North Sails: News Details


Etchells Mast Lever Update

Article by Andrew "Dog" Palfrey


It has been almost two years since the first Etchells mast lever was developed and tested. This was at a time when I re-located to Cowes after the 34th America’s Cup, and got involved in helping David Heritage update the Etchells layout for a batch of new boats he was to build in 2014.

It was a fun time, throwing all sorts of ideas around with “H”, world champion Andy Beadsworth, Graham Sunderland, David Bedford and many other experienced Etchells sailors via phone and Skype. Some of the changes we made are becoming fairly commonplace today.

In my mind, the brief was not only figuring what could be done better, but also simplifying the boats. The philosophy was that although some systems are inherently complicated, they need to be reliable and the line that comes to the sailors hand needs to function well and be simple to operate and calibrate. Racing is hard enough, without needing a degree in mechanical engineering to sail the boat (thanks Mothballs).

As I look today at the impressive new boats being built down the road at the Heritage factory, I do see the systems we conjured up and wonder if I would do it that way today. But that is the evolving nature of the boats and our sport. A boat will never be perfect for a given individual and can always be improved. That is a part of the sport and the class that engages me.

I can’t take credit for many of the ideas being “new”, as the concepts were all things we had come across in other classes, like the Star, Dragon, Soling or the America’s Cup. Some ideas had been in use on Etchells in years past and been dropped for whatever reason. Materials had also moved on a lot in a short time.

One item that grabbed my attention was the relaxing of previously restrictive rules on the chocking of the mast at the deck. This was proposed by British sailors, who also sailed in the Dragon class. Dragons have used a mast lever for many years and it is a far better solution than what we put up with for 30 years in the Etchells.

The lever system has become known as the “mast-ram”. I guess this relates to the “old” AC yachts and grand-prix yachts, where they have hydraulic rams to control the mast at deck level. The first testing for the Etchells lever geometry was done on a timber outdoor table on our back patio at home. My wife Kate was less than impressed with the strange looking bits of plywood being screwed to the table and the lines being drawn on it! But the kids and I had a bit of fun with it.