An Interview with Dave Fladlien

Picture of Dave Fladlien July 14, 2014 we are talking with Dave Fladlien, one of the founders of, and one of the key developers of the proposed major revision to the Universal Rule of Measurement for Class M.

Dave, as briefly as possible, what is the proposed New Universal Rule of Measurement?

Dave Fladlien: the New Universal Rule of Measurement is a major re-write of the Universal Rule of Measurement for Class M, with the goal of developing a new class of M-boats which remain basically traditional-looking boats with traditional sailing qualities such as good driving power to windward, but which do so using -- to the greatest extent possible -- modern construction and even design developments. Always though the effort is to use the new design concepts and construction techniques to make a better M-boat, not to make a boat that looks dramatically different above the water or which has dramatically different sailing characteristics. so is the goal to make a strictly racing boat or a cruising boat or a hybrid?

Dave Fladlien: I guess you could call it a hybrid in a way. Certainly the new M-Class will be traditional racing boats in proportion and basic kind of hull form, much as the modern J-Class is. But also like the modern J-Class, the boats feature a nice interior, though of course we are considerably more restricted by space availability. While not lavish, the interiors should be such that the boats will be fun for coastal or short-term cruising as well. We've put in a number of features to ensure this, including requiring minimum interior accommodations, requiring a separate owners cabin, requiring that the main engine not be adjacent to the owner's cabin, etc. And we have also given back a little racing performance by specifying not only a propeller but a feathering 3-blade propeller, which with the appropriate engine will give very good performance under power, with smooth operation. So these boats should defintely be great boats for traditional racing, but also for a weekend or short week-long cruises with some friends. for those who are not familiar with the M-Class, and haven't read the rule, can you give us a quick idea of what the boats are like in terms of size?

Dave Fladlien: sure. This is a design development class, so all of this will vary from one design to another, but very approximately a new M-Boat would be about 85 feet long overall, with about a 54.5 feet waterline, 14 or 14.5 feet beam, and a draft a little over 11 feet. They'll have a mast about 104 feet above the deck and carry a little over 3000 square feet of sail. They'll weigh about 95,000 lbs. you say this is a design development class. By this can we assume you mean there will be design competition as opposed to a rule like the J's have where only old designs can be built?

Dave Fladlien: correct. We want a class where design competition is part of the game, but where the original Universal Rule was very open in the forms it permitted -- though most were slow -- in this proposed new version, we've put a very large number of restrictions on the design. We want the design competition to be fun, and a key part of the game, but we want to avoid the situation where one boat far outperforms the others and hurts the class thereby. And I can tell you that, after all the years I have spent as a designer developing a design myself, it is really hard after a while to make much progress from one design to the next. We started off a ways off of optimum -- we got some real surprises at first as to what was fast and what wasn't -- but after a while we hit the point at which it is really very hard to go forward. Thankfully we have made more progress, important progress, but it has taken a long time and a lot of work. I think in any given competition the boats will be very close, and I think they will have very long competitive life. Further, with almost all the design advances being very small once a designer has discovered a good general form, it should not be too hard to alter older boats to keep them competitive with newer designs.

Many of the design advances are not across the board, either, rather they will help in one wind speed but hurt in another. It is not all trade-offs, as I said we have gone forward, but quite often it is trade-offs. And when we have found ways to make a big advance in one condition, the boat has been prohibitively slow in another. We have a boat that is a couple seconds per mile faster than our best "all-around" boat in strong wind -- more than 3 seconds faster in very strong wind -- but it's hopelessly out-classed in light wind. So even where the rule premits some fairly dramatic changes in shape or parameter values, I don't think it too likely that boats will be built on that basis, because they just can't compete across a range of conditions. And that is what we anticipate for racing: racing across a range of conditions. Did you write all of this proposal yourself?

Dave Fladlien: No. We inherited the basic rule. That basic measurement concept hasn't changed much except for I think one element of the displacement limit. And we did increase the maximum Quarter Beam Length to permit a broader stern for better downwind handling. The original Universal Rule boats could be kind of a project to sail downwind. But mostly we have added to the rule, added restrictions and penalties, so that we'd keep the boats pretty traditional, and we'd have a high probability of close racing. I wrote the changes to the hull rules, and also the sail plan and rig. I asked one of our key consultants, John Robinson, for his input on keel restrictions, and he wrote such a good and complete set of concepts that I basically almost just copied them as he wrote them. John did the body of the work on the engine and propeller too. One of our team members here at, Cyndel Podich, got interested in the interior arrangements and so a lot of the requirements were influenced by suggestions she made and concepts she developed for the interiors. the new Rule contains aluminum scantlings. How did those come about and is that the only construction method you intend?

Dave Fladlien: I wrote the initial scantlings in wood over steel frames, which is how the present 2 M-boats that remain were built, but those initial scantlings left me with a lot of questions and also good wood is really hard to come by now as you know. I'm pretty comfortable with aluminum construction, provided enough attention is put into making sure that the boat has small enough panels forward so that it isn't prone to denting if sailed hard to windward in a seaway, and providing enough effort is put into making the boat rigid enough so that tension on the backstays results in tension on the headstay, not just in bending the boat. That happened to some other designers in the IOR days, for instance. So I started over and put together a set of aluminum scantlings and again asked John Robinson to review them and make sure that I hadn't made any errors or oversights, which he did. In fact John wrote a very nice report on his analysis of our scantlings, which I have. So that is how the scantlings in the rule today got there.

As for other construction methods, I have no problem with them conceptually at all. In fact a very fine designer from Australia -- a designer whose 12-Metre work I have admired for a long time -- wrote and asked me how I felt about fibreglass. I have no problem with someone wanting to do a fibreglass boat, but I definitely want the weight and weight distribution to be the same as in the equivalent aluminum boat built to these scantlings. And I want, from the beginning, a way to verify that. Hopefully these boats are going to be used for serious but friendly racing, not super-intense win-at-any-cost competition, but it is a fact that there were some very bad feelings in the America's Cup over questions about a fibreglass 12-Metre, and I really don't want anything like that to happen to the new M-Class. I would still like to do wood over metal frames as well as the aluminum option too, I think many traditional boat lovers would prefer that, but again it is a matter of time to do it and to do it well enough to ensure that there is no weight or weight-distribution advantage to one material over another. But if I had everything turn out the way I would like, a modern M-boat could be built of all aluminum, of fiberglass, or of wood over metal frames. So is it correct that you are not intending these new M-boats for cutting edge racing?

Dave Fladlien: Definitely correct. For one thing, I don't think most people who want to do cutting edge racing are going to want to do it in an old, fairly heavy, traditional kind of boat. They seem mostly to want to go fast, very fast, and usually downwind. But there is a real joy to a boat with good driving power going to windward in a rolling chop, and I think these boats will really epitomize that to the extent that a boat this size can. Also, we have the interiors in the boats. Realistically it isn't very easy to get a bunch of boats to the starting line, as anyone knows who has tried to do it, so if the boat is going to be worth its cost to the owner, it had better have other uses too besides just racing. Our view is that it should be a nice boat for short cruises. Other classes have members who charter their boats during the "off season". That is certainly possible, the M-boat Simba, at that time called Formidable, was a very good charter boat in the Eastern Caribbean as I have heard it, so it can be done, but that wasn't the thought we were working on.

What we envision is serious but friendly racing. I hope that after the race, all the people involved in these boats will head for the evening's dinner party, not just back to the war room to spend the whole night plotting strategy. Some of that is fine, but I think it can go too far and I really hope that these boats will be used for serious but fun, friendly racing. your section in the website that tells about sailing on Pursuit mentions hydraulic winches. Do you envision using things like hydraulic winches, jib furlers, and so on?

Dave Fladlien: Some of them. I definitely like the idea of hydraulic winches, for instance, but I'm not really sure how practical they will be in this size of boat at the point in time where people decide to build them. It can be done, of course, but clearly there is a limit to the amount of "stuff" we can put above the keel and worse, in some cases above the waterline, and still be able to get the boats to perform properly, but I think it is already practical and I do want to do it. The drawings on this new version of assume that a large generator will be needed to power electrical devices and pumps for hydraulic devices, but we haven't worked through all the details yet. I'm very committed to working to develop a good hull and keel design which I definitely want someone to build, and that takes up a lot of time. And getting one or two M-boats built to my design is something I definitely want to do.

But as I said, I want some of these modern methods and gadgets. Frankly I'm not a fan of jib furling on a racing boat, even though I actually started sailing with one as a youngster just old enough to crew on my Dad's Flying Dutchman. Furlers weren't in general use then, but he wanted to be able to get the jib out of the way quickly on the start of a downwind leg, and also not have the crew weight forward, so -- being very gifted at equipment design -- he developed a jib furler. We used it for the rest of the time he raced in that class, and I should say that it worked pretty well, but that was not on a type of boat where one was likely to change jibs very much. We pretty much sailed with a rule-maximum size jib all the time. To me no one has yet beaten some form of hanks for attaching a jib to a headstay, where the headstay provides the luff tension for the sail. There are newer forms of hanks of course and I think that is a very good thing, but I want a system where you lower the jib and it comes down on deck, not over the side the boat. It may be that there is some way that the two ideas are compatible. I'm going by photos when I say this, but I think the J-boat Lionheart started off with a jib furler, but I don't think they are using it racing, so maybe they have found a practical way to change back and forth. If you have several good professionals in your crew, which I definitely think an M-boat needs -- then those folks would probably not have a great deal of difficulty changing from headstay to a groove device for cruising use, and -- while the sails would not be able to make the change -- no one I know wants to use superb modern sails for their cruising anyhow so they'd have a different set of sails. You have mentioned several people on the website and also in the measurement rule, but for those who'd like to know more about the team, who is the team?

Dave Fladlien: Good question. This is pretty much a volunteer operation, though we have been able to pay for some very important consulting work, and also of course to pay for software and other things for the M-boats I'm designing, but those items come out of the Fladlien & Associates budget, they aren't part of Fladlien & Associates is a separate operation. The team at has changed a little, but basically there is me, of course, and Cyndel, who not only does the art for things like -- she's a professional artist who does both fine art and graphical design. Cyndel has made a number of contributions to our thinking on interiors too and she's been out on Pursuit several times so she has a good sense for the proportions of the boat. We're trying to fit a lot into a narrow environment and it takes some creative thinking. Lisa works on all aspects of software for us, which is a pretty vital contribution in today's world, not just for web sites but for keeping my work systems running too -- the basic IT function. She serves as a kind of IT Manager for Fladlien & Associates, which is a totally independent operation, but which itself contributes a lot to in the form of the designs that appear on this site, and also in the "designer's work" on parts of the measurement rule.

John Robinson has done a lot of consulting for us, and I really want to continue that. John has been very helpful on design parameters for the M-boat design work we're doing, and also on the rule. He played a very large role in the keel part of the rule, and also a provided a very important function in reviewing the aluminum construction scantlings. It is very important to have someone really knowledgeable review your work on things like those, and John has done a wonderful job on all of those things.

I'd really like to involve another person in fiberglass construction specification. For instance, I mentioned a fellow who's 12-Metre work I admired, and who asked about fiberglass scantlings. I wish I could interest him in working out fiberglass scantlings for the M Class.

There are other people who have helped a lot too in their specialties, like the folks at the Rosenfeld Collection at Mystic Seaport. It is remarkable how big a contribution one thing can be. And, prior to his death, my dad made some contributions to this project in the very important way of making sure we had the working capital we need, and of reviewing some of my presentation materials. And Dan Spradling and Ron MacAnnan have certainly contributed by arranging for us to sail on Ron's M-boat, Pursuit. We not only have had some fun sailing, but as a result, we aren't just extrapolating about what one of these boats is like from other, and not especially similar, experiences. We've sailed an M-boat. And they are different from today's beamy, shallow, very broad-sterned ocean racers.

Finally, I would like to get someone really working on marketing and promotion. We just aren't getting to that the way we need to. We are trying very hard to make a really good class of boats, I'm working very hard to develop a good new design too, especially the hull form, and everyone I'm working with has their own careers or their own businesses to run too. So we aren't getting the promotional work done that we'll need to do to reach the right people. One person inquired about the new M-Class and suggested that I do an interview for a publication he is involved with, and I thought that was a wonderful idea, but unfortunately I think he was mostly interested in restorations so that hasn't led anywhere, at least not so far, though it did give me the idea to put together this interview for Dave, what do you think is the likelyhood that this class will make a comeback the way you and your associates are trying for?

Dave Fladlien: the answer might surprise you. There are two parts to it: just on the face of it, the odds of any big new venture working out are never all that good, and this one probably has a lower chance because it is a sporting thing, not a potential big money-making thing. And it requires a fairly special kind of people.

But that leads to part 2: it doesn't take a world full of customers to make it work. It just takes a very few people with a vision of what great racing and cruising in some wonderful modernized traditional type boats could be, and with the determination to go ahead and do it. Just a handful of people. And that really is the challenge of for marketing: those people are probably out there somewhere; we just have to find them, and reach them with this proposal when we do. That's the big "reaching people" challenge facing us here.