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This Article Last Updated: Oct 14th, 2010 - 15:13:49 

Seahorse Magazine article: "Upping the Stakes"
By Lynn Fitzpatrick for Seahorse Magazine
Jun 11, 2009, 17:05

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Article written by World Regattas' Lynn Fitzpatrick as seen in the July 2009 issue of Seahorse International Sailing Magazine.

Upping the stakes
Iain Percy's Mader-built Juan K design wasn't the only new and exotic Star boat in Qingdao last year... there was also, of course, the shadowy and then still slightly mythical P Star from Marc Pickel's German programme.

The Star is approaching its 100th anniversary and yet remarkably at this year's 82nd annual Bacardi Cup on Miami's Biscayne Bay there was still plenty to talk about for aficionados of boat development.

There is no question that Peter Bromby and Magnus Liljedahl dominated the 82nd Bacardi Cup, but there was also real news from Team V-3, the three crews sailing the new P Star. With very different team profiles and "some good karma", as skipper, Jon VanderMolen puts it, they had at least one boat in the top 10 in every race and finished respectably in sixth, ninth and 23rd overall.

Meanwhile, the P Star (above) is also making inroads
- here being tested in Qingdao by its creator Marc Pickel
Marc Pickel, the P Star builder and two-time German Olympic Star skipper, teamed up with 2002 Star World Champion Steve Mitchell in P2. Jon VanderMolen, more at home on Michigan's Gull Lake, was sailing with Finn sailor Geoff Ewenson in P5. And for his first Star regatta, 2003 College Sailor of the Year and World Team Racing Champion skipper Clay Bischoff had talented Canadian crew Tyler Bjorn in the bow of P1.

Pickel's development of the P Star began in 2002. With support from Michael Illbruck and his Pinta Racing Team, Pickel approached the Yacht Research Unit of Kiel University to run CFD studies on different Star hull designs and appendages. For seven months CFD specialist Eric Wolf collaborated with Pickel on the design for the original P Star, systematically testing different hull geometries and parameters within the tolerances of the class rules.

Notes Pickel, an experienced boatbuilder who has also worked for VO70 and Whitbread 60 build whizz Killian Bushe: "The offsets at the different stations of the Star hull constitute variance boxes of 19mmx16mm at the forward stations and 25mmx19mm at the middle and aft stations. For a one-design boat you have a lot of space in which you can play with different hull shapes."

Using RANS methods Pickel and the yacht research team tested the changes in flow forces on the appended hull and generated velocity predictions to calculate the performance variances compared to Star boats from existing manufacturers. In short, Pickel developed a Star boat with the longest waterline possible within the allowed tolerances. Out of the P Star's CNC-milled moulds comes a precise hull with a very straight exit, minimum volume in the mid-section and a deep but narrow bow.

Research and development and an Olympic campaign come with a price tag, and Pickel is resourceful to say the least. Pickel and his Star crew, Ingo Borkowski, trained with the well-funded American team of John Dane III and Austin Sperry during the run-up to both the US Olympic Star Trials in southern California and the Olympic regatta. Working together as a team, Pickel concentrated on optimising the P Star hull while the Americans, with Quantum's Mark Reynolds, tried to optimise the rig and sails for the anticipated light airs in Qingdao.

A proposition
While in southern California Pickel received a phone all out of the blue from Jon VanderMolen, a passionate Star sailor and the Lillia dealer in the US since 2000. VanderMolen has built his business by taking in used Star boats against new boats, which has helped grow fleets throughout the US. His business took off in 2002 with the introduction of the Devoti Lillia Star. However, within a few years VanderMolen watched as the dollar plummeted and the European-built Lillias became prohibitively expensive. Aside from selling boats to those in the hunt for Olympic medals, VanderMolen's Star business all but dried up. By building a Star boat, spars and trailer in the US, VanderMolen believed that he could continue to promote fleet development throughout North America.

VanderMolen: "Would you be interested in selling the moulds to the P Star to me so that I can build boats in the US?"
Pickel: "Not now. Let's talk after the Games"...

According to VanderMolen, he didn't pester Pickel, but as Pickel became further entrenched in developing the P Light to give the Germans and the Americans a special edge at the Olympics, he relented and sold VanderMolen P1, the first P Star. VanderMolen sailed P1 with Steve Ticknor in the 2007 Bacardi Cup and got off to a great start, but the lake sailor had a tough time at the upper end of the wind range later in the regatta.

The logistics of finishing boats and shipping them to China in time for the Olympics left Pickel with no time to test his equipment in Qingdao. He and Dane each had P Star Lights at the Qingdao Olympic marina. As his back-up boat Pickel also had what he considered the fastest light-air boat in the world, VanderMolen's brother's Folli. Dane himself also had a Mader.

"We made the call on which boat we were going to use as late as possible. We didn't put any pressure on ourselves about which to use," said Pickel. "We were confident in both set-ups and we just trusted our weatherman, Meeno Schrader."

Two new faces at the front of the Star fleet, Doyle Sails
are now making a push into this lucrative one-design market
this is Mark Mendelblatt and Bruno Prada at work
during this year's Bacardi Cup.
Schrader's call was for more breeze than usual during the second week of the Olympic regatta, the period in which the Star races would be held, and Pickel and Borkowski measured in the Folli for the Games. Dane and Sperry, on the other hand, went with the P Light. The Germans went through to an exciting and windy Medal Race. The Americans led the regatta after the first three light-air races, but then fell away in the heavier winds.

Pickel and VanderMolen will probably be building their new P Stars in the grounds of the North American Sailing Center in Gull Lake, the 2009 Bacardi results giving a real boost to the new arrangement. As teams sorted through their charter boat and crew arrangements in advance of that regatta, VanderMolen could steer different teams to different boats. Rather than load the P Stars with rock stars, VanderMolen felt that it would make more of a statement if good sailors, yet relative unknowns in the Star class, sailed the P Stars and had success. Hence VanderMolen hooked Tyler Bjorn up with Clay Bischoff for Bischoff's debut as a Star skipper.

"The three teams tuned together before racing each day. Clay and Tyler were faster than the rest of us every day, and all of us could point higher than everyone no matter who we were near when we were racing," said VanderMolen.

Bischoff also admitted after his two OCSs, "It's not easy getting used to starting the Star! They have a lot more momentum than my little dinghy and the line's jammed out with big talent. No mercy."

Midway through the Bacardi Cup VanderMolen commented on his and Ewenson's performance, the best by far that VanderMolen had ever had in a major Star regatta. He credited the boat - and he also credited Ewenson for being such a great crew. Pleased with the performance of the different teams using the P Star, Pickel added, "The one big advantage is that the set-up is pretty simple in this boat so that you can concentrate on tactics and racing instead of spending too much time inside the boat."

The difference between the P1, P2 and P5 according to Pickel, is "quite small. But we have tried to optimise the appendages a little.."

Autoclaves are now on order and the first P Stars built on American soil should be available by the end of September. Four provisional orders were received within a few weeks of the Bacardi Cup - all from well-known Star sailors.

And a new spar
VanderMolen may have the bead on Star boats and spare parts in North America, but he, like everyone else, has been feeling the pinch of a dearth of spars to go around. Once Spartech closed their doors in the summer of 2007 Emetti had a monopoly on Star mast production and most deliveries in 2008 were quickly snapped up by Olympic campaigners.

Intent on producing masts in the US, VanderMolen honed in on Sparcraft, the Charlotte, North Carolina manufacturer of aluminum spars. VanderMolen's team includes an aerospace designer and John MacCausland, who has been retailing Star parts and providing regatta support for decades. The team quickly designed a new teardrop-shaped section with aerodynamic characteristics that are almost identical to the Emetti mast. Fittings and shrouds are interchangeable.

MacCausland and Kevin Murphy tested the first Sparcraft mast during the Bacardi Cup. "We were thrilled with how easily we tuned it and how well the sails fit," said MacCausland. He expects the Sparcraft masts, which are anodised on site, to be available no later than July. Always the optimist, MacCausland is also happy that the new mast, which will be priced competitively with the Emettis, is coming to market at the beginning of the Olympic quadrennium.

At this point the Star class do not allow carbon-fibre masts though many teams have been using lightweight, and expensive, fibreglass whisker poles. MacCausland foresees lightweight aluminium Sparcraft booms and ultra-thin alloy whisker poles on the horizon.

A paradigm shift
Between defending Etchells titles, coaching and picking a lot of brains about the Star, Jud Smith has spent a long time in Miami over the past couple of years. Smith hopped into the Star class in 2007. By sailing with very experienced crews he soon learned how to set up the boat and qualified himself for the worlds that year. But as he concedes about his first year in the boat, "I knew that I wasn't up to worlds potential. Actually I was at the point where I didn't yet even know what I didn't know!

"But we were always learning.. the main is obviously the dominant power source and must be designed to go through a huge wind range. You need a full sail downwind to go fast and make the big main work almost like a spinnaker. Then you need enough mast bend to flatten out that big full sail upwind."

Smith had constructed his third mainsail by the 2008 Miami OCR. He made some changes to the luff curve and camber and Mark Mendelblatt and Mark Strube later took seventh place at the 2008 Star Worlds with Smith�s fifth mainsail. Despite the success,Smith�s Star sail development efforts were curtailed a bit during the run-up to the Olympics because he was so heavily involved in Doyle Sails' production of Yngling sails.

The line-up of boats for this Olympic quadrennium has Smith and Doyle Sails making a more concerted effort in the Star. Smith comments on his sail designs: "They currently have a little more luff curve than the others, so we probably use a bit more cap shroud tension and have a different spreader sweep, but I wouldn't say that our numbers are that far from Quantum's or North's."

North Sails� V-1, M-16, M-05 and M-22 were spawned out of North's work with a number of Olympic teams. Notably, Argentinean designer Juan Garay worked closely with 2008 gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson and used North Sails' design programs, Membrane and Flow, to design the M-16. The M-16 is slightly deeper in the three-quarter-height compared to the all-purpose V-1 used by silver medallists Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada.

The proverbial Chinese wall was raised in Quantum's San Diego loft while Mark Reynolds worked on sail development with John Dane III and Marc Pickel, and George Szabo worked with the Polish, Swiss, Australian and French Olympic Star teams. Naturally that sail development was oriented toward light air for Qingdao.

Since then the game has begun all over again with the implementation of the Star class's new rule eliminating outside assistance from support boats from leaving the dock until the finish of the last race of the day, combined with an expected moderate to windy 2011 world championship and initial Olympic country qualifier in Perth. Boatbuilders, spar manufacturers and sailmakers are all now returning to the "wise head" strategy: equipment that works well across a range of conditions.

As Vince Brun concludes, "I have still yet to see somebody take a radical approach and win all of the time. Sailors have to be able to defend in all conditions."

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