The ballot for rule modifications is the current order of business for all of Footy owners. I would like to add some comments for your consideration as you ponder your choices. I encourage all of you to think seriously about the direction that you want the class to go. I know that it is very easy to discount your opinion when others seem so passionate about theirs, but your voice should be heard!
Okay, many of you who read this forum know that I advocate omitting the AA battery designation from the rules. Why, because the stated objectives of the adoption of this type of battery alone doesn’t make much sense and hinders the performance of our already tender boats.
One reason the AA battery is required for Footy use is that the it is supposed to level the playing field among builders of different skills by imposing heavy batteries to be carried as internal ballast. More skilled craftsmen still have to design around this ballast which should mean that they can’t build really lightweight boats that lesser craftsman may never approach, thereby discouraging participation. Makes sense, right?
Well, not really. First, if you have been following race results or read Flavio’s excellent design analysis then you’ve probably already figured out that very lightweight boats have a narrow range of conditions in which they perform consistently. For those of you that are familiar with the M Class ask yourself why M’s weigh in between between 9 - 12 pounds displacement when the technology exists to produce a 7 pound boat with similar righting moment? The answer is that the effective weight range to allow M’s to perform across a spectrum of conditions has been determined over years of experience with the class. Now, we don’t have years of experience in Footies, but all indicators are pointing to a similar effect to that in the M Class. The effective weight range for Footies seems to be between 400 grams to 550 grams, which is achievable by everyone (even though raw newbies may need a couple of boats under their belt to get there).
So, how do we improve Footies further? Remove the AA battery designation from the rule. Use lighter weight batteries and put the 50 or so grams saved in the lead bulb where it will do some good. Or use the 50 or so grams saved to bring down the total displacement if you’ve built too robustly. If you want you can still sail with AA cells, you just wouldn’t be required to.
I had a conversation a while ago with a Footy sailor who also sails a Victoria. We got around to the battery rule and he said that the AA requirement was a “design challenge”. I responded by asking him if he would consider powering his Victoria with “D” cells. He seemed taken aback by the suggestion, “…that would kill its performance…”. Why then is it a good idea to put over size, heavy weight batteries in a Footy when it seems ludicrous to do so in a Victoria? No other class specifies what type of battery to use, why should we?
Ah, but all AA batteries are not created equal. Four Lithium Energizer AAs in a battery holder weigh in around 74 grams as opposed to 120 grams for my NiMh AA battery pack. They output 1.5 volts per cell rather than 1.2 volts for alkaline, NiMH or NiCad cells. Lithium Energizers have become the standard equipment at regattas.
True, but they are not rechargable. Making Lithium AA batteries the de-facto choice for competition is bad for the class. This development discourages environmental conscientiousness by initiating, and encouraging universally, the adoption of throw away batteries. Rechargable batteries will last several seasons not just several heats. New rechargable battery packs can last upwards of 200 cycles. If one were to race 30 days out of the season theoretically the battery pack would last over 6 years. Practically, rechargables start to lose capacity after a few seasons. I recycle mine every four years or so. Rechargable battery packs cost about the same as 4 Lithium Energizers. Rechargables are the direction we should be taking the class, particularly if you want to attract today’s environmentally aware young people to the class.
There are a lot of batteries out there and competition among cell phones, blackberries, laptops, and such are driving rapid development which makes new cells available and pushes prices down. If Footies are to improve their performance we should be poised to take advantage of the new technologies as they become available.
Omitting the AA battery designation is the right change to the rules for the future health of the Footy class. I encourage all of you to vote to change rule C.2, to remove the battery designation from the rule.