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THINKING ABOUT THINKING or THE WHITE-HOT TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION

By Graham Goulding

Last Burton Week, sitting in the Club one day when sailing was impossible, I started browsing through other class magazines, Finn’s and OK’s, and was suddenly struck by an uncomfortable idea: I realised one of the major things wrong with the Nationals was that compared with these classes we were lacking in a serious technological approach, particularly as far as rigs are concerned.

There is plenty of talk of making our boats more attractive to potential buyers by making them lighter, talk of changing hull construc­tion rules and much discussion on how to get new blood into the class, but what strikes me is that it is not the hull at fault, but the standardisa­tion of gear. I conclude that further hull changes would not help much, for lighter boats would further help lighter crews, while easier hull construc­tion, though good for amateurs, would reduce profitability on an already marginal product for our three professional builders. Rapid hull development would reduce the chance of a long production run and we could be left with no professional builders in a few years.

What the Nationals really lack is a sense of excitement, for this is a vital factor in recruitment. The modern boats badly need a spinnaker if they are to attract the youngsters trained in the Mirror, for without it they are as safe as houses in anything but a real blow. Even more important than this, though, is the excitement that comes from being in a class where real development is taking place, where the keen sailors are thinking hard.

The National may be a development class on paper but, with the exception of a few hull designers, who is actively engaged in develop­ment?

There are three basic areas where development is possible: hull, rig and gear. Hull design innovation seems to be taking the form of con­solidation, the challenge being how to gain power without instability or high wetted area. Something is known about this, and new hulls being designed, but in a class as old as ours we should know an awful lot more about the other two areas than we do.

Those other newsletters had pages of detailed technical discussion of rig and gear. Their members were thinking about such things as the relation of sail shape to wind and to wave conditions, shape related to stretch characteristics of cloth, soft cloth versus resinated materials, mast bend characteristics related to wind condition and to sail cloth. They discussed centreboard design, thickness, foil section and construction. In short, they were concerned with how to make their boats go faster, not with changing their boats. Not only this: they were writing articles to help all the others in the class, so that competition would improve.

We, on the other hand, buy boats off the shelf, masts off the shelf, sails off the shelf, even vital things like centreboards. We don’t take our equipment seriously enough. Surely our sailing must suffer.

If you take away hard thinking and the development it produces, what have the Twelves got that other classes have not? Very little except a great sense of comradeship.

I suggest that we spend less time talking about major hull changes and more on discussing development of rig and gear. The other vital thing to do is to go round all new members and show them how every­thing works, explain the principles of bendy masts, help them improve their fittings and teach them that thinking is fun and will get them to the front of the fleet

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