive, and emphatically advised us against even contemplating such a move.  A review of our ongoing dialogue with the WCA over the past several years will reveal that we have consistently pointed this out, that we have consistently argued against it, and that certainly it was never an option we considered. 
     The issue of rig configuration is not unexpectedly fraught with opinion and some emotion, which are certainly to be respected, but we believe that at present our fleet (and other fleets in the future) would be best served by our current proposal.  As any spar maker will tell you there is no need, even in aluminum rigs, for double spreaders and jumpers.  The fact that several fleets continue to use this configuration can be attributed to personal (or collective) preference or a belief that it continues a tradition.  It certainly, to our distinct recollection, does not necessarily reflect the intent of the designer of the class: those who sailed the Worlds in Marblehead in the early 1970’s might recall the presentation made by Henrik Aas of his father’s drawings for fiberglass IODs.  They clearly showed an aluminum mast with a single spreader rig; the prototype fiberglass IOD that was launched the following year had just such a rig.  Bjarne Aas obviously appreciated the fact that it was time to move forward, and doing so in no way compromised the beauty or performance of his design.
      In our efforts to engineer and design a carbon fiber rig that would not be limited solely to our own preferences, we have developed a single spreader rig that can be adapted to either a ¾ or a 7/8 profile with minimal expense.  That much flexibility in configuration is rational and effectively achievable.  Any further flexibility in configuration, as we mentioned above, is simply not practical nor is it sound design practice.
     As is generally known, we commissioned Hall Spars to design and build a prototype carbon fiber mast and boom, and for the past two summers we have tested our concept by allowing an IOD rigged with the carbon fiber spars to race in our fleet.  We will do so again this forthcoming summer.  So far, we have used a light fiberglass boat and a very heavy fiberglass boat; next, we will step the prototype rig in one of the original 1937 wooden boats.  Like all forward-looking programs our fleet has undertaken – such as researching and eventually adopting laminated sail cloth and developing a mast tip weight equalization process for our current wooden masts – we have approached the issue of a potential change in spar material cautiously, deliberately, and quantified inasmuch as possible the information we have been gathering.  Needless to say, the carbon rigged boat, while allowed to be scored within our fleet, for obvious reasons was not allowed to be considered as a potential qualifier for any regattas outside our own home waters. 
     The intent of this on-going three year experiment evolved from the increasing realization that our fleet – because of its size, because of the varying degrees in commitment to racing of its owners, and also because of the range of the financial resources of the owners – would be hard pressed indeed to make a simultaneous conversion to another (any other) spar material.  All indications point to the wisdom of a phased change-over.  Such a program would obviously be fraught with potential problems and dissatisfaction among our sailors if the boats which do convert initially proved to be substantially faster than the unchanged boats.  The last thing we want is to be racing in two divisions.
     The results have been very encouraging.  While it surprised no one that sailing to windward in certain conditions the carbon rig offered some benefits (mostly, the boat pitched less), there was no clear constant speed advantage.  On the wind, the boat so rigged was certainly as fast as any other, but not discernably faster.  Downwind, no one who sailed the boat or sailed against her could notice any advantage at all.  Crew changes seemed to affect the results more than anything else, and then, as always, there’s skipper error: one bad tack heading the wrong way …
     One of the interesting and unplanned findings at the 2010 Worlds, thanks to the overly enthusiastic gear busters from visiting fleets, was that we could establish the cost of replacement wooden spars with some precision.  A replacement set of wooden spars, varnished and rigged, would cost $13,000.  This figure is reasonably close to the $15,000 quoted for a set of carbon fiber spars, a figure which might well have some leeway in it depending on how many are ordered simultaneously.  Needless to say, a wash with a sponge and soapy water is a more reasonable maintenance cost than the $300-500 for yearly painting and varnishing, and, coupled with a probable ten-year holiday from rigging replacement expenses, it means that the cost differential is absorbed within a four to five year time frame.  As a matter of perspective, an aluminum rig, installed, would cost us approximately $9,000.
     We understand the WCA’s concern about allowing what it calls a third rig option, but the reality is that the “third rig option” has been in use since 1937! The IOD class as a whole is currently sailing with three basic rig configurations: the aluminum double-spreader rig, the so-called Long Island single-spreader 7/8 rig, and the Northeast Harbor wooden (and shorter) rigs.  On a world-wide basis, the preponderance of the IODs (seven fleets) sail with the some variant of the so-called Long Island rig.  Only three out of 11 fleets adhere to the double-spreader aluminum “Marblehead” rig.  One is still using wooden spars.  As things stand, the class will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  Furthermore, East Coast fleets are sailing with Kenyon spars, European fleets are using Selden spars, San Francisco uses Bellenger spars; that’s three different mast sections which surely exhibit different performance characteristics.  Bermuda is sailing with shorter booms.  Within our own fleet, we are sailing with wooden spars from three different spar builders, and the modification of “imported” masts means that we sail with different spreader and forestay attachment heights above deck.  Replacing one configuration (wood) with another (carbon fiber) does not alter the present situation.  We will add that nowhere in the existing WCA Constitution or By-Laws is there any mention of our non-spec wooden spars being allowed, other than by implication, which could lead us to the conclusion that the Northeast Harbor fleet might have been illegal all along, and has hosted and participated in various championships illegallyThe current situation is absurd, and rather than rejecting out of hand a proposal which would help rectify it to some extent, the WCA should consider more carefully the benefits of our program.  We might also add that at present the fact that we all sail with three different rigs and all their variants does not appear to affect our ISAF standing.
     If it is indeed the intent of the WCA to reduce the number of rig configurations (and their variants) in use, we suggest that the solution most beneficial to the IOD class as a whole is to grasp this unique opportunity to collaborate with us in finalizing and adopting what will in all likelihood become the rig which will serve the class best in future times.  The choice is simple: we can all take a step forward, or insist on a retrograde step. 
     Our position continues to be that the day that the IODs as a world class vote to standardize the rigs on an overall basis we will willingly go along with that decision.  In fact, we have repeatedly suggested that the best way to achieve world-wide standardization at this point would be for all to adopt a common carbon fiber rig – it would bring costs within very reasonable parameters (less than aluminum spars if done as a single large order,) and would last for the foreseeable future of the class.  We have at all times asked the WCA for their input in the development of what would be the logical next step in rig evolution for the IODs, and pointed out that we have undertaken this project with the interest of the entire world class, not just the Northeast Harbor fleet, in mind.  It is a matter of some regret to us that the WCA seems to be increasingly reactionary in its opinion, especially since we have received much encouragement from many prominent IOD sailors from various fleets.  We strongly suggest that our proposal should be considered in light of its potential future benefit for all IOD sailors, and that it is an important matter that needs an open dialogue and a class-wide vote involving all fleets, not simply a ruling from the class officers.  
     We would furthermore like to point out that, in his letter dated February 27th, 2009, to which you refer, Jordy did not, as the WCA seems to be doing now, explicitly rule out the Northeast Harbor fleet’s research into the use of carbon fiber spars, nor did he rule out their possible adoption if we could work together in finding common ground that would allow us to develop, and possibly adopt, such spars.  Indeed the Northeast Harbor IOD fleet and the WCA had up to then maintained a dialogue seeking a mutually agreeable solution.  While this dialogue was unfortunately interrupted, we take exception to the present sudden ruling from an interim WCA Exec coupled with a threat of expulsion from the IOD Class.    We strongly believe that the issue is important enough to continue to be properly presented to and considered by the IOD class as a whole.   
     Having said this, we venture to say that the Northeast Harbor IOD fleet would willingly undertake discussing an eventual compromise solution: the adoption of a carbon fiber rig built to the present WCA 7/8 single-spreader configuration.  One could conceivably even contemplate, unnecessary as it is, the incorporation of a set of jumpers for purely decorative purposes, since they would serve no practical purpose at all.  However, should such a solution be deemed acceptable by both the WCA and the Northeast Harbor IOD fleet, for practical reasons, and for reasons of fairness to all our sailors, it would have to be implemented over a period of time.  What we are proving to our own satisfaction is that a mixed fleet of wooden and carbon fiber rigs can indeed compete reasonably fairly.  This is a most welcome and reassuring finding, as it would allow us to establish a transition period which would make the conversion affordable for all.  Clearly, during that transition period, the carbon fiber rigs would have to be sailing in a ¾ configuration.  As we have mentioned previously, the carbon fiber mast we have developed is easily converted to a 7/8 profile, and once our entire fleet has adopted the new material, it could then change configuration at a reasonable cost, particularly if the conversion is timed with a new jib purchase.
     What must be considered at all times is the fact that, unlike all the other fleets, which changed to aluminum spars approximately 20 to 25 years ago when that was the only alternative option available – the exception being the Nantucket fleet, which decided to adopt the “local” spar configuration when it was created – the Northeast Harbor fleet is contemplating such a step at a time when there is a growing world-wide transition in racing (and, we might add, cruising) spar materials from aluminum to carbon fiber.  It is very clearly the solution which one-design fleets, indeed increasingly more sailing yachts in general, are adopting; not only, as has been suggested, for reasons of trendiness or performance, but as a matter of practicality, safety, and longevity, which are the benefits we are interested in.  I would not be surprised if at our class’s 100th anniversary at least half the boats will be rigged with carbon fiber spars.  It is our firm opinion that the WCA would be serving the IOD class best by forsaking a short-sighted adherence to the status quo and looking ahead into the middle distance.  The Northeast Harbor IOD fleet has gladly undertaken, and underwritten, a not insignificant project to establish empirically the implications of the adoption of carbon fiber spars.  As much as we all love our boats and love their traditional character, we must attempt to preserve their appeal and longevity by allowing discreet evolutionary changes as more favorable technology becomes available, not by inconsistent reactionary rulings.  We firmly believe such a philosophy will keep our class alive, and interest in it burning bright, in the generation to follow. 

Fred Ford, Northeast Harbor IOD Class Captain
Sandro Vitelli, Northeast Harbor IOD Class Technical Committe