It’s cold here in southeastern Connecticut and our local Vipers are tucked away for at least a couple months.  Hoping to hit the road and make Bacardi Miami Sailing Week in March…

Thought it might be a good time for an update on what’s going on with sails in the Viper Class.  Unlike a lot of other one design classes, we enjoy and appreciate the active participation and support of a relatively large group of different sailmakers.  There are currently 12 Class approved sailmakers, with Schurr Sails and Mauri Sails being the most recent additions.  Sail shapes have evolved and improved – they are fast and easier to trim.  And we all benefit as sail buyers from some healthy price competition.  From a Viper owner perspective, life is pretty good.  For the full list of Class approved sailmakers and links to their websites click here.

Three things to update you on:

• Status of sail registrations that implement the 2011 rule change that updated our “one set of sails a year” legacy

• Summary results from the sailmaker survey we conducted this past spring to get input on string sails and alternative fibers

•A Technical Committee Interpretation that grandfathers certain existing string sails and makes future ones not legal for racing

1) Sail Registration.  Early in 2011, the Class owners passed a rule change that clarified our “one set of sails a year” practice and we now have a season of experience implementing a process to register and sticker the sails we race with.  A goal of this is to make both compliance and verification easy.   So far, so good.

Although we still have a ways to go, 277 sails have already been registered by Class volunteers at various regattas or by getting stickers directly from the Class via mail.  If you are curious (or want to discretely confirm that your competition’s legit), see the member section of the Class forums for the “Sail Registration List” post. The current sail registration information is all there, sorted by hull number.

2011 was the transition year.  As a friendly reminder, in 2012, all sails on the race course need stickers.  For a refresher on the rule language click here and see “Section 7.8 Sail Acquisition”.  The short version:

• One new main, jib and spinnaker can be registered per calendar year.

• There are options as before, for a new boat to get 2 sets of sails.

• Sails are unique to a boat, with exceptions for chartering.

• The vintage of a sail is based on when it is first used in any race.  That’s when it is “acquired”.

• As part of phasing all this in, existing sails built before Jan 2011 get a black sticker and are registered for free.   Note that if such as sail was first used in 2011, it counts as “acquired” in 2011.

• Sails built starting in Jan 2011 get a red sticker.  They cost $25 each, and are sold direct by the Class.   Proceeds go to support Class operations and keep our dues low.

Because we are a very geographically diverse class and since this is being implemented with a ton of existing sails already in place, the responsibility for complying with the rule and stickering sails rests with the boat owners (and not sailmakers).  Sailmakers can easily sticker new sails for customers as a service, and some are.

To get red stickers for new sails simply click this link  If you still need stickers for existing inventories, contact Ben Steinberg, Tim Carter or Dave Nickerson on the Tech Committee and they will mail them to you, for you to put on your sails.  A brief description of the whole sail registration process and how to apply them to your sails (from a May 2011 Class website article) is here.

2) Sailmaker Survey.  Last spring the Technical Committee reached out to our Class approved sailmakers with an informal survey asking for their input and advice on potentially developing rule change proposals that better allow the construction of load path or “string” mains and jibs and whether to potentially allow other fibers such as aramids in our sails.  As background, our current rules limit upwind sail material to woven Dacron or Mylar laminate with a polyester scrim and specify a minimum fabric weight of 200 grams per square meter.   This rule was originally written a while ago, but well after string sails had been introduced and was intended to help manage costs and keep things simple.

As you might imagine, the responses received from our sailmaker friends were all constructive and varied – a lot.  They ranged from (paraphrasing) “implement a bag weight rule like in the Melges 24 class and allow aramid fibers” to “don’t change a thing – you guys have the right focus on keeping costs down and encouraging broad participation”.  And we got differing opinions (privately) from within the same loft chain – good stuff!

One conclusion that we drew from the feedback received is that a bag weight rule (that allows optimal fiber placement, aramid and other fibers, has no limits on film thickness, and limits an overall sail to weighing X pounds) would likely result in sails that would cost us sailors at least 10-15% more than our sails cost now.  Of course some sailmakers take issue with that – third-party production shops like China Sail Factory are rumored to be able build and sell string sails to lofts for less than it costs to build radial paneled sails in the U.S.  These sails then get some level of finishing, some level of $ mark up and a local loft logo.   Whether string sails from any loft have an equivalent or longer competitive life was another area of disagreement.  From sailmakers we respect — some say yes, some say no.

So… likely a 10-15% higher cost and no agreement from the experts as to whether they have a longer competitive life…  We talked about a possible trial period for jibs only, but in the end decided to table this issue for another year and not propose a rule change at this time.

3) Technical Committee Interpretation on String Sails.  Yes, there are some Viper string sails out there.  You may have seen a set.  Some comply with our current rules as written.  At least one set, ummm, it turns out did not.  Measurement and verification has been time consuming and difficult – especially for a volunteer organization.  So, based on this experience and our decision not to pursue a bag weight rule at this time, the Technical Committee unanimously issues under Section 10.11 of our Class Rules the following clarification effective January 1, 2012:

14.9:  Rules 7.5.3 and 7.6.3(e) are clarified to mean that the polyester fibers in a Mylar laminate may be oriented in different directions but all sets of fibers shall be uniformly spaced and patterned.  New “string” sails are specifically prohibited at this time.  String sails built before December 31, 2011 that can be shown to meet the 200 gr/sq meter minimum fabric weight are eligible to be grandfathered and registered on an individual basis by the Technical Committee working with the respective Viper 640 owners and sailmakers.