Shosholoza designer in spotlight

4 May 2007

After three-and-a-half years on the America’s Cup class circuit, South Africa’s Team Shosholoza remains the darling of the international sailing media. But the name increasingly being mentioned in specialist sailing publications is that of Jason Ker, principal designer of the team’s campaign yacht RSA 83.

It came as no surprise then that Ker – like most of his Shosholoza teammates an America’s Cup first-timer – has been nominated for the prestigious Seahorse Magazine’s “Sailor of the Month” accolade.

“Take a good young IRC designer and put him in charge of a small AC Class design team with an even smaller budget,” the nomination reads. “Offer him two new boats and then switch to a single boat campaign, meaning radical modifications to Boat 1 to stay competitive against teams with 20 times your design budget.

“Well, the new kid’s doing pretty well, and tacticians in the top teams are taking care to treat Shosholoza with respect.”

As principle designer for Team Shosholoza, Ker assembled and headed up a team of South African and international experts, most of whom were based in South Africa, for the first phase of a design process which started in September 2004. This was soon after the team had returned from the opening Acts of the 32nd America’s Cup in Marseille, France and Valencia, Spain in 2004.

RSA 83 was launched a full seven months earlier than the next new boat designed and built to the Version 5 rules for the 32nd America’s Cup. It was intended as an early first boat to give the South African sailors a better chance to compete in 2005 and also to give the design team a good starting point from which to develop further.

The hull of RSA 83 was built in a boat yard in Somerset West outside Cape Town and revealed to the South African public on 22 April 2005. The 2007 America’s Cup rules stipulate that the hull of the campaign yacht be built in the team’s home country.

The hull was then shipped to Valencia, where the keel and first mast were fitted and the yacht officially launched on 19 May 2005.

South Africa chose not to build a second new campaign yacht, based on the excellent performance of RSA 83 and the team’s very tight funds. However, fairly substantial modifications were made to RSA 83 over the 2006/07 European winter to eke out more speed from the boat and ensure that the South Africans’ remained competitive for the Louis Vuitton Cup, which it certainly has done.

“The bow has been made much finer, so it goes through waves rather than over them,” Ker said of the changes to RSA 83. “We have added a bowsprit which is designed to enable the spinnaker to be attached as far forward as the rules allow, which would otherwise not have been possible as we’ve made the bow shorter.

“The keel fin has had some minor adjustments. There is a new rudder, new bulb, loads of new sail designs, and the mast was new near the end of 2006.

“In each case we found a performance gain that was worth the little money we could find to spend on it,” Ker said. “For us that’s a very important criterion. We can’t afford to chase after every tiny improvement we can think of, so we focus on only the best value ones – which are also not necessarily the cheapest.”

Ker believes the newly modified RSA 83 is clearly faster than she was before. “The manoeuvrability is also substantially improved, so it has been easier to get good starts.”

Shosholoza’s performance in the Louis Vuitton Act 13, and in the Louis Vuitton Cup so far, have certainly confirmed this. By Thursday, the South Africans were lying 7th after four flights of match races.

When asked if he would tackle an America’s Cup campaign again, Ker’s reply was hardly surprising: “I would certainly want to do it again, yes, I’m addicted to it.”

Ker described Shosholoza’s design team as “a small group of highly intelligent and effective individuals who have worked very well together as a team, improving sails, appendages, rig, hull and structures,” adding that he hoped the nomination by Seahorse would be seen “as recognition of their combined efforts.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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