Nick Holroyd (Design Co-ordinator) and Grant Dalton (CEO) in front of the first AC72 for Emirates Team NZ
Our first America’s Cup build preview was in mid-1985. On show was the first of what were to become the Plastic Fantastics, upside down in a shed in the Auckland suburb of Pakuranga.
The media group were chaperoned around an upturned hull, which the New Zealand Challenge principals would have us believe was a wooden 12metre.
Reality was that we were shown a plug for the first fibreglass 12metre ever built. Then, as now, it was case of look, but we can’t tell you much.
That was 27 years ago. It seems like last week.
Today, was a similar show, and minimal tell - with the invited media being left to join up the dots for themselves. A fraught exercise – even on a good day.
The tour began with a look around the Emirates Team NZ base, which now consists of the old Alinghi building and a lot of flat concrete. The rest has come down.
Emirates Team NZ CEO, Grant Dalton, says they didn’t want to drop the old Team NZ base – which goes back to the 1993 era. It was built in part with the team’s own crew – some of whom in pre-professional sailing days - had real jobs as builders and other construction related trades.
That Black Shed was very much off limits to journalists in the early days. In its later years you could almost hear the walls talk. It was a special place. Like a church. But it is no more.
In its place will go a mobile shed – comprised of containers for walls, but each fitted out as a workshop and a white plastic roof. The first shed is already up, and houses the pieces for the wingsail, of which Emirates Team New Zealand will have two.
A look inside the wingsail shed is like stepping into an aircraft factory. The 40 metre AC72 wingsail is much bigger than the AC45 model. Emirates Team New Zealand’s first wingsail was transported in pieces – a bit like a model plane kit and then assembled on site.
It’s a two element wing, in that it has front and back rotating pieces, and is similar in many ways to the giant wing that powered USA-17 in the 2010 America’s Cup.
The lower front two pieces are most impressive - standing maybe four metres high, on their leading edge. Trying to mentally assemble the package, to visualise the finished wing, is a daunting exercise and not for the first time that day we give up the mental visualisation gymnastics.
To go sailing, the AC72 wingsail will be dropped onto the hull platform using a mobile crane, and the whole boat transferred to the water in a similar way to the AC45’s. Once afloat the boat will be assisted from the Viaduct by special inflatables, designed more as tugs than chase boats.
Talk turns to where the on-board power is going to come from, and how much a grinder can produce. 'Someone like Rob Waddell (a world champion rower and Olympic Gold medallist) can produce 1000watts for about 25 seconds max,' says Dalton.
'They then have to throttle back to about 800watts which they can maintain for a longer period. Everyone on the boat will have to grind at some stage, except for Dean (the helmsman).'
We recall the brave comment of Mike Drummond, Oracle Racing’s lead designer who was tasked on a similar point question during a question and answer session on one of the many no-race days in the 2010 America’s Cup. Drummond also talked about grinder output in terms of watts but added 'a grinder produces about the power of a domestic sewing machine' – putting things in their proper perspective. Fortunately there was only media in the room at the time.
The base tour over, it’s out to Cookson Boats yard on Auckland’s North Shore – about a 15 minute drive from downtown Auckland.
Inside the Cookson shed the AC72 awaits with her two hulls on the floor ready for the main beam to be attached.
It’s an odd feeling. Somehow we expected the catamaran to be bigger, but maybe the slimness of the hulls are deceiving.
Next it’s a quick take on the beam of the boat – which can only be imagined - with one hull positioned on one side of the shed area, and the other opposite.
There’s a couple of plywood platforms in between the hulls, ready to support the mainbeam while the boat is preassembled. Mentally we place a large piece of curved carbon between the two support platforms and another mind picture begins to emerge.
The cockpits in each hull where the grinders and crew will work are a little unusual. Well, they’re different from what they had on Alinghi 5, and different from the AC45 (on which they are non-existent).
Downstairs at Cooksons, we are shown the mainbeam sitting on a small truck waiting to be taken to the level above. It is an interesting piece of kit. Not the standard beam that we have been used to seeing on the AC45’s, and again it’s different from the Alinghi 5 approach.
Trying to mentally construct the AC72, from being shown a series of components spread across two locations, is not an easy task. All will be revealed when the AC72 is launched around 21st July in an evening ceremony, open to the public – and should be very spectacular.
Then it’s back upstairs to the bows of the AC72 where the interviews take place with two TV crews working over Dalton and design co-ordinator, Nick Holroyd. Builder Mick Cookson is also interrogated on camera. Then it’s our turn.
Grant Dalton: 'Expect 40kts'
Grant Dalton rattles off some statistics about the time to involved in the whole process – essentially it is about three times longer to build the AC72 than for an America’s Cup monohull. He gets that by adding the 25,000 hours of wingsail build time to the 40,000 hours platform build time – 65,000 man hours. Plus about 50,000 design hours – an exercise which has been underway since October 2010.
Launch date is provisionally set down for July 21, and construction of the second boat will start soon after that.
This boat will be fully fitted at Cooksons, disassembled and taken to the Viaduct for final assembly.
Dalton opens the interview by saying says their AC72 will not be dissimilar in appearance to the AC 45 - aside from the scale of the boat.
With 55tonnes of righting moment – which translates directly to power – the AC72 is a lot of boat to handle. She will race just 11 crew, when 20 would be more appropriate.
Racing in the America’s Cup in San Francisco will all be about efficiency, he says - given the AC72 is so under crewed.
Turning to the speeds of the AC72, Dalton says they are expecting to see 40kts in 20 knots of breeze downwind, and mentions 18kts upwind.
The glory days of the America’s Cup, with two boats hitting into the breeze, bows prancing, as one tries to get ascendency over the other, are gone in the short course, fast boat, America’s Cup.
'There has to be a premium on manoeuvrability,' Dalton explains. 'There is no point in having massive horsepower and massive complexity. You just won’t be able to use it. If the boat is too complex, you won’t have time to pull the wing in to get the power on.
'The crew have to be able to sail efficiently. The whole ergonomics of sailing the boat, or racing mechanics as we call it, is a really critical part of the boat. The most critical,' he says, emphasising the point.
In response to another question he explains there are no baselines for any of what has had to be done with the AC72. 'It’s all whiteboard stuff', he says.
Nick Holroyd: '35 man years of design'
Then we turn to Nick Holroyd, design coordinator for the AC72 project.
He repeats the design team hours – over 50,000 thus far. Or put another way - 35 man years of design time, using 25 full time equivalent designers. 'Having a new class rule has shifted the balance a little. We dropped crew numbers from 25 in the monohulls to about a dozen, but gained on design team numbers.'
Given that the team have started with a white sheet of paper, Holroyd agrees that the trade-off has been on boat speed and cornering ability, and trying to gauge where the opposition might be.
'What Team New Zealand has been traditionally good at is working the design team and sailing team together,' he says. 'The SL33 platform that we have been running has been a really strong component of that and gives us a common language. We can design something theoretically and the crew can come back and tell us how it worked in reality. At the end of the day we are trying to give the sailing team the boat they are after, to do the job they think they need to be able to do.'
Holroyd says that the emphasis with the test program once the AC72 is launched will be strongly on racing. That initial period will be spent on straight line speed, getting systems reliable and the boat mechanically reliable.
'The power of these boats for the physical bodies on board is enormous,’ he says. 'Understanding how to physically muscle them around the course is a huge part of the game.'
One of the biggest challenges for the design team has been what Holroyd calls 'weight accounting'.
'Exceed a certain weight and you don’t have an AC72,' he explains. 'We have been working the weight budget to within 1%. We have a very, very tight control of engineering weights.'
Turning back to the SL33 campaign and the interaction between the designers and sailors, Holroyd says the design team always give the sailors the expected performance data ahead of the sailing team testing a new feature.
'Then they come back and tell us what they saw or didn’t see on the water,' he explains before repeating the mantra about the role of the design team being to give the sailing team the product they need to do the job on the race course.
On that note the show is over.
We walk away, feeling much the same as we did in 1985.