American sail designer Mike Schreiber is a four time winner of the America's Cup (1987, 1988, 2003, 2007) who started his professional career with North Sails 35 years ago. Today, he's plying his trade with Luna Rossa, with a focus on soft sail development.
While the foils and the wing are grabbing most of the headline attention on the new AC72s, he says the soft sails remain an important component in producing a fast boat.
"The sails should be a less daunting problem than figuring out the foils and getting a good, reliable wing," Schreiber says. "But certainly, they shouldn't be the biggest problem we have in a campaign like this."
The challenge in this America's Cup is on the tight limits on sail inventory. The soft sails need to cover a wider range of conditions than in the past, meaning compromise and trade-offs are a big part of the design equation.
"The biggest challenge is that you don't have that many sails, so you need to figure out the best set that can cover you across everything," Schreiber says. "The fact that you can fly a jib downwind instead of a code zero means you might try to manage the bigger sail upwind in some conditions just so you have it up when you're going downwind, for example. Those are the kind of tradeoffs we're working with."
Another difference for this edition of the Cup is the widespread use of 3Di technology. Schreiber was with Alinghi when they experimented with 3Di in the 32nd America's Cup (they didn't race with it), but in the intervening 5 years, the technology has been refined to the point where it's now de rigueur for performance sails.
"You'll see just about every sail made from 3Di this time. So that's new. A lot of the game is trying to figure out the best use of that material to make the sails lighter. Especially the downwind sails which the guys need to be able to hoist in over 30 knots of apparent wind. The game is the same, in that it's still all about the structural optimization, but we're doing it using this new material."
Schreiber says he understands the fascination with the wings and with the foiling and says he's caught up in the excitement as much as anyone.
"For me, the technology of the foiling is amazing. Trying to imagine how that little foil can lift the whole boat… I think not a lot of people appreciate how much goes into getting the boat foiling."
But he fights for his corner as well - "I'd describe like this: the sails won't be important, as long as they're right!"