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Aussie composites technology steers America’s Cup win

Jim Spithill at the helm

Australian skipper Jim Spithill steers Oracle Team USA to victory in the final race of the 34th America’s Cup. © ORACLE TEAM USA / Photo: Guilain GRENIER

When Australian Jim Spithill steered Oracle Team USA across the line to win the coveted America’s Cup in September, in his hands was a piece of Australian carbon fibre technology.

Sydney boat builders and composite components specialists McConaghy Boats Australia plucked the brilliant red carbon fibre wheel from their stock after an email from Oracle Team USA in early December 2012.

After some modifications to meet the required specifications, the wheel and associated steering mechanisms were delivered to the Cup defenders.

Like the largely Australian crew, the Aussie designed components were critical to the fine control, and therefore the performance, of the massive, predominantly carbon fibre 72ft (21.9m) catamaran as it powered through the testing course at unprecedented speeds to win the Cup 9-8 over Team New Zealand after a stunning comeback from 8-1 down.

The involvement in the winning yacht, and the subsequent announcement that Australia would be the challenger of record for the next America’s Cup, delivered a much-needed fillip for the McConaghy team. Like the rest of the global marine industry, the company has weathered some tough years in the fall-out of the GFC.

Excitement building for Aussie challenge

While the dates, types of boat, format and rules for the next Cup series are to be determined, excitement is already building in the Australian yachting community.

“The design and rules won’t be known until early 2014. There will be some restrictions but the organisers typically would allow technological breakthrough.”“It would be a great challenge to unite behind. There are enough skills in Australia – the sailors, the ship building technology – to have a good go at it,” says McConaghy Boats project manager Eric Desjardins.

Aerospace collaboration advances design, construction

The company’s involvement in the America’s Cup goes back to 1991 with the construction of Australia’s two challengers for the cup, Syd Fischer’s ‘Challenge Australia’ and the ‘Spirit of Australia’ for Iain Murray. Working hand-in-hand with Ford Aerospace, McConaghy researched, developed and produced all the componentry (mast, rudder, keel, wheels, pedestals, etc) for these yachts.

“This led to massive advancements in the design, construction methods and materials providing the foundation for the company’s world-wide reputation for our ability to produce lightweight, custom components,” says Desjardins.

“Since then, McConaghy has had extensive involvement in the building of every Australian challenger to the America’s Cup, as well as producing high-tech componentry for other countries challenging for the Cup.”

The company’s market extends beyond high performance yachts and yachting componentry. A current project is the supply of custom built GRP components for the Australian Navy’s Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyer project underway in Adelaide.

The company continues to push boundaries and innovate, drawing on a network of Australian marine engineering expertise to engineer and produce carbon fibre or GRP prototypes to ensure the design of its composite parts, especially highly loaded parts, are absolutely correct. “We are very conscious that crews are out there on the water relying on our parts for their safety in conditions which can be very tough,” says Desjardins.


McConaghy Boats Australia