Littlecup : interview with Steve Clark, President of the C Class

" The C Class brought the catamaran from a cultural oddity to one of the most sophisticated sailing vessels and a major aspect of the sport of sailing "

Over 50 years ago, your father Van Alan Clark took part in the first editions of the LITTLECUP (formerly known as the International Catamaran Challenge Trophy). Next year is the 27th, what is the secret of the C Class longevity?


Over the years, the C Class has offered designers and builders the freedom to develop and perfect new concepts. In the very early years, it was the very concept of the modern sailing catamaran: How strong did it have to be? How was it best arranged? How is it best sailed and raced? This brought the catamaran from a cultural oddity to one of the most sophisticated sailing vessels and a major aspect of the sport of sailing. Many people are responsible for the commercial success of the sailing catamaran and it's popularity, but the members of the C Class did the "fundamental research" that all modern catamarans are heir to.

This freedom to innovate and test is at the very core of the class, and while very exciting to those who engage in it, is also probably one reason why the class isn't very popular and doesn't have championships with large numbers of competitors. The challenge is too open and competitors are more comfortable with more restricted boats. The risks are pretty high, and more than one well organized team has failed to even make it to the starting line. The class is always interesting because it is so advanced, but will never be popular for the same reason.




The last America's Cup introduced the world to the AC72, foiling catamaran equipped with a wingsail. Yet these wings have been used on C Class catamarans since the 70's. Can you tell us more about the implication of the LITTLECUP in the "Big Cup" and sailing as a whole?


In some ways, the AC72 was the vindication of what the C Class has been about. Multihulls were finally in the highest circle of the sport, and the wing, ( which was developed almost exclusively by the C Class) was recognized as the power plant of the future. Instead of being outliers, C Class sailors and designers were suddenly seen a relevant to yachting.

It is pretty interesting to watch how this plays out. In spite of the freedom of the C Class rules, or maybe because of it, we are never free from certain fundamentals such as "light catamarans are faster than heavy catamarans." This has always driven us toward the lightest solution to every design challenge. The America's Cup Rule is not this open and has restrictions of weight and all sorts of other things which makes their design decisions very different than what we experience. That being said, it is now a good thing for a young designer to have experience and expertise in wing design and engineering if he hopes top be employed in the racing boat industry. So these more modest programs have increased relevance to young professionals.

Early in the last AC cycle, C Class designers were scouted extensively by America's Cup Teams. Three years later, none of them are interested in talking to us. I believe there are a number of reasons for this, but fundamentally I think they wanted us to provide them a sophisticated Velocity Prediction Program for wingsailed catamarans. When we said we didn't have one and it would be a very difficult thing to achieve and that, in our experience, the results would be unreliable. They dismissed us as know-nothings and in spite of discovering that much of what we told them was true, their interest in us is greatly diminished.

On the other hand, there are now many more top designers working on wingsails and catamarans, These are clever people with many times the design and research budgets and tools than are available to us. They will learn things that will advance the art. So we have now to pay attention to their developments, understand what is applicable to our boats, and incorporate that learning into our process. The street now runs both ways, and is more exciting because of it. Certainly the advances in foiling of critical interest. However the AC and A Class have rule restrictions which affect the solutions they pursue. Once again the C Class offers the cleanest slate for exploring the fundamental tradeoffs.


2013 ICCCC Copyright-ADimagesCH-1036-petite 


The Société Nautique de Genève was the first European club to conquer the America's Cup thanks to Alinghi. Today they are chosen by Hydros Foundation to house the LITTLECUP in September 2015. An inspiring parallel, isn't it?


Geneva is far closer to the Center of Yachting than most chauvinists would like to admit. Unlike the America's Cup, we will be racing on SNG's actual home waters and operating from SNG's club house. So I expect the members will feel a more direct impact from hosting the little cup than they felt from defending the America's Cup. The C Class has historically been far more open and willing to discuss the technology and engineering behind their boats, so I hope the membership embraces the opportunity to meet and engage with the sailors, designers and builders who will be there.



In 2010, six boats from four nations lined up in Newport. Last year eleven teams representing seven nations competed in the Bay of Falmouth. The LITTLECUP is getting more and more international. What are your expectations for the 27th edition in Geneva?


The International Catamaran Challenge Trophy had a fairly restrictive Deed of Gift based on the America's Cup challenger and defender model. This wasn't conducive to building large fleets and strong championships, yet as the premier event in the class, it set the standard and "drove the bus." The current format is far more inclusive, and permits teams to enter boats that were not designed and built in their native country. In 2010 this accounted for 50% of the fleet. In 2013 the percentage was lower, but it was still significant ( 28%) It is now possible for teams to acquire existing boats, or to have boats built where the expertise is greatest and compete in the event. I hope the trend continues, but I have personally not heard of many new groups planning to compete in Geneva.


2013 ICCCC Copyright-ADimagesCH-0970petite 


For the very first time, the LITTLECUP will be held in Geneva, a place known for its cultural and economic dynamism but also for its strong attachment to sailing. Do you think it creates new opportunities for the C Class?


In spite of the popularity of catamarans on Lake Geneva, the C Class has never been able to establish a foothold in this dynamic environment. Personally, I have never understood this, but then again I was exposed to the C Class at the age of 9 years and perhaps feel that the extraordinary is closer at hand than most. From what I know about the lake, the C Class is well suited for the prevailing conditions.



Will we have the chance to see Cogito sailing on Lake Geneva next year?


My team, The Cogito Project, will be in Geneva. The actual yacht Cogito ( USA 104) may not be. Or current plan is enter one boat in the event. I am not prepared to say which boat it will be. Cogito will be 20 years old in September of 2015, and while she is still a potent competitor, I believe the conditions in which she can succeed are fairly limited. The fact that Geneva is likely to dish out those conditions makes me want to consider this choice very carefully, but at present expect us to be sailing a newer boat and testing some newer thinking.



Share this article