From Zinnemann to Abella

The Autumn regatta series for the Zinnemann Cup is in full swing, and I had a chance to watch the races last Thursday over at the Americas Cup Anywhere Race course.

The Zinnemann-40 Catamaran is the creation of Hans Zinnemann. Everyone reading this website… all three of you… already know I think HZ is pretty fantastic. Hans is one of the two finalists competing for this year’s Tako Cup, and his excellence at SL racing comes from his quarter century of real-life experience on race boats and in the sailing industry.

Most of us learned to sail in SL by taking the free Sunday classes offered by Starboards Yacht Club. Although the class is only a couple hours, people leave with a dozen new best friends, and a day-planner full of sailing-dates. Hans Zinnemann took a slightly different approach, however. He learned to sail in SL by designing a catamaran and starting his own boat business!

Hans’ boatyard is located in the beautiful Zinnemann sim; if you’re ever in that neighborhood, you should drop by:

As everyone knows, The ‘Z-40′ is an impressive boat. Although it weighs in at a mere 28 prim, the boat measures 12m LOA and stands 12m tall. The sailplan includes a full-sized mainsail that’s coupled to a smaller jib, and there’s a sizable parachute to turbocharge those downwind runs. The boat advertises typical speeds “in excess of 15m/s,” but anyone who’s tried the boat will tell you this is modest understatement. Even a new sailor can fiddle with the sails to generate SOG (speed over ground) far in excess of wind velocity.

Zinnemann-40 Catamaran

The boat interacts with the Zinnemann website in interesting and pretty unique ways. I don’t know about you, but my inventory has about 264 Takos in it, most with different colors and my numerous failed attempts at sail textures.   I usually have no idea what boat I am putting in the water…

The Z-Cat fixes that! It keeps you organized and updated by storing your customized boat and sail textures directly on the Zinnemann website. If you want to modify something, you simply tell the website which texture you wish to change.

The real value of this system comes when there’s an upgrade. You don’t have to tediously re-do the new boat; all your  customized changes are automatically applied.

The Z-Cat’s web interaction could turn out to be a  fascinating feature. In the future, Zinnemann.com could keep track of the boat’s location and sailing data, generating a map of your last cruise or practice run.  The corresponding data tables could then be used to develop racing strategy, or compare your sailing skills with others. Or maybe figure out where you dropped your cell phone overboard…

At the present time the website is only set up to give you a ‘tease’ of these possibilities. It displays a list of the last places Z-cat owners were ’seen’ rezzing their boats. I can’t wait to see what gets added next. ( and if you’re concerned that Hans will suddenly start publishing on the web the names of all the people who you offered moonlight cruises to… well, don’t worry. There’s a privacy feature too)

But let’s face it; this boat was not designed for a moonlight cruise.  It’s sleek form, spare use of prim, and huge sail plan were meant for one ultimate purpose: to compete on the race course. So, after some early modifications to let the boats use SLSF Race Wind and Start Lines, it was no surprise when Hans announced the first Summer Series of the Big Cat Cup.

Over a series of twelve separate race dates on two different courses, the Z-40 racing fleet competed under extreme conditions of spd 18 wind. This Competition was not for the faint of heart, but the Z-40 seemed to love the ‘Force Ten’ sailing conditions.

From the very beginning, skipper Abella Beck stood out from the pack, decisively winning virtually every competition through the summer to emerge triumphant, with that Cat-Cup in hand.

We are now in the middle of the autumn series, and Thursday’s performance at the ACA Course was a fascinating display of speed and skill.  Did I mention these boats are fast? The Z-40s are lean sail platforms, genetically designed for speed, like thoroughbred racehorses in the chute straining against the gate, needing to run.

I think a lot of sailors have a term for this kind of boat, particularly under extreme wind speeds of 18 m/s: The Z-40 is a “sled,” a boat where you hang on, point at the start line, and pray you won’t need to turn.  Don’t get me wrong; the Cat-Cup race at ACA was exhilarating to watch. These are very interesting boats, but watching the skippers deal with a combination of extreme wind and high-performance hardware sometimes reminded me of that scene in Dr. Strangelove where Slim Pickens waved his cowboy hat  as he rode a falling atomic bomb…

With that image out of the way, let’s get back to those races.  The first race tested the abilities of four seasoned Z-40 sailors: Skipper Nikolaidis,  Ella Larsen, Beejee Boucher and Damb Writer. Most are repeat offenders that had previously raced in the Summer series. Skipper Nikolaidis set the pace this time, demonstrating surprising agility and control as he moved across the course. His turns were, by far, the most precise of any of the skippers competing  and he crossed the finish line in 5:11, the second fastest score of the day. GREAT SAILING, SKIPPER!!!

Abella Beck, the reigning Summer champion, then joined the fleet for the remaining three races.

When Race Two started, perhaps out of excitement seeing Abella, Ella Larsen proceeded to collide with the red start buoy. With luck, she was still early, and made a skillful recovery. Undaunted, she showed remarkable thought and technical skill as she fought off attacks by Skipper and Abella. Here’s a view as she wraps the mark, leaving Damb Writer far astern.

Moments later, the crowd gasped in unison as Damb Writer, under full sail, miscalculated the turn at the mark.

The buoy hit Damb Writer at high velocity, striking him dead center between his… well… pontoons.

Most spectators reflexively crossed their legs in a show of solidarity for their injured fellow sailor. To his enduring credit, immediately on taking the hit, D. Writer loudly shouted his first name. It was audible to multiple sims, and undoubtedly was intended to reassure everyone that DW was able to continue the race.

A well-deserved first place went to Ella Larsen for her truly excellent run in Race Two. However, the crowd’s heart was still focused on Damb Writer as he limped to the finish line minutes behind her.

Abella Beck next stepped up to the plate. The final two races, Races Three and Four, were “All-Abella, 24/7.” Here she is, charging over the start line, gently but firmly pushing Skipper and Beejee aside:

In case you think this was easy… don’t. This was no Abella cake walk. Ella Larsen was relentless and undaunted, challenging Abella at each move. Ella finished scant seconds behind Abella in Race Three. In Race Four, Ella attacked again. Yup, Abella won Race Four, but she was forced to rack up the best time of the entire day in order to do it. On behalf of Abella, let me shout: GREAT RACE, ELLA.

Given my previous comments, I’m sure you’re wondering: “How could you have two more Force 10 Sled races without another major collision?” Of course you’re thinking that; It would be like having an American Pro Hockey game without a fist-fight.

Well… rest assurred… Of course there were more collisions! Although taking pictures of the extensive trauma panders to the public’s interest in lurid sensationalism, I feel somewhat compelled to report the news as I saw it.

Here’s a rather embarassing view of Beejee Boucher’s red Z-40 moments after it slid over the finish line. Apparently overcome with  excitement, Beejee’s pontoons ended up… straddling Abella.  Hans Zinnemann was uncertain which racing rule applied to this particular situation. Eventually a travel lift was called and a restraining order obtained. Counselling was recommended for both parties, and Abella prudently announced she was filing an official protest against Beejee for any race rule infraction that might apply, however obscure, now or in the future, in perpetuity.

Beejee gallantly concurred, adding that ‘perpetuity’ might not be long enough.

In any event, Thursday’s Zinnemann Cup races were great fun and pretty exciting, given the fast boats and extreme winds. The series again established Abella’s racing dominance at the helm of a Z-40. Ella and Skipper have great skills, but they’re still a ways astern of Abella.

So? Come on…. Why does Abella win? How does she show up late, smile, and then flatten all the competition?

Ask me; I know.

I haven’t discussed it with Abella, now or ever, but I’ve watched her sail and I’m pretty confident I know. I’ll even bet bet she agrees.

The Z-40 with 18m/s wind is far too powerful to control by fiat, or with an F-key. Abella wins because she doesn’t force her Z-40… she dances with it. She plays to its strengths, she and her boat never look awkward. Watching her sail is a bit like, I imagine, watching her dance at a wedding reception with some unknown 300lb pro football player from the family. I’m sure she’d confidently take charge, never let him step on her toes, and she’d play to his strengths. He’d end up looking like a great dancer. Abella would step down from the helm… and giggle.

More pointedly… Abella’s great accomplishment is that she knows her boat very well. So well, it looks effortless. The boat becomes an extension of her own movement, with speed, efficiency, beauty and grace.

Geez, I wish I could sail like that.

When Abella decides to move on to something else, I fully expect her to stand up on her boat’s net… pause… and point over the fence in center field. She’ll then laugh, sit down, and hit that last hotlap way of the park. When that day happens, I’ll be here arguing we retire SLSF #07 and hang her sails from the Zinnemann Boathouse ceiling.

This article was originally posted to SLSailing.com on October 30, 2007.

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