McNeil’s New Monster, the 86-foot Zephyrus V

Project Manager John Bertrand describes the latest speedster to come from the Reichel/Pugh drawing board.

Zephyrus IV was no slouch. Bob McNeil’s 75-foot Reichel/Pugh design set two major course records in 2000, taking line honors in both the MTN Cape Town to Rio Race and the Middle Sea Race. But when Roy Disney and Philippe Kahn both launched next generation sleds in 1999 and 2001, respectively, the 1996-vintage Zephyrus IV was no longer the top dog on the West Coast. Rather than build a boat on par with those two, McNeil, project manager John Bertrand, and designers John Reichel and Jim Pugh decided to up the ante. The result is the 86-foot Zephyrus V, a water-ballasted sled with the potential to rewrite any number of ocean racing records. First up is the 2002 West Marine Pacific Cup, though strong competition is expected from the mammoth Mari-Cha III–at 147 feet it’ll probably be an upset if it doesn’t win line honors–and Kahn’s 77-foot Pegasus, which, while shorter than Zephyrus V, has had infinitely more time to tune up.
Even before Zephyrus V hit the water, other owners became intrigued with the boat and, because of this interest, designer Bill Lee was brought in to draft a box rule for the new MaxZ86 class. There should be at least three or four of these monsters sailing on a world circuit by the end of 2003. For now, however, McNeil, Bertrand, and the rest of the team are focused on getting their impressive ride to Hawaii as fast as possible. We caught up with Bertrand, the 1984 American Finn silver medalist, on Thursday. The biggest members of the 70-boat Pacific Cup fleet headed through the Golden Gate Friday afternoon.

What kind of speeds have you been hitting during your testing?
That’s what’s been very impressive, we’ve been sailing in flat water inside the bay and we’re seeing speeds of 22 to 24 knots pretty easily. The unfortunate thing is that as soon as you get the kite up you’ve got to start taking it down. One of the guys has coined the phrase “mono cat.” We’re seeing sailing characteristics very similar to what you’d see in a catamaran. Apparent wind well forward, top speed close to the actual windspeed. It’s a bit of a new beast in that regard.
The other thing I should mention about Pacific Cup, it’s one of the only ocean races in the world that doesn’t allow water ballast–I think they recognize that might need to change in the future–so we’ve had to put on a significantly bigger bulb (7,000 additional pounds on an original displacement of 43,127 pounds), which means that we’re probably not going to show the true potential of the boat. It’ll still do fine, but it’s just one of those things that we have to deal with in this particular race.

Mari-Cha III has a huge size advantage. Can you guys beat them across the line? Is it a fair fight?
We’re hoping. Certainly we’d be in better shape if we were able to use the water ballast. We expect they’re going to be leading off the coast for the first couple days and then Days 3, 4, and 5 should be interesting. The wind will go aft and we’re not quite sure how they’re going to perform in those conditions. They’re mizzen mast is taller than our mast, so that gives you some perspective. And they’ve really stripped the boat. I think that’s an unanswered question. We’re going into this knowing that being a new boat we’ve got some teething problems, so we’re not going to be a 100 percent. They’re a much bigger boat. And then you can’t forget about Pegasus; those guys are probably getting 100, 103 percent out of their design. And they’ve ramped up as well. It makes it really interesting.


Can you give us a little background behind the boat and the concept? What are your initial impressions?
The concept for the boat was generated over our success in the 2000 Cape Town to Rio Race and the 2000 Middle Sea Race with the old Zephyrus IV which was a ULDB West Coast-type design. In a lot of these events where we went up again IMS Maxi boats, they went through a lot of trouble and expense to make their boats go downwind faster and our concern always was if we could go upwind with these guys. We could never really meet in the middle with the two concepts. So I proposed to Bob McNeil that instead of entering the last Transpac with the existing boat, which was then four or five years old, we consider designing a new boat that would recognize this effort of the two groups, design a boat that would be more centered and take a step forward in absolute length. With all the technology and the development that’s happened over the last five or seven years, we could design something that’s really special. So that’s really what Zephyrus V is, we haven’t fully tested the boat and the Pacific Cup is going to be our first big test. But from all early indications the boat is meeting or exceeding our early expectations.

What are some of the surprises you’ve had shaking out the boat, bad or good?
Well let me make one more statement and I’ll get to that. The other directive we gave the designers was that we wanted a boat that wasn’t constrained artificially in any way and would deliver the most speed for a given length. And that it would be of sufficient size where if anyone wanted to build a bigger boat they would have to take a really deep breath and really reach down into their pocket–everything jumps up to really customized gear. There is a threshold somewhere, were bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. I think we’re pushing the envelope in those terms, but I think we haven’t gone too far.
This type of boat is untested in reality. So there’s a lot of good theories and tools that we’re applying here. Just as a good example, we’re really re-analyzing our running rigging package, the four or five days we’ve been sailing the boat, because it may be underset. So some of these unknowns are easy to repair, if you will, or handle, just by going up in size in lines and things like that. That’s just one example. For the sail program we worked mostly with Quantum Sails, we did a number of wind tunnel tests, and we feel that we got a really strong program there, which will get better after we get some numbers from the boat. We ran a VPP on the boat with an independent analyst and the VPP didn’t have the capability of predicting the speeds we’re actually seeing. So he’s had to go in and rewrite his VPP program to be able to accommodate this type of boat.

What have you done with this class that you feel will help prevent the sort of attrition which has really killed the maxi class, which peaked in the ’80s?
A couple of things, one is that when we designed the boat it was not necessarily with the class in mind. What we feel is if we design something that is truly exceptional then people will recognize it. We thought we were throwing the gauntlet down and challenging other owners, other teams, to come race us, not necessarily as a class. But Roy Disney, when he found out what we were doing, approached us, approached Bob McNeil, with the idea of he’d like to build a similar boat, develop a class like the ULDB 70s and have that as the new Transpac boat line honors class. We agreed and we brought on Bill Lee to write a box rule. I think the key is that in the box rule we are defining all the performance factors specifically and that should mean that this boat and other boats will be competitive for a number of years. So we’re not massaging a rule that changes every year. But various designers can massage the hull shape and they have some other areas they can play with. But the overall length and draft and sail area, things like that are fixed. There’s always going to be someone who’s going to build a bigger boat and I think that’s where the strength of the class comes into itself. If we have two or three of these things down the road, or four or five, then the real event would be these boats racing head to head.


From your experience, what do you think the critical mass is for a class like this?
I think we’re there. Again, we built this boat not to build a class, but because it’s just going to be an exceptional boat. To get two other owners right off the bat, even before the thing was launched, to say, “Hey, we want to come play,” I think shows the potential for the class. If no one else builds a boat like that and the three of these boats agree on a world circuit and race against each other, right there it’s an overwhelming success.

Do you think this is a boat you could’ve built 10 years ago, or is technology crucial to building a boat this big, this fast?
The technology is really important. We’ve taken advantage of all the developments in and around the America’s Cup. The carbon and the pre-preg have been around for a number of years, but it’s when you get down to the bits and pieces and the reliability factor and the light weight, the strength. The complete package really wasn’t available 10 years ago. This boat uses a lot of the America’s Cup gear, and that wasn’t an accident when we were putting it together. Any further development that comes out of the America’s Cup can be applied. For someone to go up another four or five feet you’re breaking into new territory and you’re really going to have to take a good hard look and say, “Yeah, I’m really committed to this thing and I’m going to be a guinea pig until we get it all figured out.”

During the recent Bermuda Race, the sleds were fast–Pyewacket broke the record–but they took a beating. Do you feel this boat is better equipped to deal with those sort of conditions, close reaching, up wind in serious waves?
Absolutely. In fact Disney was out Wednesday taking a turn on the helm when we were doing 22 knots reaching down the bay and I think the consensus was that the smaller boats, the ULDB boats, if they got to that speed they were always right on edge. We had another two or three knots we could’ve gotten out of the boat if we had it all set up right.