Lots of talk about sailing speed lately. No question soft-water boats are going faster and faster–foils, wings, lighter structures, and endless design innovations are getting normal boats up to some impressive speeds. And impressive budgets. Which got me thinking about the price of speed. Where is the value? Lloyd Roberts touched on this subject in the phenomenal book “THINK ICE!” and I’d like to elaborate a little…. Read on, this is brilliant.
I just saw a video from the A-Class Catamaran North Americans down in Florida. Veteran A-Cat and DN competitor Ben Hall was interviewed and talked about how the A-Cat was the closest thing to a DN he could find, great speed per dollar spent and so forth. He made some great points and is certainly qualified to speak on the subject! The bottom line was that you can get into that class with an older boat on the cheap side, say $9-10K. If you want to go high end and play with the big boys the budget gets up to around $30K; I think a foiling Moth dinghy costs about the same for a top of the line model. How fast do these things go? Let’s be generous and say they max out at around 30 kts. I think that’s realistic and it makes the math easy if we want to figure out how much we are gonna fork over for each knot of speed: $1,000 per knot. Hmmm….
What about keelboats? Forget it. The things have lead attached, for Christ’s sake. And lots of crew to feed and clothe and post bail for after you’ve picked up the bar tab. Now and again a modern sport boat will get into the 20kt range at a price of I-have-no-freaking-idea. Let’s say $200,000 for a hot 30 footer that will red-line at 25kts downwind right before the bow plows into a wave and the kite blows up. By my calculations we are up to $8,000 per knot. Ouch.
Wanna race a big TP52 or maxi yacht? Or do a major campaign–build the boat, crew it, ship it from regatta to regatta, plane tickets and hotel rooms for everyone, meals, housing, super-cool crew gear, practice sails, racing sails, new sails, modified sails, delivery sails, old sails, and more stuff we can’t even comprehend– you’re gonna want a big sponsor because the budget is going to have more than one comma in it. As fast as your boat might be your knot/dollar ratio is going to plummet. I don’t have solid data on this but let’s say your TP52 campaign for the year is gonna set you back 2 mil. The racing will be great and the boat will hit 25kts at some point if there is breeze and you’re surfing down a nice wave (but you’ll probably be in the Med and it’s usually pretty light there) and for that one shining moment your kt/dollar ratio will spike at $80,000. When the boat falls off that wave and slows down to ten knots that’s going to get worse really fast….
And now to the big time…. The last America’s Cup cost Larry Ellison $150 million that he admitted to. ‘Fess up gang, we all watched it and when the commentators went ape-shit and raved about the boats “flying at almost 40 knots!” we all gave ourselves a smug pat on the back and felt pretty bad-ass because when our iceboat is going 40kts the day is only beginning to get interesting. Don’t get me wrong, those boats are impressive and I’m too chicken to sail one in anything less than a drifter and, even then, only with close adult supervision. But, Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ, we are up to about $3,750,000/knot. And it just occurred to me that although he wrote the checks Larry didn’t get to sail on the boat.
I’m not slamming A-Cats, Moths, keelboats or even big multihulls. Even though windsurfers and kiteboards are relatively cheap the top end speed is a bit limited…. The design, development, build detail and performance of all these boats is equal to or beyond anything we are up to in the hard-water world. In a perfect universe I’d have Larry Ellison money and an airplane hangar full of A-Cats, Moths, and DN’s for my enjoyment. I earn my daily bread sailing a 54 footer that weighs over 21 tons. At nine knots the boat is loaded waaaayyyy the hell up and drags half the Atlantic Ocean along behind it. And it’s AWESOME. All of these boats are absolutely amazing.
But the hottest soft water boat there is can’t hold a candle to even the weakest piece of junk that rides on skates. My first iceboat is a 1962 DN from Maryland with a spruce rig and rodent-damaged sail (chewed on here, pee’ed on there…) Paid less than $700 for it and I’ve hit 50kts several times with it, which puts me in the $14/kt range. Which is $3,749,986/kt better than Larry Ellison- Eat your heart out Larry!! Look at your own iceboat budget and do your own math if you haven’t already, you’ll be glad you did.
No matter what the budget or the speed just be glad that we can go out and get a Lockley Skimmer or an ancient DN or a CheapSkate or any blade-borne contraption and get on the best side of that knots-per-dollar ratio there is!
James “T” Thieler DN US 5224