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Bladerider History

Moth Gone Corporate

Daily Sail - We speak to Andrew McDougall, the designer of the new Bladerider foiling moth

Out of the blue on the 30th of May this year we received a news release about a new foiling moth design from a company called Bladerider going into full production. The development class International Moth has attracted a huge amount of attention in the past few years as it becomes the first fully foiling international fleet and it would now seem that the concept has also attracted businessmen and their investment capital.

Andrew McDougall, is the man responsible for this latest offering from the 'flying' moth world and the key man in Bladerider. He has a long association with the class having built his first boat at the age of 15 and won his first event in the boat 27 years ago. Through his many years of moth sailing McDougall has actually stopped sailing the boat on many occasions but has always been lured back in. Although he has not always been sailing the boats he has kept a close association to the class through his work as head designer and developer with ka sails.

It was at the World Championships in 2005 at Black Rock SC, Melbourne, that McDougall was once again lured back to the class. "I came back," he told TheDailySail, "because I saw these foilers at Black Rock about a year and a half ago and I thought, well I have been a part of every other metamorphosis of the moth over the years and I felt I just had to be a part of that again. We (ka sails) were building sails and we were doing really well with them, so at that championship I bought a boat and loved it."

McDougall says the instant he got into the new foiling moth he knew that he wanted to be more involved in the class than just sailing it and immediately began thinking about the class' potential: "There was just so much possibility out there to really get this class going but no one was really doing it. Initially I approached John Illet [of Australian builder Fastacraft] and asked if he fancied being a part of a bigger building project. Then over a couple of weeks we talked about what his role would be and he was pretty keen. This all happened mid last year, then he dropped out and said he wanted to just keep doing his own thing."

When he is not moth sailing or sail designing McDougall is a computer software designer and it was at this stage that someone he knew from this side of his work came onboard as a major backer of his proposal. "This guy had sold his business that I had been working at and he said to me 'lets do something fun.' I told him about the foiling moths and how we could make a go of it. He was really into it and just loved the whole idea."

McDougall then spent a solid five months doing foil research, computer analysis, making and testing models and doing full size on the water testing to see what the best set up and feedback mechanisms were. "This all got to the point where I actually became quite a lot faster than Rohan (Veal) not downwind but certainly upwind. Downwind is more about being flexible and young but upwind you can tune the boat and the foils, so I was getting to be really quick which was really interesting and encouraging," he says.

Following this extensive testing of foils on the boat he had bought at the worlds at Black Rock McDougall could begin to finalise his designs. The first thing that is different about the Bladerider is there is no flap on the rudder t foil. "It is adjusted using a system that was invented by a guy called Andrew Stevenson in Sydney and it is so much simpler than the flap. Basically it is just a sort of worm screw in the tiller that has the rudder pin in it. When you twist the tiller the whole rudder assembly tilts forward or back," he explains. This system is similar to many of the International 14 t foil arrangements where the entire foil is canted back and forth.

Having a rudder without mobile flaps has been tested before by some of the other moth builders but has generally been discarded as not as efficient as the rudder with flaps. McDougall does not agree and believes the system is more efficient not less "The reason you need a flap on the centreboard foil is that you are trying to get a lot of lift out of it, you are creating a low speed lifting device to lift the boat off the water. However, you are not trying to do this with the rudder because if you have too much lift on it you can't sit far enough back anyway so there is no need to have a high lift system on the rudder," he comments. "Another thing that really bought home the fact we did not want a flap on the rudder was whenever you could trim the boat with the flap on the rudder absolutely at the neutral angle then you could feel the boat go faster. So with no flap and just adjusting the rudder angle it is always at that 'neutral' point. All you have to do then is to get the centreboard flap as neutral as possible and that is probably where I did most of the work," he continues.

Although he spent a great deal of time working on the foils McDougall says he also spent a lot of time and energy on the hull shape. One of the biggest influences for him when it came to hull shape was how fast the Prowler design Moth is, particularly in the lighter winds. The interesting thing about this for McDougall was, when you look at the boat in detail it should not be fast in those conditions at all. "I spent a lot of time trying to work out why that boat was faster than many other designs. The answer is in moderate or light winds before foiling the foils are still generating a lot of lift so the hull is in a completely different situation because it is always being lifted out of the water. When it came to designing the hull we made it really straight and boxy. There is quite a significant transition from the rounded bow to the very square parallel centre section which really gives you the good lift off."

Aside from the technical development that has gone into the Bladerider Moth, the long term vision of McDougall has always been to bring a foiling boat to the masses. Central to this is his desire to present the boat and the business to ISAF as a potential Olympic singlehander. McDougall confirms this and says that Rohan Veal (the pair have a long relationship in the class and with ka sails) has already gone and presented the boat and concept to ISAF.

What is particularly interesting about this move is the way the Bladerider brand has been set up to both conform with the International Moth rules but also become a class in its own right further down the line if needed (think 21st century Laser.) "We have actually tried to make this much more of a product that is completely supported. We are going to be basically supporting the thing from the ground up. Even to the point that for the first amount sold (how many has yet to be decided). If we change the hull design or something then we will replace the boat for free," explains McDougall.

McDougall has a clear vision with where they are wanting to go with the Bladerider Moth and is looking for potential openings in the Olympic Class line up: "We think there is a possibility and therefore it should be chased. The Olympic classes are going to be shaken up for London and they are going to be cut back to ten. I think that gives an opportunity because somebody has to go and that means there has to be a major shake up and the whole thing is going to be re-thought."

Bringing a polished brand and standard manufacturing process to the table is key to ISAF selection says McDougall. In his view the Moth class is just too much of a development boat at this stage for the Olympic committee to even consider it. He thinks what is needed is a strong manufacturer that has a significant set of rules, or to put it another way exactly what he has created with Bladerider.

Something else being considered at the moment is 9m sail (the Moth rules prohibit anything over 8m.) It is hoped this sail will increase the average sailor weight and make the boat more of a viable option for a broader range of the sailing public. This is still being experimented with and whilst talking to McDougall we got the distinct impression this will only really be used to help get the boat selected as an Olympic class. If it does not it seems unlikely anyone will sail a Bladerider with anything other than the standard International Moth sail.

Interestingly the plan is to build the boat in China. Does this then bring the possibility of a mass produced cheap foiling Moth? No. The Bladerider only manages to tick one of these boxes, the mass produced one. The boats look as though they are going to cost around about £7000 to £8000 which is much the same as existing Moth prices. So why is this? "The problem with the moth is there is a lot of carbon in it and right now carbon is prohibitively expensive and there is no way of getting around putting carbon in it," states McDougall. "I think maybe in 12 months time when this whole carbon thing gets its act back together and Boeing stop buying every bit of carbon they can get their hands on maybe we will be able to do it cheaper. At the moment the real cost is in the materials not the labour. I think if you see one of these boats you will see why it is not cheaper. It is a pretty amazing piece of kit; it is not just thrown together."

McDougall has very big plans for the boat in mass production, along similar lines to the big producers such as RS and Ovington. "We will be into full production by the end of July and our build target for the first six months is three boats a week," he says.

Although the International Moth has seen a great deal of attention devoted to it, boat sales have not seen an overwhelming rise in the past year or so and we put it to McDougall the market might not be big enough for three boats a week to be sold. "I think there is a market for far more than three a week out there. If we could build one a day I think we would be able to satisfy the market at this point. I also think there are just going to be more and more and more people wanting these," he replied.

It would appear that with around 72 boats being produced in six months from July that McDougall will quickly find out if the market he sees is there. The 2005 Moth Worlds in Melbourne for example attracted 47 boats and not all were foilers.

However you could argue that the incredibly interest the class has attracted even in the last 18 months that there the opportunity for exponential growth fed by a regular supply.

What is interesting is that while the Bladerider has the potential to sniggle off as its own class, it is being launched as legal International Moth and the first boat will be on display at the 2006 World Championships in Denmark on the 22 – 29 July. Amazingly however, McDougall says that they will not race but the Bladerider will be available for demonstration. How the class, full to the rafters with devoted development sailors, view the Bladerider turning up on their scene will be an interesting one to watch.


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