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America's Cup- 'We will keep learning, even in the Match' - Simmer

by Richard Gladwell on 5 Apr 2013
Oracle Team USA training in their modified AC72 off San Francisco. COO Grant Simmer says they will keep the development and learning running right through the Match itself. Guilain Grenier Oracle Team USA © http://www.oracleteamusamedia.com/

Part 2 of the interview with Oracle Team USA's COO, Grant Simmer, a mechanical engineer, whose experience spans nine America's Cup campaigns, including three wins in 1983, 2003 and 2007.

The story so far, is that while Oracle have suffered their setbacks, Simmer is of the view that they are well positioned to successfully defend in September. But as with all America's Cup campaigns, time is the one commodity whih is limited and can't be bought.

That was true in his first America's Cup campaign in 1983 as the 26-year-old navigator of Australia II. And even more so in his previous gig as design team co-ordinator for the 120ft giant catamaran Alinghi 5, which lost the 33rd America's Cup Match, to Oracle Racing's 120ft wingsailed trimaran.

Simmer picks up the story, revealing that the launch date for Oracle Team USA’s second AC72 will be prior to the end of April, and elaborates on the program through to the end of the America's Cup Match.

'It will take a while to commission the new boat, then we will have two boats capable of lining up against each other. There will be some one-boat sailing, particularly with the new boat, and there will be days when we take both boats out and we will be able to test certain configurations.

'This Cup is not like in Version 5 monohull boats, used in the 2007 America’s Cup in Valencia. We are looking for big developments. There will be no argument to stop the development of our Boat 2. We are trying to make that boat the best boat possible.

'It has been evolving during its construction process, and I think it will continue to evolve, with appendages and various other changes and new equipment as we head towards the Match.

'I think we will keep learning even in the America’s Cup Match.

'We are set up to be open and able to discuss what’s happening on the water, the mistakes and what you the other competitors doing. If you can keep doing that to the very end, then you’ll keep getting stronger and stronger.'

[Sorry, this content could not be displayed]Simmer points out that it is difficult to do one boat testing because it is a fraught exercise trying to accurately determine windspeed because of the variation in wind profile above the water.

'That is why historically people go through the expensive two boat testing process,' he says.

Simmer believes that the big speed differences between boats will make two boat testing less important. For Oracle Team USA, the main purpose of the two-boat sailing is to help get the racing crew ready for the Match.

'We don’t get to sail against all the other Challengers throughout the Louis Vuitton Cup. So that is a disadvantage for the Defender and we have to try to mitigate that,' he explains.

The Challengers are expected to run single boats only in San Francisco. Logistics are cited as being a significant barrier to launching and retrieving two AC72 catamarans a day.

Simmer is confident that Oracle Team USA can get the job done with one shore crew and a single crane.

'It takes us 45 minutes to launch. We don’t have to pull the boats out each night. They are reasonably well behaved on moorings. The logistics of dealing with two boats in a single day is still a big task. We are going to ease ourselves into it and see how it goes.

Performance comparison difficult

Right now the conundrum facing the four teams is how make accurate comparisons between two groups 8000nm apart, in San Francisco and Auckland, sailing in high performance AC72’s.

[Sorry, this content could not be displayed]'Emirates Team NZ seem to have a hotwire to us,' says Simmer. 'Every time we go to leave the dock, they are here. Rod Davis has been here for a couple of weeks. There have been various people with him on the chase boat. They use a Laser (speed tracker) to measure our performance.

'They have our track and speed, but wouldn’t know the windspeed and direction accurately. I expect they would know our tacking and gybing angles.'

Simmer says they have a similar set up in New Zealand used on Emirates Team NZ and Luna Rossa.

Having all that data is one thing, but making sense of it is another. 'You make what you can out of the data. You can get the speed quite accurately, but you don’t get the true wind angle that accurately.'

Being able to eyeball your competitors, as well as measure performance, is vital.

'I think it is good to have well-informed observers. Right now there is a lot of effort by Emirates Team NZ and us on gybing. Can you make it through the gybe on foils and come out the other side still foiling? Those techniques are being developed by the teams and it is good to watch your opponent. You’d be nuts if you ignored what you opponents are doing.'

Computer grunt no substitute
While the increase in computer power, together with improved performance prediction software, the process of has made performance analysis more accurate and extensive. Simmer is unconvinced that the computer has taken the place of the second boat on the water – particularly in the AC72.

'It is pretty complicated now with foiling,' he explains. 'We have added a dimension to the way the boat sails, and accurately predicting how the boat is going to fly, is not at the level of a 747 flight simulator.

'I can imagine that could be the situation in the future. But we are certainly not there at the moment. We need to get on the water to learn some of this stuff. We have put a lot of effort into the tools, and developing the tools, and trying to predict the effect of changes.

'The other thing you do is you nudge your predictions based on your sailing performance. In other words, you are constantly adapting your projections to more closely match the sailing performance. That is a way of getting more confidence in your tools.

'But we are not all the way there yet with our tools and predicting performance,' Simmer believes.

One big difference in the 33rd and 34th America’s Cups, both sailed in multihulls, has been the shift in team makeup as the sailing teams reduce in size, only to be replaced with an increase in shore crew numbers – be it in the design office, engineering, building teams, sail and spar makers.

'It has become a bit of a boat building fest,' says Simmer.

'The One on One Match - the 2010 America’s Cup between Oracle and Alinghi 5 - that really was a boatbuilding fest.

'Because we are in a brand new class of boat with the AC72, performance development is more important than the actual match racing skills of the sailors, particularly at this stage in the project.

'Our sailors are much more involved in the development of the boat than they are thinking about actual match racing techniques – like we used to focus on in the Version 5 boats.

'Part and parcel about the big focus on development is design performance prediction – having the right tools to be able to predict your performance. And then of course, execution – trying to be able to build stuff that is highly loaded.

'Obviously there is a lot of carbon involved, and you are trying to build that as fast as you can, so that the time between design and testing is minimized.'

There are three key groups in the design and build process - being the geometry designers, the boatbuilders and the engineering staff.

'The engineers have to figure out with the boatbuilders how we are going to make the part in the most efficient way possible. That will typically be a tradeoff between weight, stiffness and build time,' says Simmer.

'The engineers play a really key role and have to have a good relationship with the boatbuilders in sorting out how you are going to build each of these pieces. It is a moving landscape in determining what the best way is, particularly in building daggerboards.

'In my experience with Alinghi 5 we had a bunch of disasters building boards, and here we have sorted it out well. Having the machines to mill the parts accurately during the process is key and is far better than anything I have seen in the past, that is for sure.

Boffin Boats
Have the AC72’s become Boffin Boats?

Simmer savors the phrase, and chuckles. 'You’ll have to ask Jimmy (Spithill), if he thinks that. He is hanging onto the thing, and at times it is a pretty wild ride.

'I really enjoy watching the relationship between the sailors and the designers.

'The risk is that the technocrats could get out of control. It is something we are managing OK here. But there is always a risk that they will design and build something that you can’t use.'

Looking to the next generation of America’s Cup sailors, designers and engineers, Simmer, is greatly encouraged by what he is seeing in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup trials. 'We are seeing some incredible talent. They are able to sail the AC45’s at a really high level quickly. I think the AC45 is a great development for the Cup.'

For a young aspiring America’s Cup sailor, Simmer waves them in the direction of the non-Olympic development classes.

'You watch people who come out of development classes they are great at sorting out boats. Look at people like Nathan Outteridge and Jimmy Spithill who have been sailing Moths and A-class catamarans.

'In the day, when the 18-footer was a completely open class the guys who were figuring out their own boats – dealing with balance issues, different sail areas and combinations, they really learned a lot quickly. I think development classes still have a role.

'The game we are playing with the AC72’s, it is all about development.'

One thing that hasn’t changed in Grant Simmer’s 30 years of America’s Cup campaigning, is time management.

'Time is the one resource that you can’t overcome if you run out of it', he explains.

'There will always be projects that you haven’t quite finished. Deciding and prioritizing the various projects that we have running, is an important part of my role and a few of the guys here - deciding where we put our resources.

'Ultimately the America’s Cup game is limited by time. That was true in 1983 and still is today.'

'These campaigns are largely about people and the ability to work together and the ability to really use the resources that you have. The two most important ones are people and time.'

© This story is copyright to Richard Gladwell and Sail-World.com, it may not be republished in part or in full without permission





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