Mackay Boats - towards world domination

2008 Olympic Regatta - Day 3 - 470 Men - Race 1 Page and Wilmot (AUS)
Part 2 of the story on New Zealand boatbuilder Mackay Boats, who are the builder of choice in the 470 mens and Womens class and with 50% of the fleet in the 49er class.

Mackay’s factory consists of eight fulltime staff. They build 30 to 40 49ers – a year, and the company is also the builder for the 29er, which after an initial burst of interest, stalled in New Zealand. However David Mackay, himself a former ISAF Youth World Champion, expects this to pick up.

'We are hoping for a resurgence of interest in New Zealand as there are a bunch of young kids coming through who just want to do 49ers,' he explains. 'And that hasn’t happened before 2000', he adds.

Given that the 49er is very tightly restricted class, we asked how there can be any differentiation between builders. Mackay agrees 'With the 49er, it is very hard because the class is so heavily restricted, and they are all the same shape because they all come from a common master plug. So you can’t have a better shape, or a boat that is built differently from the other builder. They only thing you can do is your best in terms of the quality of your workmanship and attention to detail. Having said that we share the 40er market 50/50 with Ovington.

Mackay Boats started as a builder of 470’s and other racing dinghies, before moving into the 49er market as well, when the Julian Bethwaite design was accepted as an Olympic class in 1997.

The background in 470 construction provided a limited base on which to launch the 49er building program. 'There was some commonality, but the two classes have a totally different method of construction. Certainly we applied what we had learnt about presentation and attention to detail. The 49er is a $20,000 boat, for that sort of money you would expect to have something that was very good!'

'So we stayed with that approach – everything has to be spot on,' Mackay adds.

'In terms of construction, it wasn’t new technology to us. We had plenty of experience with other classes building foam boats. The 470 is a single skin polyester laminate, where the 49er is a double skinned epoxy laminate. '

After the Qingdao Olympics, Mackay doesn’t expect there to be too much of a fall-off in demand for new boats. 'It’s generally not too bad. After the Sydney Olympics you wouldn’t have known there was an off year. Everyone just marched straight into their next campaign. After Athens, it was quiet for six months and then it was straight into it again. The quiet part of the cycle, is very short.'

Testing programs are legend in many of the Olympic classes, with coaches and sailors working through whole batches of supposedly one-design, single source equipment, hand picking the best items, and being surprised at the variance.

'Most countries and sailors have done a lot of testing, certainly in the 49er and the upshot of that is that there are really two builders . Some have difficulty chosing between one and the other, and they wouldn’t be upset if they had to sail the 'wrong' boat, if I can put it that way', says Mackay. 'It is pretty hard to pick the difference.'

'In the 470, the differences are very obvious. It is more in the way the boats feel to sail. When you change boats, each builder feels different in the way it sails through the water. I think that is a function of shape and weight distribution.

Mackay Boats hull shape has not really changed since the development done by the previous builder, Steve Marten, who was also a talented small boat designer.

The changes to the hull shape are the standard items – narrow waterlines, straight waterlines, and flattened rocker. Sounds simple enough, but optimising and checking the design development while remaining within tolerances, requires a mix of design and building skills.

Once the sweet spot is found, and the hull optimised, there is not a lot that can be done to improve.

'We have tweaked the shape a little, by pushing the gunnels out to maximum beam – which gave us 20mm each side – which when you work out the mechanical advantage, it is significant, and you get a few kilos extra. We did also push the waterline out to the maximum by pushing the waterline out at the bow and maximising the rule'.

Mackay believes the significant gains in the 470 are made in the weight distribution and stiffness. 'It is too easy to build them heavy in the bow, and that’s when 470’s are slow,' he adds.

Ordering a boat from Mackay’s is a refined process. 'Fitting placement is a big issue in the 470’s', explains Dave Mackay.

'In the 49er it is all strict one design. But in the 470, every single sailor has a different layout. They all want the cleats in a different place or a different amount of purchase on their systems. However we are organised for that and a lost of options. It is a tick box process, supplemented by photos of any special requirements, so we can interpret that pretty easily.

'Sometimes misunderstandings arise, but generally it is something that they can easily fix themselves. The biggest problem is when the colour is wrong!'

Target weight for both classes are supposed to be 1-2 kg underweight. In the classes rules, the amount of corrector weight is restricted, and these are built in during the building process,

The 49er’s and 470’s leave the Mackay factory full fitted and roped. 'Some order foils to go with the boat, and we have developed our own foils that are very competitive with others on the market,' Mackay adds.

'People supply their own spars, because many of the top sparmakers are in Europe, and from a practical point of view the 470 spars won’t fit into a 20ft container.'

In the 49er class it is different and boats leave Mackay’s fully fitted with spars, foils and sails.

Mackay says the 470 class is becoming more one design by default. 'Most of the spars come from one source in Europe, the sails from another source in Japan, and the hulls from us in New Zealand'

'At the 2008 Olympics there are 29 boats in the Mens 470 fleet of which five are not ours, and in the Womens 470 fleet there are 19 boats of which six are not ours', remarks Mackay.

When the medals are handed out in a few days time at the 2008 Olympics there will be an even more impressive set of statistics. But with bum,numbers like that in a class where people have a free choice of boatbuilder that is as close as you will get to world domination.