Note: The following interview with Bruce Schwab and Tom Wylie is reprinted with permission from the July 2001 issue of Latitude 38 magazine.
“I like to think of this boat as a combination of Rumbleseat, a WylieCat, Rage and a Moore 24 – the whole West Coast thing I’ve been exposed to for the last 20 years.” So spoke Bruce Schwab as we sat below on Ocean Planet, the Bay Area’s newest boat and the first Open Class 60 ever built on the West Coast. Joining us was the boat’s designer, Tom Wylie.
As you’ve been reading in these pages off and on for more than a year, Schwab’s Made In America syndicate has been actively raising funds to build Ocean Planet and enter her in the top shorthanded events in the world, including the next Around Alone (solo round the world in four legs) and Vendée Globe (solo round the world nonstop).
The boat was built in Oregon at Steve Rander’s Schooner Creek Boat Works, which had a full-time crew going almost around the clock earlier this spring to make the boat’s first deadline: the Pacific Sail Expo boat show at the end of April. Schwab and a handful of supporters sailed her south to the Bay, hitting a top speed of 27 knots (with borrowed sails) along the way, so far her top mark.
Her first official race was the crewed Farallones, which occurred on May 12. Unfortunately, rather than showcase the boat’s performance, it turned into a drifter with winds rarely exceeding 6 knots. Still, Ocean Planet finished second boat-for-boat, waterlined only by a 75-ft former America’s Cup boat.
Bruce and Tom are proof-positive that opposites attract. At 40, Schwab seems built for speed. Compact and athletic, he’s a tireless, hands-on problem solver who spent 19 years as a professional rigger before striking out on his own with Made In America. In almost a full lifetime of sailing (he was partially raised on cruising boats), Bruce has done countless coastal, Bay and offshore races, both crewed and solo, including the 1996 Singlehanded TransPac, which he won aboard Rumbleseat, a classic 1930 racer that he heavily modified himself.
Wylie, on the other hand, is tall and Lincolnesque, his deep voice seeming to weigh and measure every word before its spoken. Over a career spanning three decades, his fertile imagination has given sailing such diverse boats as the Wylie Wabbit, the 60-ft cruising yacht Saga, the ULDB sled Rage, the incredibly diverse fleet of Wylie 39s and the current crop of modern cat-boats, the WylieCats. No one could ever accuse Tom Wylie of thinking ‘in the box.’
Together, Schwab and Wylie have created one of the most unique boats ever to sail our local waters. We caught up with them on a quiet weekday to discuss the thinking that created Ocean Planet, the dreams she will hopefully fulfill and the difficult financial road it will take to get there.
There are two major differences between this boat and a ‘typical’ Open 60 – they’re wide and flat, this boat is comparatively narrow. And this boat has an unstayed, carbon fiber mast. Let’s start with the mast. . .
Bruce – In the original drawings, this boat had one set of spreaders, like Rage. Ted Van Dusen of Composite Engineering was the one that really got us going in the direction of unstayed. He and Tom and I went round and round with the design. Pretty soon, we got rid of the spreaders and had just one set of lowers. Then one set of really heavy lower runners.
In the meantime, we’d learned a lot about unstayed rigs playing around with WylieCats. In fact, we turbo’d out Tim Danford’s Wylie 30 Polecat as sort of a testbed for the big boat. It had a rotating mast and little bowsprit and it’s a great boat. Everything worked great.
We were all a bit nervous about going unstayed, particularly how heavy the mast would be. But the more Ted ran the numbers, and the more we looked at it, the better it looked. Finally I said, “What the hell, let’s just get rid of it all. Let’s go unstayed.”
As it turns out, the mast is actually a bit lighter than a comparable stayed Open 60 rig. And as long as you can rotate the mast, it’s remarkably aerodynamic. It also depowers itself. As the wind goes up, the mast bends, which flattens the main while at the same time spilling air off the top.
Tom – An important aspect of this mast is its strength. The strength factor is off the deep end. You could roll the boat completely over and it won’t break this mast.
There are also engineering advantages. A conventional rig compresses as much as it supports. Compression is why we need all those checks and runners and correct prebend – and it’s why if we put the spinnaker pole in to leeward, we punch the mast out. This mast is under minor compression compared to a stayed mast.
Does that allow you to build the hull or deck a bit lighter?
Tom – It makes things easier all the way through. Because the rig depowers itself, the hull is lighter. The load on the various sheets is less. Our deck is as strong as a conventional deck because it’s our ‘shroud’, if you will.
What sort of system do you use to rotate the mast?
Bruce – We originally thought we’d need a steel bearing, but Jeff Daniels – our fabricator and another guy with great ideas and lots of valuable input – made up the plastic collars at the deck. We put them in just to get the boat to the Boat Show, but they work so well we may just keep them in there. At the base is a commercial bearing used in the tail assemblies of 747s. It can take something like 300,000 pound thrust loads.
Tom – And it works because there’s low load. If the load were high, there’d be a lot of friction and that bearing might not work.
What is the weight and height of the mast?
Tom – In the 850 category. That’s lighter than a sled. Heightwise, it’s 85 feet off the water.
Bruce – But the center of gravity of the mast is only 25 feet above the deck. (The CG of the boat is 3 feet below the waterline.)
Tom – That’s right. And that’s important. A lot of people are weighing rigs, counting spreaders, looking at shapes, but unless they’re back sailing Finn dinghies, they forget one real simple thing: you can’t just care what the weight is, you have to care where the vertical center of gravity is. And if it’s lower for the same weight – as it is in this mast – it’s a no-brainer.
What sort of sail configuration will you have?
Bruce – Our normal upwind configuration is main and working jib. The main on this boat is huge, about 1,800 square feet. It’s a fractional rig, not quite a 3/4 rig, so the jib is relatively small. That jib is going to be used for everything from 4 knots to 25 knots and I’ll just throttle the main up and down. Over 25 knots, we’ll roll up the jib and go to the staysail, which is set on a ‘soft’ stay like the other 60s. For the death rides, we’ll take the main down to the third reef or go with just the staysail. Off the wind, there are different roller-furling gennikers we can put up. We’ll have a heavy reacher for beam reaching when it’s really windy.
Tom – Another facet of this rig is evident in the regular winch sizes and lack of mini-grinders. Forgetting the budget to come up with the mini-grinders for a minute, no matter how strong anybody is, if it’s easier to grind the sails in, the boat’s going to be easier to sail. We have a big mainsail to deal with, but because the mast is so bendy and can spill power by itself, Bruce won’t have to deal with it quite as much, which means he’ll be able to rest more, navigate better and so on.
Isn’t it going to be a handful with that huge main when you go to jibe? Won’t you need runners?
Bruce – The only reason this boat needs runners is to shape the jib. They’re not ‘structural’. Neither are the headstays. Everything can come off up there.
Tom – It’s a hard concept for most sailors to grasp, but there will be times when none of those jibs will be up; when really nothing will be up except the main.
Bruce – We can jibe the boat by taking both runners forward and getting them out of the way. So no backstay, no headstays and no runners are up. It just freaks most people out.
Doesn’t it freak you out?
Bruce – Yeah, it freaks me out, too! But if it’s blowing really hard, it’s time to roll the jib up and jibe the main alone, because the main alone will never take the rig down. The main will probably be reefed anyway, so you just take the runners out of the way and then you do the WylieCat jibe.
The WylieCat jibe? What’s that?
Bruce – First think about what another Open 60 sailor has to do to jibe. He sails dead downwind and starts grinding in the main, grinding in the main, keeps the runner real close, main’s almost there, he’s going really slow and then BAM! – it goes over. He gets the other runner on before he jibes. It’s this incredibly long process.
Tom – And he has to do it just like Bruce says. He can’t leave out any steps because if he does the rig will come down.
Bruce – What we do on the WylieCats, and what you can do on this boat since the mast rotates (whether you have a headsail up or not), is you let the main way out. So it won’t jibe until you get way by the lee. You’ll get almost to a beam reach before the main backs and comes across. Here comes the good part: you keep turning as the main comes across – so the main never reaches the other side before it’s luffing. On the new jibe you’re just luffing. Then you just bear away and take off.
It’s freaky when you do it, because you go way to weather and then here comes the boom at what you think is 100 miles an hour, but it comes to a total soft landing.
Another unusual design feature of this boat is the pusher vang. How did that come about?
Bruce – Again, I’d have to give the credit for the pusher vang to Ted and Erich Chase. During the design process, the word ‘pusher vang’ came up a lot. Tom said ‘pusher vang’, Ted said ‘pusher vang’ and we all said ‘pusher vang’ – but no one could actually visualize what it should look like.
One day I was down here and they called from Oregon and said, “We got it.” But when they tried to explain it, I thought it sounded too weird. But they said, “No, you’re going to love it.” And they were right. It just works fantastic.
Tom – That vang is going to be copied. Not for the same reasons we’re using it, but for low booms. That will be the first and last way a vang will be done for low booms.
Bruce – It works so well on our boat because the mast is so strong down low. It’s not like we had to build another structure to hook something to. We said, “What’s real strong? Well, the mast!”
Tom – The second benefit of this boom vang that none of the other 60s are going to see is the same reason that a wishbone is a gain in the WylieCat. As the wind changes, the clew and leech distance go with the bend. So as the headboard goes aft or forward, the clew follows it. It doesn’t require Bruce to have four pairs of hands to adjust a traveller or deck-mounted vang because the pusher vang essentially locks the angle between the mast and the foot of the sail. In the WylieCat, of course, the wishbone acts as the ‘pusher vang.’
Ultimately, I think Bruce will do half the reefs and sail changes because the main is a dynamic, moving thing that largely cares for itself.
Okay, now on to the hull shape. How does this boat compare width-wise to a ‘typical’ European Open 60?
Bruce – They’re much wider.
Tom – 18 is an average number. I think Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher is 17.3 feet wide and Parlier’s Aquitaine Innovations is almost 19.5. The beam on this boat is 12.5 feet.
Doesn’t a wider shape plane earlier and easier?
Tom – There are different planing effects. The amount of water you have to drag along with you matters. The less water you drag along with you, the faster you can go.
Bruce – Another way of looking at it is that in light air the wide boats are bigger and stickier. They have to carry more sail area in light air to go fast. When it gets windier, they have a lot of power they can utilize, especially the canting-keel boats. When they’re dialed in for any given condition, they’re extremely fast. But they need a lot of power to do that. They need bigger ‘engines’.
Which is more windage, weight. . .
Bruce – And work.
Tom – A key is getting 100% out of their engines. At this level and this type of sailing – where everybody is operating on four hours of sleep or whatever they’re getting – I don’t think anybody can say, “We are sailing our design to 100% efficiency.”
One of the things we’re going with in this narrow design with a self-depowering rig is we’re saying all the other equipment is too hard to sail to 100%. Bruce can rest more and do fewer sail changes. Because the boat is thinner, it can lay over a little farther or come back up a little more because it’s a more balanced hull shape. That gives Bruce more time to do global tactics. And if you have more time to rest and do global tactics, that has to be an advantage.
Bruce – Our way is just a different way. Rather than power, power, power, we wanted to make a hull that could plane while heeled over. Something that hasn’t been explored much on the grand prix scale is how effective a skinny boat can be on a reach. We have the right sails to make that work. These have come out of things we’ve done on Rage, Rumbleseat, Azzura, boats like that. We’re able to make essentially skinny boats like that go like hell on a reach.
Tom – Some of the little boats like Moore 24s have done it with little tiny spinnakers. Dave Hodges is a master at it.
Bruce – I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to be faster than PRB or Kingfisher on a scream-ass true-wind beam reach where the apparent is at 45 or 50. But we’re going to be a lot faster than most people think.
Canting keels seem to be the ‘in’ thing with Open 60s these days. Did you discuss a canting keel at all?
Tom – We discussed everything. It comes down to reliability and funding. By building the boat with a simple saltwater ballasting, we have a reliable system and we can stay within funding much more reasonably. Same with the rudder. We’re skinny, so we get to have one rudder. Guess what, one rudder costs half what two rudders cost.
Bruce – We’re trying to be realistic with the funding. By doing it the ‘simple’ way, we’ll have more for the campaign – and we’ll have a more durable boat for a few years. On this boat there’s not a lot to break.
Is this ‘slender’ concept really a West Coast thing?
Tom – It’s fair to say it’s a coastal concept. The west coast of Europe has been into wide dishpans since I saw Revolution from Finot back in the early ’70s. On this west coast, we’ve been into sleds and these thin boats, which are a totally different concept than Europe.
The evolution as I see it started with Ragtime, a John Spencer design from New Zealand that was just a brilliant boat. Low cost, plywood, cool, fast. It’s still being owned and appreciated. Then Bill Lee made the same boat in fiberglass and faired the corners off. I think Bill would agree that’s a fair statement; we’re simplifying here. I think the next boat is Rage. It’s a carry-over of these light, thin, low-budget sailboats. In Rage, you have the beginnings of this boat – no permanent backstay, 13 feet of draft, and so on. Ocean Planet is the latest incarnation of the thin, cool, easily-sailed sleds.
Another way to think about these boats, about putting stability in a light and narrow form, is the concept of a ‘mono-maran’. A catamaran with one hull out of the water has in effect become a ‘mono-maran’, a monohull with a very skinny, easily-driven form.
The motion of a narrow hull going to weather is also much easier. Bruce is going to be half as exhausted as the rest of these guys just on the motion.
How was the hull constructed?
Bruce – It’s cold molded over a male mold. The outside is two diagonal thicknesses of eighth-inch red cedar set at 90° to one another. There’s a 1-inch foam core and then two more layers of cedar on the inside. The laminate is slightly heavier than it needs to be but we get better insulation and better flotation, so we didn’t have to add any extra foam to meet the flotation requirements (110% of displacement). Forward, we’ve skinned the core on both sides with a thin layer of kevlar, which would make breeching the core a bit harder if something were to smash into the boat.
The deck is made in a similar way, only with birch over a honeycomb core. The hull and deck weigh about 6,700 pounds. The keel and bulb are another 8,500.
Open 60s have to meet some pretty stringent stability tests. What’s involved with that?
Bruce – You put the boat in the water upside down – with you in it – and demonstrate that you can get it to turn upright.
Most boats have to meet a minimum AVS – angle of vanishing stability – of 127.5 degrees. That means they can heel over that much before they want to go the rest of the way upside down. Some of the European boats have a hell of a time meeting that rule. This boat has an AVS of 148. That means that before the boat wants to go upside down, it has to go all the way to 148 degrees. Think about that. The mast goes in the water at 90 degrees. This boat can go over almost 60 degrees farther than that and still pop back upright.
That also means that if it does capsize, to get it to go back, I only have to get it go a little bit. Some of these guys have to cant their keels while they’re inverted – I heard one boat had to fill the bow with five tons of water or something. Probably all I’ll have to do is walk back and forth across the counter here.
Tom – In practical terms, that literally means a bit of breeze or a wave – anything that will ‘trip’ the boat back past its AVS will make it come up.
Where are you now in terms of funding and what’s next for the boat?
Bruce – As it sits, this is a million-dollar boat. The whole program, if we were to do all the Open 60 events from here until the end of the next Vendee, is like a $5 million program.
Right now, we’re taking small steps. I’d like to set the singlehanded course record from San Francisco to Hawaii. The next big Open 60 event – the Transat Jacques Vabre – starts in France in November. It’s a race across the Atlantic to Brazil. We’ll need about $350,000 to compete in that. It would be great to do that race because that’s where I really got jazzed up to do this whole project. I went to watch the start two years ago. Brad Van Liew took me around and I met Isabelle Autissier, Giovanni Soldini, all these famous sailors. There was so much positive energy and esprit de corps. It’s an entirely different mentality than an America’s Cup.
So yeah, we’re looking to sell a co-title sponsorship for the Jacques Vabre – or divide it up among a number of sponsors. We’re also looking for people who can get us the meetings, get us in the door to talk to potential sponsors.
Who are your major sponsors so far?
Bruce – Our biggest sponsors so far are individual donors, almost all of whom are from the West Coast. Kevin and Shauna Flanagan bought the naming rights, which is really what got the boat in the water. Philippe Kahn also helped us out in a big way. Adrian Fournier was not only our third biggest contributor, he spent countless hours hooking up the computers and electronics.
On the corporate side we have ‘supplier’ sponsors like AMD, which provided us with fantastic computers powered by AMD processor chips. Doyle Sails is our sail supplier. Forespar made our custom bowsprit and a bunch of other carbon fiber stuff. MAS supplied custom resins used in the hull, mast and boom. Nobeltec supplied the latest digital charting for the entire planet. Samson Rope gave us literally about a mile’s worth of their best lines. Spectra Watermakers – those guys not only donated the equipment, they installed it, then went up in an airplane to shoot pictures of us sailing down the coast! David Haliwill did a ton of graphics work for free.
It’s been like that the whole way through. It’s been a huge network of individuals, a ‘cast of thousands’ that have made this all possible. We had professional sailors who took time off, flew to Portland and worked on the boat for a week or two for free. Kids on spring vacation spent it working on the boat. . .
What this project has shown me bigtime is that there is a huge amount of pent-up support in this country to get an American Open 60 back in the world sailing arena. There hasn’t been one since Steve Pettengill sailed the BOC on Hunter’s Child in 1994-’95. Before that, it was Mike Plant. That’s what this boat represents – all these people who are motivated to get an American boat out there and see how we can do.
Tom – There is a lot of pent-up energy toward shorthanded offshore racing. But I also think many people have donated to this effort for a lot of the reasons we’ve already mentioned: the strength of the boat, the self-righting, the unstayed rig – or the completely non-technical notion that this boat is going to ‘take care’ of Bruce.
This boat is not a rule-beating contraption. It’s an amalgamation of a lot of good ideas and a lot of work from a lot of talented people. Good things are going to come from it.