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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

IOM in Review: BritPop!

Editor's Note:  Ever since the 2011 IOM World Championship in the UK, and even the US National Championship in Texas in 2010, Brad Gibson's "BritPop!" has been the "the must have boat" for many skippers. Combining some old elements (chine transition, first seen at least as far back as the 1989 "Jazz"), and some new thinking on more slender hull forms, the BritPop! has racked up an enviable record in competition through-out the world. As always, is this a function of a good boat, or great skippers sailing it? Let's check in with Brad Gibson as interview by the SMYC's Bob Wells and find some answers!

This article is republished with the kind permission of Bob Wells, from his excellent IOM UPDATE newsletter (December 2012), available here. Bob is a member of the well respected Seattle Model Yacht Club, and his newsletters are must reads for skippers of IOM's, and several other classes. Thanks Bob!

Playmate of the Month… Brad Gibson’s BritPOP!: 

Brad Gibson (known as “BG” in radio sailing circles) is the Britpop! designer who needs no introduction to 98% of our readers. For the other 2% new to IOM radio sailing I’ll briefly summarize that BG’s results are at the very top of our game: 
  • BG’s “sails” at recent IOM World Championships: 1st 2007; 1st & 2nd 2009, and 1st, 2nd, & 3rd 2011. 
  • BG’s Britpop: 1st, 2nd, & 3rd 2011 IOM World Championship. (These were the only prototypes in existence at the time – an unprecedented IOM clean sweep.) 
  • BG’s personal finishes at recent IOM World Championships: 1st 2007, 2nd 2009, and 2nd 2011 (where it was decided on the exciting last race, which he went into on equal points. This excellent video takes you there.
  • Since 2003 BG has personally never finished out of the top 6 in IOM International events, so he has been at the top level for a while. 
In the hotly contested IOM class BG is a favorite in any regatta that he enters, and just before publishing it is no surprise that BG was crowned 2012 Euro Champion. This extends to other radio sailing classes such as Marblehead, where he was crowned 2012 RM World Champion while writing this article, and this is more special as he sailed his own new GRUNGE design. There are many recent National IOM Championships I could mention, but let’s skip over that long list. Brad is fully committed to radio sailing with his sailmaking and sailboat design business based in the UK: He is livin’ the radio sailing lifestyle that includes travel, the highs of competition, and plenty of hard work in between with pressing deadlines. My local buddies that have met Brad at US Nats in ’10 and ’11 both say he is a great guy personally too. Lots of fun and shares insights readily to the guys at the bottom of the fleet too. 

The Britpop! appears to be a breakthrough IOM design that can hold its own with the best in heavy, medium, and even light winds. This hull/rig/foil package appears to be easier to sail too, as results of our more average skippers seemingly improve when sailing a Britpop! Even more telling, the Britpop! has fostered a rethink in his competitor’s designs towards a similar narrower beam with long high chines and very high prismatic ends. Watching the dominant Britpops prototypes has this affect. 

For full disclosure I was completing my Britpop! assembly (USA 7 by Pepe’s Vinaixa Yachts) as I write this and it is now completed and sailing. Hopefully that will allow this article to be more insightful. On to the interview: 

The well-travelled BritPOP! prototype #1, which is now owned by Dennis Rogers of the San Diego Argonauts. Here she is handily winning the 2010 USA Nats in Texas with BG on the helm, and this dominate performance encouraged a number in attendance to pre-order one before production had formally been announced. This included Ted and Bobby Flack from Detroit, who remain very happy customers with Robot Yachts supplying theirs. Eric Rosenbaum photo. 

BG shown checking the BritPOP! prototype #1 trim at 2010 Euros, where he finished 2nd. Beam is atypically narrow compared to existing designs at that time, the exception being Michael Scharmer’s series of ultra skinny designs. Sail trim shows an upper batten aligned with boom and the outhaul is pretty flat too. Hanneke Gillissen photo.

Seattle MYC: Tell us about your early sailing background and how an Aussie wound up in the UK. 

Brad Gibson: Sailing has always been the sport in my life from early childhood. After many years playing about in small dinghies, my racing career dates back to the early 1980's where I began in the Flying Ant dinghy class on Botany Bay in Sydney's south. Over the next decade and a half I skippered boats to considerable success in many classes including Cherubs, 14 and 18-foot skiffs. Early lessons learned through building boats withmy grandfather Len Riley, then rigging/tuning sails and spars to them with my 
sailmaker father Kerry taught valuable lessons in rig/boat setup and sail design. 

Since the age of 12, I have also been actively involved in Radio Controlled Yachting. After owning an older RM, my first new RC yacht was an East Coast 12 Metre kit during the mid 80's. In late 1997 after much time taken up with 18 foot skiff sailing, I returned to RC yachting with a borrowed mould and built my first International One Metre. Not long after launching this boat, I knew with my skiff/dinghy racing background that I could design and build my own boats and sails to be competitive with anything on the market. 

Having met my fiancée Victoria during the 2006 RM Worlds in Fleetwood, I made the move to the UK to live and sail where we both remain to this day. 

Seattle MYC: Tell us about your business, BG Sails and Design. 

Brad Gibson: My business was started in 1998 after significant local interest was shown in my sails. From this hulls to my design were also offered in kit form where things have grown stronger ever since. Being permanently based in the UK since 2008 and with Victoria joining BG, our primary means of business is sailmaking where we presently average over 500 suits of sails per year to customers in over 40 countries. 

We offer a range of spars and fittings that have been tried and tested by myself that are suited to our designs. Lines plans are also offered through our online store. We believe the strength of BG Sails & Design in the current marketplace is in being able to offer or recommend products that are suitable for winning races from club to world championship level based on our experience. We are not a ‘one stop shop’ selling multiple versions of items based on fashion without having proven themselves over time. 

2013 looks an exciting one with further expansion on lines plans to other classes and the news of our Grunge RM design going into production. 

Seattle MYC: What’s the current lead-time for some BG IOM sails? Will your recent move to a new space change anything? 

Brad Gibson: Currently our sail lead times are at 10+ months on new orders. We are now fully up and running in our new workshop/home and working hard to reduce these times. 

This is it folks - the Britpop foam plug as of 6/18/10 hand shaped by BG using shadows and closed cell foam. This plug was used for the three protos. All production boats are taken from CNC shapes true to this. Brad Gibson photo. 

Seattle MYC: On to Britpop! I’ve added below the link to your letter describing your SKA design development (Seattle IOM Update, MAR 2012 Issue, Pg. 35), which I recommend that everyone read if they haven’t already. With the SKA as a reference please tell us how the Britpop! design came about. What happened between the finalized SKA design and your Btitpop! prototype storming the IOM class beginning in October 2010. 

Brad Gibson: With the SKA prototype we had run as far as we could and needed to thin out the mid section. In doing so and re-drawing the lines plan I decided to also look at continuing the chine line forward in the theme of the Lintel to tidy the heeled waterline sections, albeit on a much narrower hull. In the end a choice was made to go with the chined design “BritPOP” with a goal towards the West Kirby worlds being in open water. As things turned out it was the correct choice after some changes in rig rake, weight distribution and lead placement, the package is where it is today. Quite a fast boat in all conditions. 

This graphic image from Pepe at Vinaixa Yachts shows the interior where only a few items span from deck to hull - the rudder shaft, mainsheet post, keel trunk/mast well assembly, and jib swivel post (not shown here). These add structural support. Note that other items suspend from the deck above the hull including; sail winch, pot with receiver and battery, and rudder servo. It is good construction practice to have as little as possible glued to the hull to avoid potential hull distortion areas over time. This includes correctors that ideally are not hard-glued to the hull, but instead adhered with foam tape or other flexible adhesive. You need a strong tape though, ones intended for outdoors finally worked for me. 

Seattle MYC: The Britpop! prototypes finishing 1st, 2nd, & 3rd at the 2011 IOM World Championships in West Kirby is ridiculously good. Please expand a little on that for those of us who enjoyed it vicariously through: Also did you trial/practice together beyond regattas in preparation for Worlds. 

Brad Gibson: Both Graham Elliott and Peter Stollery were supporters of the BritPOP project from day one and keen to sail one at West Kirby. Through the tough time of my father passing away suddenly following the AUS Nationals win in Jan 2011, being able to put my energies, thoughts, and spare time into building boats in the lead up to the worlds helped my headspace. Due to time constraints, the #39 boat Peter sailed at WK (West Kirby, the site of 2011 World Championship – Editor) was loaned by Victoria after having to return home for a couple of weeks. Both boats were launched 1 month before the worlds where they recorded 2,1 and 4,2 finishes respectively in the final UK ranking races on the WK site. 

To share in the success of WK (West Kirby) with both Graham and Peter is something I will always remember after the work and lead up to the event. 

Graham and myself had a limited amount of tuning time prior to the event. Peter, living near 4 hours away chose to work his boat up locally. As things turned out we were all quick using my basic rake settings despite our own slight differences in sail trim through the full range of conditions. 

Day 6 at 2011 Worlds in West Kirby with eventual winner Peter Stollery tweaking his vang just before an A Fleet heat. 
Notice how he protects the keel with his foot. Brad Gibson in the background finished second. Jerry Bower photo. 

Seattle MYC: I see familiar features in Britpop! from your earlier WIDGET “Mr. Brightside” (IOM World Champ ’07) and your GLAM ROCK. Both of which have both found their way to our area. For example: 
  • The rigs appear very similar. Did you establish a static rake for those boats too? 
  • The location of the sail winch in front of the mast accessed by a hatch and general sheeting configuration is the same. 
  • All have Dave Creed designed/manufactured foils and bulbs. 
Brad Gibson: 
-With all boats I have sailed or set up since my skiff sailing days I have found it important to always determine and stick with a base static rake point 

-My own Disco IOM and Boogie/Anarchy RM designs used the RMG winch through the deck for ease of sheeting setup. As with the TS2 many years earlier, the Widget setup below deck gets the winch weight much lower in the boat without any of the concerns I held earlier about setup problems. A slight trade off but if your boat is dry then you rarely have to go down there! 

-With testing a hull design, so many make the mistake of throwing out the old for new. Sticking with a known component of what works is common sense. For instance: When I was first designing IOMs Gary Cameron’s TS2 design was the WC. It made sense to me to tick a simple box by using the TS2 fins so as to eliminate a variable in performance. As with Glam Rock/SKA/BritPOP, the same logic was applied by using the same fins as my WC Widget to make better comparisons on hull design and rigs. 

Seattle MYC: A departure for you on Britpop! is to the flush aft deck with a well for the mast, although I note the sheet configuration changes little. Why the flush decks this time instead of the skiff deck type? 

Brad Gibson: In 2003 I noticed that the Disco skiff deck took on an amount of water in wave conditions. It always drained quickly but was an avenue I would look at further should another design ever be put into production. One of the last experiments made with the SKA prototype was to fit a deck skirt similar to the ones we used on the Disco in Vancouver 2003 to good effect to place 3rd & 4th. From this and further photographic studies, the clean low windage deck/well was decided on. Maybe Graham Bantock knew something in 1999 with the IKON??

A late SKA proto that was part of the development of Britpop – photo date 3/24/10. This shows the flush deck skirt experiment similar to the ones BG used on the Disco at Vancouver 2003 Worlds. Brad Gibson photo.

Seattle MYC: You have stated in the past a preference for sailing to weather with a slight lee helm. Could you expand on that and how you obtain the balance you like at the proto stage. 

Brad Gibson: I feel the aim is to have a boat that will sail itself through varying wind gusts with minimum rudder correction. To achieve this the whole rig/foil/hull package needs to work together. Using the same fin/rig and placement ratios helps to best narrow the design gap shortfalls at testing whilst ensuring a similar helm balance. 

Seattle MYC: OK, and I’m pleased to report in light air my Britpop! (Even with me on the helm!) from the first sail is not a dog. I find the helm so neutral and it tracks so straight that I have to hunt to confirm I’m not falling off. I think I detect you doing that too in the World’s videos. I take it this is normal for the Britpop? 

Brad Gibson: This sounds as though you are close. It is important to concentrate on heel angle and jib trim in these conditions as a guide to best course upwind. I find here also that understanding your tell tales is so important. 

Seattle MYC: One of the things that influenced me to purchase the Britpop! was it appeared that you had integrated the rig, foils, and bulb as a package design. And that your Rigging Guide specifically for this boat was available so skippers could replicate your rig concept. (I also used Britpop! rig photo details that I’ve been collecting as a further necessary reference to complete the rigs – Editor.) I wish all boat builders supplied Rigging Guides specific to their boat. 

Brad Gibson: Our BritPOP design is indeed a full package. Its excellent performance is a culmination of so many little things working in harmony to get the best from the boat. From fore and aft mast bend to lateral bend, to matching sail shape through a wide wind range on all three rigs, to correct mast rake, and rig height, it all needs to be in tune. 

To achieve this, offering a rig guide is common sense for us to allow skippers to get the best from our design. We are not the first to do so but are equally amazed by some that choose not to offer one.

BG showing the technique to check his leach shapes at 2011 Worlds with Peter Stollery in the background. Base setting you want the leach twist parallel on both sails. Hanneke Gillissen photo. 

Seattle MYC: What are the most common mistakes folks make when assembling the Britpop! rigs. 

Brad Gibson: Trying to re-invent the wheel!! When a skipper makes a commitment to purchase a boat over a long lead-time, they have done so surely because they believe in what they have seen on a performance level. To then not follow the setup guide when assembling their boat just makes no sense, no matter what the design. I hear too many stories of skippers bemoaning designs that had never been set up how the designer or manufacturer intended which is a little harsh. 

My advice to anyone purchasing our BritPOP would be to set up as closely as possible to our guide to ensure its best possible performance. Once this has been achieved, then by all means try your own ideas if you wish with a known performance base to gauge from. 

We are always happy to answer questions on our rig guide should anyone have them. 

BG and his Britpop! obviously having a good time in the early days of 2011 Worlds. Photo Roger Stollery. 

Seattle MYC: A few Britpop! setup questions: 
  • When you set the travel on your RMG sailwinch what angle is the limit for main and jib booms? 
  • How much rudder throw do you recommend? Is this something where the more skilled get away with more throw because they know how to limit the use of this brake. 
  • Do you use exponential on your rudder? For me it is very helpful, but I’ve tested a few boats that had more than I prefer. 
  • How heavy are your jib counterbalances. What is the dock test to know jib counterbalance is correct? 
  • Do you recommend Travel Adjust for the mainsheet with the RMG? 
Brad Gibson: 

I let the jib boom run out to fractionally inside 90 degrees on a run. Main boom will rest on the shrouds .

Near 45 degrees for me. Line the trailing edge up with the corner of the chine. 

No, I hate the dumbed-down feel of exponential. I like to drive my boat around the course. 

Just heavy enough so that when the boat is laid on its side, the aft end of the jib boom starts to lift. 

I just run with a standard winch setup on a RMG 32mm drum. I’ll leave the fancy stuff to the techies.

Seattle MYC: The Britpop! Rigging Guide implies a static rake measurement for all three rigs. Do you stick with this from top to bottom of the wind range, or do you say rake back for more weather helm in lighter winds? Also is there a suggested base shroud/backstay tension, and does this vary with conditions? 

Brad Gibson: Rake stays the same throughout the wind range. Backstay tension is set to bend the mast to suit the luff curve in the mainsail. At the top end of the range maybe 1-2mm is applied to blade out the mainsail. Helm is balanced, not lee helm with all rigs and achieved by mainsail leech twist to get this. 

Seattle MYC: For base main twist settings are you looking for the 2nd batten parallel with the boom or what? 

Brad Gibson: I usually start with the jib trim and then looking from behind make sure the twist in both sails is similar for a basic trim. 

One of the many rig detail photos that I collected and studied in anticipation of building my rigs, and they proved essential along with BG’s Rig Guide. I followed this photo religiously, right down to the mysterious bend in the vang wire. This is Roy Langbord’s boat, which is also in the cover photo. Bob Wells photo.

Seattle MYC: Is there a suggested base shroud/backstay tension, and does this vary with conditions? I have a tension gauge custom made for radio sailing BTW. 

Brad Gibson: Shroud tension should be firm enough so that when on its side the leeward shroud is not slack. Over tightening will force the mast to bend sideways out of column earlier than designed. Backstay will be sufficient to have the sail luff sitting evenly down the aft edge of the mast. 

Seattle MYC: In the tuning sequence I have been used to using the vang to set downwind twist first and then set main twist with backstay and mast ram – as outlined by Graham Bantock. Is you’re your Britpop! protocol too? 

Brad Gibson: It certainly is. Running trim is very important. Start with this method and then fine tune as Graham says with backstay and ram for perfect upwind helm balance. 

Seattle MYC: A mainsail jackstay is new to me. It appears from photos that you adjust the tension at the gooseneck with a bowsie, and I’ve seen others just tie this off snugly and leave it. What should I do and why. 

Brad Gibson: The jackline is tensioned independently to the luff tension at the base. It also must swivel at the head for correct light air running. Set tension no tighter than you would the sail luff tension, i.e in light winds just the smallest amount. 

Seattle MYC: I like your minimalist rig configuration a lot. One of your “lesson’s learned” in the past must have been to get rigs as low as possible. (This leads to some tight tolerances for those assembling per your Rig Guide. For example my SAILSetc gooseneck bodies had to be shortened and the SAILSetc “wheel” on the vang had to be ground down to clear in the mast well.) Also I am curious why the bend in the vang next to the boom? Why not just prescribe attaching to the boom at the bend? 

Brad Gibson: This does sound a little strange as our drawings incorporate the use of standard SAILSetc height goosenecks without the need for cutting down. We have offered low profile kicking straps to suit the goosenecks to date on demand, though I believe Graham has now further modified his gooseneck design to fit ours and “other” narrow well designs and we would recommend these for BritPOP rig builds. 

Yes, the little bend in the wire has kept a few thinking...

Seattle MYC: The Britpop! invasion is well on it’s way in the US with a number of them in seemingly every regatta. Do you know the current lead times if somebody wants to purchase a Britpop! 

Brad Gibson: It is true that many Britpops have found their way to the US. After our 2010 US nationals win in Texas it would seem that collectively US skippers read the shift in design package quicker than most by getting in and ordering early. With further success worldwide the order lists are on the large side, but it would be best to check with our builders on this for more accurate lead times. 

Seattle MYC: Since the Britpops! initial launch and subsequent successes that include World Championship domination, I am sure that you have noticed the growing number of new similar designs now appearing. Any views on what you have seen? 

Brad Gibson: Following on from our World’s success it was inevitable that some new designs would appear. This is of course no different to what people did all those years ago when the TS2 turned the class on its ear. 

It is good to see top shelf designers and skippers such as Graham Bantock, Ian Vickers and more recently the Croatian guys taking in what happened at West Kirby and looking to further develop a narrow waterline chine design theme incorporating their own thoughts. As with the TS2 though, unfortunately some have sought to commercially imitate the Britpop! with little knowledge or understanding as to why it works so well as a complete package. As in the TS2 example they will not achieve anything like the original design’s success

Seattle MYC: Like all sailmakers you have stated that more sails are damaged in storage than sailing and that you prefer wood sail boxes for storage. Do you prefer the mains and jibs be separated for storage or is folding the jib over and tying the booms together OK? Any suggestions in this regard? 

Brad Gibson: I store my jibs separate away from my rigs in the lid of my sail box and tensioned with elastic to hold in place. 

BG and Britpop! prototype #1 at 2011 Worlds. What I would have given for a pair of “red” Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star tennis shoes back in High School in the 60’s. Unfortunately they only came in ‘white”, except the Boston Celtics had a special deal to get them in ‘green’. Jerry Brower photo. 

Seattle MYC: Sportsmanship is getting a lot of play on the IOM and other forums currently. I read recently on our USA website that the top UK skippers take the lead and set a high standard for sailing with sportsmanship per the rules. That is refreshing to hear if true? 

Brad Gibson: This is always a difficult one. Luckily I have sailed now in a few places and find the difference if any is through the respect that the UK skippers have for each other as competitors. The guys at the front end set a good example of conduct, which filters down through the fleets. 

The biggest problem I see is that in other countries like the USA, AUS, etc event organizers have been far too unwilling to use a proper skipper observer system which applies far too much pressure on an often inexperienced PRO to control those getting out of line. Let the observers watch the course and conduct while the PRO can concentrate on setting the best course, which can often be the reason for such unrest. 

Seattle MYC: Excuse my getting off topic here for a moment; but your sail #42 matches the famous Jackie Robinson’s, the first black man to play in the majors since the 1800s. He desegregated Major League Baseball in 1947 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, an inevitable but still culturally shocking event. His huge talent and character coupled with being the desegregation pioneer in the USA’s most popular pastime, all led to Jackie being a national hero for his era. He was the only player to have his jersey number retired by every Major League team. So why did you chose #42? 

Brad Gibson: Wow, another 42 story that’s new to me. I’ve heard the one about Hitchhikers guide…. and many others. No real reason other than it is my favourite number. I am big on superstitions so I do like to stay with what works best.

Seattle MYC: Brad, thank you for my wonderful Britpop! and BG sails. And thank you for taking the time out of your crazy schedule for this interview. As one of the many riding the BG products bandwagon, I have looked forward to this with great anticipation and it has been well worth the wait. 

Hail 2011 World Champion, Peter Stollery, celebrating with his son, Oliver, and his loaner Britpop from Vicky McNulty of BG Sails and Design. Mom, nice touch with Oliver’s shirt color matching the boat. Hanneke Gillissen photo. 

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