Il Moro di Venezia's new carbon-fiber sails might be a "breakthrough" development in the ongoing search for speed, according to one of the world's leading sailmakers.
"Maybe half a tenth of a knot, but that's a huge amount," said Dave Ullman from his headquarters in Newport Beach. "You sail for 2 1/2 hours, half a tenth of a nautical mile per hour is a lot. That's a breakthrough."
That much of an edge would amount to about 300 yards over the 20-mile America's Cup course, assuming the sails were used for the entire race--and, the Italians say they have an exclusive for the duration of this Cup.
"(Carbon-fiber) won't work any better than Kevlar," Ullman added. "It'll just be lighter, probably about 25%."
The object, he meant, is to reduce weight, especially aloft.
"It helps you more upwind, but downwind, too," Ullman said. "It's all (in the boat) pitching."
In introducing the technology to the Cup in Thursday's 7-minute 48-second victory over Spirit of Australia, the Italians used only a carbon-fiber headsail and only on the last upwind leg, holding another carbon-fiber headsail in reserve.
They also are developing a carbon-fiber mainsail. They call them "experimental sails."
Ullman said they probably won't have a carbon-fiber spinnaker, which would be too inflexible to be practical.
"It would be hard to store on board," Ullman said.
The Italians said they had tested the sails since Jan. 27, sometimes departing at 4 a.m. and going far offshore. The sails are conspicuous for their geometrically angled panels in shades of gray to black.
If it made any difference against Spirit of Australia Thursday, nobody could tell. Using standard headsails, Il Moro gained 1:06 and 1:33 on the first two upwind legs, then 1:10 with a carbon-fiber headsail on the last upwind leg.
"They'll know whether it's good or bad," Ullman said. "You won't know."
And once the Italians have tested all of their carbon-fiber sails, "you probably won't see the sails again this round," Ullman said. "They'll get their information and put 'em away."
Il Moro's sponsor, the Montedison industrial conglomorate, developed the fabric, and they were laminated with other materials by North Sails, which agreed not to do it for anyone else until after the Cup.
Others might be able to make some of their own, but the Italians figure it's too late for them to develop the process in time to use them in this competition.
"To put the sail together is no problem," Ullman said. "To get the material . . . I don't know of anybody currently working on it in this country. If we had the material, we could put a sail together in a week.
"A number of years ago we had some carbon material and looked at it for viability and never made anything out of it. It wasn't flexible enough then."
Ullman hasn't seen the Il Moro sails but guessed they were "probably a combination of polyester, Kevlar and Mylar and carbon, (with) carbon used in the high-load areas. There wouldn't be any reason to use carbon in low-load areas. It would be expensive and not flexible."
Expense doesn't worry some of the teams.
"Money is not a factor in any of this," Ullman said. "All of this stuff is out of the reach of mere mortals."