No Down Time Down Under

When it comes to multihulls, few, if any, have the résumé to match that of Pete Melvin. He's designed some of the world's fastest boats, and won some of the toughest multihull championships. Now he's trying to help Emirates Team New Zealand win the America's Cup.

December 18, 2012
Sailing World


Emirates Team New Zealand design team member, and catamaran guru, Pete Melvin. Chris Cameron/etnz

Pete Melvin is considered one of the world’s leading designers of racing multihulls. He’s also a multiple class world and national champion. His company Morrelli & Melvin has designed boats ranging from the record setting 125-foot PlayStation maxi-catamaran to two different world championship-winning A Class** **catamarans. His partner Gino Morelli was involved in Dennis Conner’s ’88 Cup program with the Stars & Stripes catamaran, and in 2008 Pete began working with Oracle Racing as a sailing coach before moving into design analysis. Melvin is now designing for Emirates Team New Zealand, who just recently successfully completed 30 days on its first AC72 (the maximum allotted training time prior to Feb. 1, 2013).

What will be valuable to you next in terms of training?

PM: We’ve used up our 30 days for our first boat and that restriction ends January 30th but we’re not really planning on sailing our first boat anymore. Our second boat will be launched sometime in early February so we’re focusing on assembling that boat. Hopefully we will get that boat up to speed a lot faster than boat 1 just from all the learning we’ve done and then be able to have some even better racing sessions with Luna Rossa. Their development is behind ours so they’re not quite as fast, their boat handling isn’t quite as good and they tend to have more breakdowns than we do at this stage so I think our next sessions in February/March with them will be more fruitful. We’ll have some closer racing and both benefit from that for sure.


What was learned in 30 days of training?

PM: Most of the time it’s a variety of little things that add up to a big change or improvement over time. I guess it’s the old adage of spending time on the water is about the best thing you can do. We go for a day sailing and we have a plan of what we want to test and usually it includes testing of equipment and speeds—we try one configuration with another sail or dagger board change, etc. We record the performance of the boat as we change something and sometimes it’s an obvious advantage or disadvantage what you’re trying and sometimes it’s very subtle so you have to do it multiple times. The other type of testing or sailing we do is crew work—tacks, jibes, or sets—sometimes we do those as a manoeuver by itself or we set up a racecourse and try to link all those maneuvers together. There’s just no substitute for being on the water.

What now happens to boat 1?


PM: Boat 2 is intended to be our race boat and we may never actually sail boat 1 again which is sort of sad as its been a good boat for us and it could be a fine boat to race in the AC, but with boat 2 we’ve had another 8 to 9 months of design time on and were able to refine things more. We’re fairly confident that boat 2 is going to be an improvement. We were able to use the knowledge gained from sailing boat 1 in things like systems and some of the deck hardware placement, foils and things like that; things that can follow on a little bit later than the hulls and the basic platform structure. It’ll be a process of continual development all the way through the end.

Is there any one area where you feel you are very strong in regard to your boat design?

PM: Maybe the answer to that is that the overall package seems to be working well. With this boat – knock on wood – we’ve had very few serious structural issues with any part of the boat. It seems to behave well, even in windy conditions. It’s basically behaving and performing very close to predications, which is a good sign as it means our analysis methods are being validated that way. It’s nice to know that going into boat 2 as it gives us some confidence that boat 2 will perform as intended.


Are conditions you’ve been training in NZ like/unlike those you’ll see in San Francisco?

PM: Certainly the boat is optimized around the conditions that we expect in San Francisco. During the Louis Vuitton series we’ll have higher average winds speeds in July and August. As the wind tends to soften in September, we’ll have to re-mode the boat a little for that but you are allowed to change the configuration of your boat the night before a race so we are developing different configurations depending on wind strength, and also sea state is quite important: ebb versus flood tide, etc. Roger “Clouds” Badham, our meteorologist, is on site and we’re constantly looking at the weather and trying to get out in conditions that replicate San Francisco as much as possible. Sometimes we have certain items we want to test in certain conditions so we’ll target those conditions. We normally look for up-range conditions, 15 to 20-plus [knots].

Any update on how many measurement certificates will be allowed?


PM: At the moment there is no limit on the number allowed. We expect the measurement team might be pretty busy. The way it is supposed to work is you’re supposed to have your boat measured at a specific configuration and a certificate given for that configuration. That has to be done in advance of sailing. The night before—I think the latest cut-off is 8pm—you have to elect what certificate you’re going to sail with the next day.

What do you think of this system?

PM: The Rule states that you can only have one certificate [active] at a time. How many certificates you can have is outside the Rule; it’s a Protocol thing over which you have no control. The intent was to limit the number of certificates so that teams would develop all-round equipment, the idea to reduce cost and complexity. I also think it’s a holistic way to design a boat, that it has to go through a range of conditions. If you’re thinking about the America’s Cup as something that has a trickle down effect, in general, it’s better if you can develop all-round equipment that applies elsewhere. There’s also a limit to what you can do as a team and how many changes you can do overnight. I don’t know what we’ll do in the end – it’ll depend on how our development goes. I don’t know if teams have the opportunity to really test too many different combinations between now and the Cup. If you have a giant shore crew you can make giant changes overnight, so it would be nice if there were some sort of limit to that.

ETNZ still plans to field just one sailing team?

PM: Yes, we thought about it for a while but it’s just too gargantuan an effort to put two of these boats together and keep them running at the same time and try to make some meaningful testing out of it.

Just how similar is Luna Rossa’s boat to ETNZ’s boat 1?

PM: The hulls and the structure are essentially identical. The wing is very close to identical as well in terms of shape and configuration. They do have different dagger boards that they’re trying, which is nice for both of us as we get to see what the differences are between what they come up with and what we come up with. Dagger boards are turning out to be one of the more crucial items and there’s a large focus on that amongst all the teams. It’s nice to be able to test that with the two different boats and have that be somewhat meaningful.

It must be beneficial having Luna Rossa present?

PM: It is, but maybe not as fruitful as we had hoped at this point although it’s been fantastic every time we go out and sail against them we both learn a huge amount so we need to do it as much as possible. After we get back and start sailing again in February it’ll be great to have them out there.

This Cup has taken a very different direction – how’s the experience been for you?

PM: It’s been fantastic. We (M&M) never thought we’d get an opportunity to get involved with the America’s Cup at least on multihulls on a local level. Once we heard it was multihulls, we knew we had to get in the mix because we knew the learning curve and the technology that was going to go into this would be amazing and if we didn’t we’d be left behind. We’re very fortunate to have been part of developing the Rule and concept, and being with ETNZ. Just the amount of brain power in our design, build, and sailing team and what we’ve been able to do—like with the foiling for instance, we weren’t sure we could even achieve something like that. Hopefully a lot of the things we’re developing will trickle down because it’s really boosted a whole interest in multihulls, but the whole design technology has taken a giant shot in the arm. The boats are better and we’ll see more of them out there, more people having fun and enjoying the sport. That’s the long-term benefit.

ETNZ appears to be well ahead of the other teams; are you comfortable with where you are?

PM: We are but we’re cautiously optimistic. We still don’t know what the other teams may have up their sleeve, they’re certainly not to be taken for granted as they all have very talented people on their teams. Like we saw with Oracle, if you don’t have that back up, you break a major piece of equipment it puts you out for months at a time, it’s really debilitating to your program. We have a little bit more leeway now with boat 2 if something catastrophic happens we can always revert back to the first boat and keep pushing ahead. We’re in a nice position, but no one is letting off the gas pedal. If we have a lead, we have to maintain it.


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