Where do you see problems with composites?
Again, it’s the dissemination of knowledge. Composites usage in racing yachts walks a fine line. Yachts built today are so much faster than they used to be and can go longer periods of time at faster speeds, approximately 30 knots. If you were doing that in a power boat, you’d slow down against a wake, but you can’t do that in a yacht. We face a constant slamming from waves, which can cause things to break from the hull or structure. In a competition, it’s our job to push the envelope. If we sail around the world and nothing breaks, we say it’s too heavy. Yet when something does break, there are few people who understand why it broke or how to fix it. If people could understand more how composites work, they would know if something was a big deal or not.
What more would you like to get out of composites?
Right now it is a bit off-putting when there are only certain weights of cloth or length that we can use. But, I can understand why companies don’t make more custom runs.
How could composites be more user-friendly?
Currently they achieve what we want them to do. But hopefully composites will steadily get cheaper. Once they are less expensive they will be used in more applications, and people will start to understand what composites are and how they work. When someone comes to look at, for example, a 40-foot boat, they love how it looks and behaves, but because we use composites it’s pricier. They can’t comprehend why it’s so much more expensive. I think the usage and benefits of composites could be portrayed better by the manufacturer. I mean, if I buy a Ferrari, I know why it’s more expensive than a Ford. But it’s harder to get that same sentiment across with composite boats and yachts.
Besides racing yachts, what group do you see as the next “big user”?
Superyachts are staring to understand the importance and benefits of composites. And since they have the money to afford luxuries, the potential is definitely there.
How specifically has the racing yacht industry been hit by the economy?
It’s been hit pretty hard. There are no one-off boats being built currently. Not only did the economy hurt, but also the legal mess between BMW Oracle and defending champion SNG (Societe Nautique de Geneve), surrounding and effectively delaying the 33rd America’s Cup for almost three years. Now that it’s back on track, it will be great news for manufacturing, including the composites industry, since they are huge spenders.