Oct 1, 2012

Matt McDonald on the Falcon F18 Worlds Experience

The Falcon F18 felt comfortable right away, and we could feel the speed of the platform, together with our Landys, in the very first day. We arrived at LA one week earlier so we have some good sailing time on it even previous the official racing.

Sailing a brand new boat is always a challenge, I had some other good prices on charters but I consulted Gustavo that I wanted to test the Falcon, and as we've not sailed together for years he supported me on my decision.
We learned & work literally from scratch, and that was the kind of experience I was looking for.
On the racing we felt really confident to deliver better results on the previous tests but we couldn´t only on our lack of training and some key handling errors.

Of course having Matt building several Falcon F16s was key on my trust on his work. And it showed as we all know stories of boats literally imploding on their first event! And that is nothing strange, it happens to all those embarking themselves in new projects.

But Matt's Falcon stood up to the challenge like a boat that has been around for years on the class.
If you are in the US make a call and test the boat, you wont be dissapointed. I want to thank Matt , John, Dennis and the Glasers for their support, also Gina for the good vibes. We had a blast time with some of the best sailing sessions ever one the Falcon at Long Beach. Contact Matt at www.falconmarinellc.com.

I want to thank Felix Egner from Landenberger-sailing on provding such a good set of sails for us.
Images Matt McDonald / Jasper Van Staveren
Below Matt on a full insight on his design work on the Falcon.
- You had some good two weeks of full testing & racing at Long Beach on both Falcons sailing in every condition, how was the experience as a gral view after all the hard work?

Matt McDonald: Being a builder yourself you know there are a million details to address when building any new boat/design. When the boat is built for and being used and raced by experienced teams at a World Championships the importance of those details and making sure things work becomes exponentially larger. While it was not our original intent to show up at the World Championships with 2 boats straight out of the mold and untested, things worked out where this is exactly what ended up happening.
The first complete boat with sails and all its pieces was assembled and launched right there at ABYC just days before the big event. I was pretty confident in my design and my shop guys ability to build a great product, but I still had an extreme case of nervousness and there were more than a few critics wandering the beach making bets on these boats not surviving their 2 week event debut.

In the week leading up to the actual event we got in our first bit of real world testing and you and Gustavo were a big part of that. I was able to get a couple of days in on the platform giving test rides and doing some line ups with many of the other teams who were at Long Beach training and tuning for the big event.
I also want to thanks to Gladstone's Restaurant, as I was able to get on the water myself and with the Glasers, as a critic and observer. Being able to being on the water watching the boat sailing really eased a lot of my concerns.
The boat right off was very balanced and very responsive and we were able to right away line up upwind and downwind quite favorably with many teams who would be contending for top 20 spots at the big event.

- What do you think of the F18 as a class?
Matt:  The F18 class has grown to where it is the premier 2-up beach cat racing organization. As a sailor, builder and designer, I have some contrary views to some of the classes written bureaucracy, but the “spirit” of the sailors who make up the class is what drives its continued success. Where else do you have world champions, Olympic champions, professionals gathering in numbers and mixing it up with us regular weekend variety enthusiasts.

In true “beach cat” fashion there is an openness that you will not see at many if any other high level event. Everyone’s equipment and rigging ideas are there for review and critique and you can walk up to most any of the top level teams and they will freely provide rigging, tuning and sailing advice. For me, multihull sailing has become a lifestyle choice.
The F18 is predominantly the racing side of that lifestyle. The class members have done a good job of making sure there is more to events than just a race. If you have 120 boats at an event, you had better make it fun for the guy who comes in at 120 or there will not be 120 at the next one.
ABYC and the group pulled through, and this World Championship level event had a lot of the feel still in it that made me get involved with my local multihull fleet, what seems like 1000 years ago.

- Which were the design goals of the Falcon? An overall performer or you targeted mid range and above as other designs did?

Matt: Our goal with the Falcon F18 was to develop a boat that is easy to push hard and goes in any condition. As a crew, if you are comfortable on the boat, you can drive it longer, harder around the race course.

The F18 is a box rule class that has been around for a while now. As with any of these classes, it has developed to where no quantum leaps are going to be realized in a design due to the limits of the box.
The biggest factor in who sits on the podium at the end of the day resides with the crew and this realistically is a fundamental goal of the box design formula if they want continued large scale racing. That being said, there are a lot of things that can be addressed to make the boats continually better and easier to sail with each new iteration. The very best crews can drive virtually any design to the podium. To me a successful design is one where you do not have to be the best in order to drive fast. If you are not fearing every time you look at the backside of a big roller or see a big puff coming across the water, you can drive the boat fast comfortably and concentrate on the tactics of the event and not just your survival.

The last few years I have been involved with a lot of naval architecture design projects. This involves our F16 and A class projects, but also we have done a fair bit of unique commercial and military hull and propulsion development work.
My education is as a mechanical engineer, but I am more interested in the why and how things work than the pure calculations involved in traditional engineering. The more “modern” hull shapes being used in virtually all the recent multihull projects of the last few years take advantage of being semi-displacement hulls. Everyone has seen the result where fatter hull shapes are now the norm.

This semi-displacement feature of a cat hull at speed is where the design features become a bit of an art again. Programs exist to provide static and dynamic resistance numbers for any shape and there are programs to calculate performance on planning hull shapes. In between and more importantly to real word function of a beach cat driven by a human, how does it work and how does the hull shape perform when being stuffed or just plain out of trim? To answer these questions we did a lot of real world testing of different shapes to try and balance drag vs performance over the full range of speeds you will see sailing. Fatter and flatter bottoms approach planning at lower speeds.

They also provide a much larger drag factor at slow speed and are more resistant to maneuvering than rounder shapes. Keeping the lines fair in our testing became obvious quickly. At speeds below full planning (where we sail 100% of the time) sharp breaks and reverses all tested poorly.

There are designs that have developed a reputation for being overly sensitive to pitching. Off wind in big waves and wind this really hinders performance as actually swimming or just the fear of it will keep a team from going as fast as they could. The shape of the bow on the F18 follows in concept to what we did on our F16. In testing we found hollows in the lines really increase the pitching forces. In both the Falcon designs when the hull does go into a wave it does not really slow and you can just keep driving, which is a great feeling.

Of course straight line speed is important but boat handling wins races. Watching the top teams from the water I am constantly amazed at the gains in handling. Even amongst the top contenders one boat length in a tack and several in a rounding differences are common, where straight line speed in the same group is almost exactly the same. Having a boat quick in the tacks and easy to maneuver on a start line drove a lot of the final end design decisions. Otherwise keeping high beam placement and just the styling cues where you see a Falcon and you recognize it were the drivers in our hull design.

- We were very confident on the boat on the breeze and we pushed it hard without worries. Do you think all your building experience with the F16 among others was key to have such a trusty platform?
Matt: My experience on the boat for the first few days and the feedback we got from the others who sailed them in Long Beach was that my design goals had been met. This was further confirmed as we trailed on the chase boats and viewed how the boats were able to sail very flat and fast in some pretty rough conditions. The boat was easy to move around on as a crew and even in the bigger winds and waves getting all the way back off the back was not required, so you felt there was still quite a bit of safety yet to handle even rougher conditions.

Our experience in the F16 of course did play a factor in a lot of the design decisions we ended up making on the F18. In shape with the hulls and foils and how we wanted the boat to feel going through the water the F16 was a base. As I mentioned above this was tempered with influences from a lot of other disciplines. Maintaining the responsive feel of the helm as much as possible on the much heavier F18 vs. the F16 and the feeling of a smooth yet responsive ride were really my goal for how this boat would be to sail and I am very happy with the results.

The biggest influence from our F16 building project was in the manufacturing process and rigging layout features of this new boat.

The F16 is essentially rigged the same as an F18 so we had a very good grasp of how we wanted the systems to work and be set up on this new model. We of course ran a few new rigging tricks like the removable continuous down haul, but function wise the lines just need to be easy to access and work when needed.

Producing minimum weight (107kg) 5m spin rigged boats poses quite a different process approach than typically employed by most builders. For the F16 we developed a modified infusion process which allowed us to consistently produce very low resin content structurally sound parts. This same process was used to build the F18. We did not have to go to this added expense but our finished weights can be very tightly controlled but more importantly for this design as there is room for weight in the design rules, we can make them stiffer and stronger. Many people commented to me through the week on how solid our hulls felt and how stiff the platform was.

If we did not have a very successful F16 project running in our shop, there is no doubt that we would not have been able to put together such a successful F18 package and never would have been able to even attempt it in such a short time period.

- Which are the next steps on the Falcon trim/testing stage?
The two Falcon F18s in Long Beach showed up at the event straight out of the mold and the sails were not even fit on them until a few days before racing. Jay and Pease were great to work with us on this, provide us with early trial sails, go out on a chase boat looking at shapes and give up their practice time making the final sails for us.

I spent a lot of time previously discussing the nuances involved in designing a hull. In reality once you get by the fact the crew is the most important factor in a race, the rigging, which is the engine, is next in importance, followed by the foils and hull shape.
The Glaser’s have a lot of F18 experience and even more building fast sails for a lot of designs. They are a sail builder and therefore not in competition amongst models. Jays designs take feedback from everywhere and they work to incorporate this into their designs regardless of the source. We were really happy with the results of the first sails they made for the boat.

Continued development on the rig and rig settings is our biggest priority as far as steps in testing go. Running as many different sailors and running them in different conditions is next. At Long Beach we had no base line point from which to even measure rig set up and sailing technique. All the little things like what mast rake and what spreader rake should be using as a starting point did not exist for you guys who had to race this and you were running a start line with 60 boats.

I cannot thank you and Gustavo, and Dennis and John enough for your trust. The fact that all the different groups who sailed it reported they had good speed and good handling straight out of the mold, fills us with confidence that the design is a good one and we have room for making it even better as things get fine tuned and the techniques and settings are refined.

- I think you sold a boat right there on the beach after the event right?
Both of these boats are staying in CA and will be joining the F18 racing scene there. Getting to and through this event was a lot of work but worth the effort. Our real goal was just to introduce the boat. While we have been producing successful F16 for a while, this class is still a little obscure amongst the pure racers (although this is changing quickly the last year or so with many countries naming the F16 as their Olympic development class and more high level racers attending F16 events) and we are not one of the big three. At this event we got quite a bit of new exposure with just two new untried vessels. This has opened discussions and negotiations with groups in many areas where we have not been in the past.

- Which is the standard package equipment you are offering ?
Matt: For the most part, anyone buying an F18 especially a new one is purchasing it to race. We set up our package and build taking this into account so that the boats have the features and equipment that everyone wants when racing. Calibrated turn buckles on all the stays, adjustable halyards, internal continuous-spliced jib and downhaul lines, line control kits etc are all part of what we provide on the F18. Glaser sails, premium lines and race tested systems are standard.

- Do you think you can manage some competitive pricing against the imported options?
Matt:  Our offerings are right in line price wise with the other major brands. We also have the ability being built local to package a boat specifically for any customer. Added features, special colors, or other customization to fit wants or budget are things we can do. We take pride that our boats are built in the USA, in the heart of the Space Coast, just a couple of miles from the Space Center. We use close molding techniques on all our production builds and parts. We have not resorted to outsourcing to Asia for hand laminated mass production. We keep control of our materials process and products. Many of the boats we build are semi-custom and often built to order. The guys in my shop often have the name of the person they are building the boat for on the top of their work order. The owners list is in my shop and all of them watch the forums for results and look for results of the guys they built these boats for. I believe a bunch of my shop guys were more nervous than I was when the first two F18’s sailed out for their first real race last week.

- The idea is to send a boat to Gill for them to test in Europe?
Matt: Gill at The Boat Shop has been great and really been a huge help in us being able to introduce the F16. He and Kathleen are great people and have done a lot for both Falcon Marine and the F16 class in Europe. We have been discussing the F18 project with him and he has reported quite an undercurrent of interest from people there following our introduction at the Worlds. There are some discussions with sailors in Europe now and we will be sending at least one F18 in the first Spring container to Europe.

- Finally any other thought and future plans.
Matt: I have not really had a chance to even catch my breath since getting back from CA. We are still finishing some of the last fixturing and tooling projects for the ramp up of the F18 and I have not even been able to get all my photos and story published from the event itself.

Beyond just continued refinement of the F18 project, we do have two current active projects coming down the pike. I cannot go into detail on these yet, but look for an announcement on some larger multihulls soon.
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