Since its introduction in the 1900 Paris Games, Olympic sailing has shifted dramatically toward smaller and lighter dinghies, skiffs, windsurfers and keelboats. Olympics.org notes that this trend puts greater demands on the sailor’s athletic and technical abilities. It also puts greater demand on composite manufacturers to develop new products for each Olympic cycle, hoping that the right mix of technologies will earn their boat the win.
Greg Ketterman, vice president of engineering for Hobie Cat Co., notes that since sailboat Class rules limit design changes, it is the “behind the scenes” composite technology that drives advancement. “Composites lead to a lighter, stiffer product and are the preferred choice for most competitive classes,” adds Pip Baily, marketing manager for RS Sailing, a sailboat manufacturer in the United Kingdom.
RS Sailing uses a mixture of polyester, vinyl ester and epoxy resin systems in all of its sailboats. “We use a mixture of different weights of glass and carbon matting in different weaves to make sure we get the maximum strength depending on application,” Baily says. The company uses a variety of fabrication methods to manufacture hulls, including open laminating, vacuum bagging and infusion techniques.