A Comparison – Alinghi and BMW Oracle America’s Cup multihull racing yachts.

July 22, 2009 by john
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These two yachts – the Alinghi Catamaran and the BMW Oracle Trimaran – represent the pinnacle of contemporary multi hull design and the teams will continue development until the first race. So, how do the yachts compare?

Pictured is the Alinghi catamaran on sea trials, courtesy of

Essentially, the BMW ORACLE and Alinghi yacht design and racing teams are simply attempting to make the fastest inshore racing yacht possible, as around the cans, with almost no class or design restrictions in hindrance.

It is very interesting that the teams have come up with completely different designs – one a catamaran and the other a trimaran – apart from some notable similarities such as the wave piercing bow, pivot masts and potentially fixed wing sails / masts. Perhaps this divergence in yacht design reflects the difference in the team attitudes, culture and indeed in the actual billionaire team owners – the Italian ernesto bertarelli and the American Larry Ellison.

So, what does the multihull yacht designing fraternity think about the divergent designs? How do they compare so far? Will the catamarans have the legs in heavy breeze, or will the trimaran flourish in light wind? Who will win the 33rd America’s Cup on the water?

There is a very interesting professional view on how a catamaran will fear when compared against a trimaran by Marc Lombard. Marc Lombard is a naval architect who was responsible for a number of well known racing designs, such as the Figaro Bénéteau, as well as many innovative monohull yachts for competitors in round the world and trans-Atlantic races. A true multihull designer Marc Lombard has a reputation for innovation. He is the inventor of the curved foil, having first fitted these to the trimaran Banque Populaire 2 in 1999. A real revolutionary concept, the use of such foils has now been adopted by almost all the large trimarans that race around the world for record attempts.

Marc Lombard comments on the BMW ORACLE Trimaran:

“The yacht will certainly lift the central pod as of 10kts true, which will make it certainly a quick yacht in little wind, but risks making it extremely sensitive when powered up in instable winds. Anyway, an “America Cup” crew should be capable of managing these conditions. ”

…and: “In 20 of knots wind it’s clear that the yacht, with its minimal freeboard, will not be easy to manage efficiently.”

…and in summary: “My first impression was that of a total lack of imagination, the project, as I expected is nothing other than a super Orma. Taking over our curved foils and the pivoting mast… that’s already on all the Orma trimarans. This project does not hold any surprise, except for the accumulation of extreme factors.”

Read more here:

There is another very interesting comparison and opinion reported about the Alinghi and BMW Team Oracle yacht designs by Nigel Irens. Nigel Irens is one of the world’s most renowned multihull designers. He was responsible for the design of several record breaking trimarans such as, Ellen MacArthur’s B&Q-Castorama, Thomas Colville’s Sodeb’O and Francis Joyon’s solo Round the World record holder IDEC. More recently, Nigel was a actually a consultant to the Alinghi design team.

Nigel Irens comments about the yachts:

“One aspect I find very interesting is that we are absolutely not privy to what the Oracle boat weighs and, if we find the boats are quite similar in weight, then I believe we will find they are quite similar in speed and that, contrary to first speculation some time ago, there might be much more of a race here than we thought”

…and about wind conditions:

“I think that if one boat has an advantage in a certain condition that could be easily overruled by better tactical choices and you’d be into a close race; I don’t think it would be a completely determinant factor, just another of many”


“I think Alinghi will be scratching their heads, at the moment, because they haven’t sailed the boat. When they do, they may say “Jesus, we need really low wind.” on the other hand they may say “This can cope with a lot more wind than we expected.””

…and about the very fine wave piercing bows:

“The layman’s view is that you must have lots of buoyancy to stop the boat capsizing forward, but to have that buoyancy you have to make the waterline a bit blunt and the result is that you get more drag than you get lift, so you actually cause the boat to trip over”

Read the opinion here:

The result of these two Americas Cup teams and billionaires strutting their stuff in this way is actually going to be beneficial to multihull design, despite the obvious negative impact on the sport coming from departing from the monohull multi team class racing in New Zealand and Valencia that has been so exciting and included other top teams like team New Zealand.

Yes, just as the monohull Americas Cup designers impact and lead the development and innovation on all sailing yacht design, these multihulls are doing the same for catamarans and trimarans – even if they are merely providing a practical test bed for already invented and conceived ideas.

I for one will be extremely interested in the final designs and will follow the racing closely – while unfair to the other teams, it will be more interesting than court proceedings.

Americas Cup yacht racing is always fascinating and it would seem that this event, the 33rd America’s Cup, is no different.

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