Dario's Lab

Open Class 60’ Monohull

Having obsessed over the fascinating technical advances in the IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class, AKA Open 60) yachts, I saw an opportunity and set about bringing together the key elements of a campaign.

Brokering a deal between an experienced skipper, a sponsor new to the sport, a boatyard, and various suppliers, I got the key players around a table, proposed a campaign structure and plan, and managed to bring them all on the journey.

By sheer force of will and enthusiasm, seemingly not realising I was proposing something rather ambitious, I suddenly found myself with the opportunity to contribute to designing, testing, and campaigning a yacht in the most exciting offshore class in the world.

Though I also saw this as a stepping stone to the America’s Cup, the whole experience was immensely enjoyable and fulfilling as well as presenting some meaty problems – on the technical front as well as with respect to logistics, resource allocation, and teambuilding.

The three images above were taken on a day that remains etched in my memory. It is hard to describe the satisfaction of sailing a thoroughbred race yacht for the first time that exists because of one’s sheer force of will. When this happens at the tender age of 18, the feeling is euphoric. In that moment life seems unbounded and intoxicating!

Having lived and breathed the project obsessively, being under sail represented a golden moment of achievement and satisfaction. Yet it was the beginning of months of sea trials and development. Part of the process was taking part in the Australian East Coast offshore season, between shorthanded sea trials and deliveries. All while working through a programme of sail development, ergonomic optimisation, and structural tests that involved crawling over every inch of the boat and rig monitoring loads and checking for signs of movement, cracking, debonding…

The images above show the late stages of construction, before the boat was launched and towed to a deep-water port equipped with a Travelift that would hoist her onto her keel.

The yellow colour was a deliberate choice to attract the camera and maximise sponsor exposure.

The hull shape was driven by the latest thinking on balancing power and drag. The infamous ‘10 degree rule’ (limiting static heel with asymmetric ballast fully deployed) was beginning to produce boxy ‘aircraft carrier’ forms with wide waterlines and slab sides. We biased our design more toward low drag with a very fine entry and aft centre of gravity.

We strived for simplicity to maximise reliability and minimise cost (or rather allocate investment efficiently to the most speed-producing areas).

The aft-set deck-stepped carbon mast was among the very first produced in Australia (and possibly the first prepreg one outside of IACC yachts). The rig was also an exercise in simplicity with a small section tube supported by swept-back spreaders and runners. At this time Yves Parlier was experimenting with rotating streamlined masts supported by outriggers. But we judged the technology to not be sufficiently mature, with the aero drag vs. mass compromise not yet being favourable.

One example of accepting a higher-cost solution for a significant benefit was the pioneering crowned (high-camber) deck. This reduced aero drag, improved water shedding, increased structural rigidity, and improved self-righting behaviour.

The coach roof was an exercise in styling as well as a highly functional feature. It provided outward visibility from the central command station down below, and offered shelter via a long aft overhang (now such overhangs are commonplace, even extending to cover the whole cockpit, but at the time this solution was rather innovative). Its volume was calculated to further improve self-righting, adding displacement to the already cambered deck. I recall sketching the curves and window openings in the evening, then mocking up the foam mould the following day!

The theme of simplicity continued in the cockpit layout, with all the winches focused around the steering position – arranged for singlehanded or shorthanded sailing.

Steering was initially via tillers though provision was made for a removable steering wheel to suit the skipper’s preference when singlehanded. The wheel being mounted forward close to the companionway and accessible from the sheltered ‘cuddy’ area behind the coach roof aft bulkhead.

The boat and campaign garnered good press coverage. The story was compelling – an experienced skipper gaining another chance at his lifelong ambition at the hands of a young, passionate designer-come-campaign instigator.

In retrospect, this was the project that gave me the credibility to be given the chance to be part of an America’s Cup team. All those long nights of hard dusty work and months of tough sea miles were thoroughly worthwhile!