Almost 10 years ago, at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Qingdao, China Antón Paz and Fernando Echavarri (representing Spain) won gold for the Tornado event marking the end of a more than 30 year run for the Rodney March designed, 20 foot long Tornado when it was deselected as an Olympic class. Now, almost 10 years later, the Nacra 17 debuts this month at the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro as the new mixed (men and women) multihull Olympic boat. (Published Fall 2016)
THE NACRA 17
The Nacra 17 is a 17 foot catamaran that was designed specifically as the mixed boat for the Olympics. The Formula 16 and a Formula 18, also produced by Nacra, were in consideration as the Olympic boat, however, they would have needed changes to aspects of their designs that did not conform to their respective class rules so, instead, Morrelli & Melvin designed the Nacra 17 fully in line with the specifications given by ISAF for the Olympic multihull class at the 2016 games.
The stiffness in the Nacra 17 design results in a fast, responsive boat and with added forward motion. Additionally, the light hull weight ensures superb handling and the powerful carbon mast ensures both safety (re-righting momentum versus crew weight) and performance.
Nacra has successfully implemented curved boards in production multihulls, which allows the lee bow to be lifted out of the water, reducing drag. This process leads to one hull lifting out of the water and the crew getting on the trapeze sooner. Curved boards also reduce sheet loads and make crew weight less critical, which creates a more equal playing field for all competitors.
The U.S. team is an interesting blend of experience and youthful enthusiasm. Bora Gulari from Detroit, Michigan, teamed up with Louisa Chafee of Warwick, R.I. and together they qualified to represent the U.S. in the Nacra 17 class; this will be a first Olympic Games for both sailors. Gulari started sailing the Nacra 17 just over a year ago, while Chafee has been in the class since 2014. Gulari’s sailing background includes sailing dinghies in college then moving into crewing on 49ers in which he scored a victory at the 2001 North American Championship. Gulari is a two-time Moth world champion and the 2009 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. He has also raced Melges 24s and is a successful windsurfer. Chaffee, who is the daughter of Senator Lincoln Chaffee, sailed for Brown University and was named an All-American Crew three times.
January’s Sailing World Cup in Miami, Florida and the Nacra 17 Worlds in Clearwater, Florida were the two events that made up US Sailing’s Athlete Selection Series to determine which team would represent the country at Rio. In a close second was F18 standout Michael Easton with crew and America’s Cup veteran Katie Pettibone. Olympians Mark and Carolina Mendelblatt were third among the U.S. teams vying for selection.
Gulari and Chafee will face tough competition in the class in Rio. Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves make up a formidable team and are the entry from Great Britain. They are European champions, who have sailed the Nacra 17 since September 2014 and are currently ranked 4th in the Nacra 17 world rankings. They are heading to the Games as favorites after winning the European Championships in Barcelona last October.
Another team to keep an eye on are cousins Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin, representing Australia, who are set to make their Olympic debut. Sailing together for eight years, they claimed their first overseas medal in 2009 by winning the ISAF Youth Worlds in Buzios, Brazil. They both grew up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and currently train at Middle Harbour Sailing Club. In 2015, they won the Rio Test Event and finished second at the World Championships. Darmanin was also named Australian female sailor of the year. The cousins are not the only family team that will be in Rio. Pablo Defazio, with his wife and crew Mariana Foglia, will be the Uruguay Nacra 17 team. Hailing from a monohull background they started sailing the Nacra in 2013.
Along with the Nacra 17, sailors will also be competing in 470s for both men and women, men’s 49er, women’s 49erFX, men’s Finn, men’s Laser, women’s Laser Radial and men’s and women’s RS:X windsurfing.
This year will be the first time in Olympic history that a South American country hosts the event. Sailing and rowing events will take place in Guanabara Bay, which has been at the center of controversy since sailors and rowers began training there due to high levels of contamination in the water including sewage and trash. The high level of contamination is believed to have led to German sailor Erik Heil, of the 49er class, being hospitalized and infected by multi-resistant germs in 2015.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio will be the most widely televised Olympics ever. NBC Universal will present an unprecedented 6,755 hours of programming for the Games, which start on August 5.
For more information on the Games visit www.rio2016.com.