There’s a new cat, soon to be two, prowling the Auckland waterfront.
From the design board of a highly respected US multihull design partnership, and built by a top Wellington based composites builder, the pair of new black cats are here to stay for a couple of years at least.
Dean Barker, Emirates Team New Zealand skipper, looks over the latest of now the third pedigree, known as the SL33, owned by the America’s Cup team.
'They’re from the board of Morelli & Melvin, who are with us for the America’s Cup program,' he explains. 'They had the design commissioned by a European lake sailor, who has already taken delivery of the first boat.'
'We have two of the boats, built by Hakes Marine in Wellington. The plan for us is to use them for sailing team development between the AC45 and the Extreme 40’s ahead of launching the AC72.
'It is also an opportunity to do some design work ahead of the AC72,' he adds.
'The original SL33 design is quite over-powered and it is perfect for us as it fits within the Surrogate Rule for the America’s Cup, which comes into effect in January next year.'
Currently Emirates Team NZ are running three catamaran campaigns and will be doing their fourth in two years, when the larger AC72 is launched ahead of the 34th America’s Cup to be sailed in September 2013.
The rationale is simple for the world’s leading professional sailing team, and twice winner of the America’s Cup.
In the three years that intervene before the 34th Match, Emirates Team NZ have to build on their existing capability and extend into the multihull world in the areas of design, sailing and understanding how to matchrace multihulls.
Maximising every opportunity is the key, in the relatively small time available – hence the competition on two professional multihull circuits, plus the in-house program in a third multihull type. Three cat program
Already Emirates Team NZ are competing on the well-established Extreme 40 circuit, and are in second place on the leader board after three events. The tour, sailed in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East has one other current America’s Cup team competing, but has attracted many of the world’s top multihull sailors and has become the refuge of the Olympic multihull crews. Many of these, including Olympic gold medalists and world champions are not involved in the 34th America’s Cup.
Former foes, Alinghi and Luna Rossa are also in on the act.
The Extreme Sailing series as the circuit is known, is a good place for this America’s Cup team to sharpen their claws.
The AC45’s became a familiar sight on the Waitemata in the latter part of the Auckland summer. Designed as a stepping stone for the larger AC72 – both feature a solid wingsail instead of the mast and the sail cloth, or more conventional soft sails of the SL33 and Extreme 40’s.
Back in April, Emirates Team NZ CEO, Grant Dalton, told Sail-World that their budget didn’t stretch to buying two AC45’s for training, and Barker echoes this thinking.
'We can do these two boats, all the sailing in New Zealand, for well under the cost of doing a second AC45. The problem with the second AC 45 is that once they are in the circuit, you just don’t see them again', he explains.
'This is a much more economical option for us, we know that we have a lot of work to do to catch up to the required level. By having two boats here for the sailing team to go sailing every day is invaluable.'
'The good thing with these boats is that we can leave them in the water and just go sailing at a moment’s notice. The boats are fairly robust. They will be a hard to sail and in a lot of ways we expect them to be similar in characteristics to the AC72.'
In other words, what Emirates Team NZ are doing is setting up a similar program to what they used in the days when the America’s Cup was sailed in monohulls. Back then, two Farr MRX yachts (a similar length to the SL33) were often out doing matchrace training on the Waitemata, ahead of a major America’s Cup preliminary regatta. Launching's a beach
A vital part of the core training program using the SL33’s is being able to launch and retrieve them easily. For that the SL33 fits the bill admirably. As one waterside quip has it, they look more like the sort of boat you’d have pulled up on the beach outside the holiday bach!
The ease of launching and retrieving the SL33 is a big contrast to that palaver surrounding the launch of the wingsailed AC45, let alone what is to come with the AC72. No towering crane here – the SL33 is carried around the hardstand by travelift, and dropped easily into the same berth that was used for the monohulls of the former America’s Cup era.
Its about as difficult as launching a Hobie cat off the local boat club ramp, and ideal for a day in day out training régime.
Barker says the SL33 is a lighter more overpowered than the AC45, relative to their size. They will be much harder to sail, he adds.
In terms of rig height to overall length, the SL33 has only slightly more wick than the AC45 with a hull length to mast height ratio of 1:1.59, compared to 1.56 for the AC45.
To put the step up to the next America’s Cup in context, the hull length to rig height ratio for the AC72 is a massive 1:1.82 – a tad under the 1.90 for USA-17, the 120ft trimaran beast used in the 2010 America’s Cup. There are other ways of working out a horsepower ratio for inshore racing multihulls, but that ratio is a simple illustration.
Although the SL33 had been out only a few times, Barker says she is very lively. A wingsail to come?
Being able to run a two boat, or in multihull-speak a two platform campaign from your home base has a few other advantages as well - being a design test platform is one of these. That will include trialing wingsail options as the focus sharpens on the AC72 program.
'We have had a discussion about whether wingsails would be a good thing to do', says Barker, apparently not wanting to state the obvious.
'At moment we are set up with a conventional mast and soft sails program, for the early stages of what we want to do. We can learn a lot from this configuration. We just have a mainsail, jib and Code Zero/Gennaker arrangement on the front.'
Then he concedes the SL33’s are dual purpose.
'Our primary objectives are both crew training and design development. We have to find a mechanism to get as many of our guys sailing as we can. With the AC45 you only there is a crew of only five people, and we have to develop a sailing team of 11 guys to get them ready for the ‘72.
'We’ve done very little matchracing in the multihulls.
'The main difference between the multi and the monohulls is that things happen a lot more quickly in the multihull. You know exactly what you want to do. At times it is hard to do it - just through lack of experience in sailing the boats.
'I don’t think it is going to be that different from monohulls – just things happening a lot quicker.
'We will sail to the new America’s Cup racing rules to understand their ins and outs and the find their grey areas and how you exploit those rules, in terms of match race tactics.
'With two boats available we will be able to sail with 4-5 guys depending on conditions. That allows us to get our whole sailing team out on a daily basis, and we can keep developing with the design group.
'Hopefully with this two-boat program we can tick of some of the things they need to know', he adds.
Those design tick-boxes include the development of foils for the AC72, which permits the use of curved hydrodynamic lifting foils.
'That will be an interesting area,' says Barker. 'The SL33’s are set up with more vertically lifting foils where the AC45 has straight boards. The SL33 and AC72 have curved foils produce a certain amount of lift downwind. Upwind the SL33’s won’t be as quick as the AC45 as they are a smaller boat. But even so I still think they will perform very well', he adds. Matchracing with wingsails?
The very obvious difference between the AC45 and the SL33 is in the rig and lack of wingsail on the smaller boat. How are they going to learn the nuances of matchracing with wingsails, when the SL33 is a soft mainsailed yacht?
'The SL33 does have different characteristics, than the AC45 and 72, but at this stage we are just interested in learning the general dynamics of matchracing multihulls,' Barker explains.
'The wingsail will have its advantages and disadvantages in different maneuvers. But the characteristics of circling when to lead and when to push will still be the same whether it is a softsail or wingsail.'
'We only have 11 people for the AC72, and we ‘ll rotate the guys through these boats. As well we’ll have the designers out from time to time so we can upskill as much as we can,' he says.
The training issues ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand, going into the next America’s Cup, are more akin to an international rowing program than a sailing one.
There’s the need to be able to travel quickly into Europe to race and then return back to New Zealand to keep up the pace with the training and development program. It is a year round routine with little downtime for the team as an entity.
That’s another reason for running the New Zealand based SL33 program. Too many programs?
But aren’t they trying to do too much running on the AC45’s, the Extreme 40’s and the SL33’s? Are resources being stretched over too many campaigns? And by the way there’s a Volvo Ocean Racer sitting out on the front dock all ready to go as well.
Barker doesn’t see it that way. 'The Extreme Sailing series and AC45’s run independently and are pretty remote for us now. We don’t see the boats until we get to the events.'
'While we are based back here in New Zealand we need something to keep sailing on a daily basis.'
'The Extreme 40 is containerised and goes from regatta to regatta. We send a couple of shore guys ahead each time, and then the crew fly in to get it sorted and then leave straight afterwards.
'The first AC45 event is in Portugal, in August, all the gear is in the ship now and on the way up there – so assembling and disassembling will be a new experience. That is only a two-week block and there are only three regattas this year – so there are only one and a half months of AC45 sailing that we can do anyway', he adds.
There are a lot of other obvious differences between the SL33 and the AC72 - which is well over twice the length and massively rigged.
Barker doesn’t see the size difference being a limitation on the use of the SL33’s. 'The loads on the SL33’s are going to be a lot less because of the size. But they still generate big loads – which are reflected in the size of some of the beams, for instance. They do wick up, but the loads do get bigger exponentially as you go up in boat size.
'I’m sure from time to time we will come to grief, but hopefully not too often.' Heading off the Surrogacy Rule
Turning back to the development options Barker explains that the SL33 is set up to be modified, and says the hull shape and style of the SL33 is similar to the AC45 and more importantly the AC72. He expects the two to have similar characteristics.
Although small, the SL33 is the biggest permitted size of boat under what are called the Surrogacy Rules in place for the 34th America’s Cup, which prohibit a team from sailing a catamaran longer than 10 metres in length, unless it is an AC45 or AC72.
They are a cost-reduction measure, designed to limit well-funded teams from running expensive two or more boat testing programs.
Just two AC72’s can be built and launched per team, and the launch date for the first of those has just been slid back three months to July 2012.
AC45’s could also have been an option, but three of the NZD1million boats would have been required to achieve what is being done in Auckland with the two SL33’s and one internationally based AC45 – at half the cost.
A big bonus comes with the simpler launch process trundling around the boatpark with an SL33 in the travelift slings is a far cry from the high crane required to rig and launch the wingsailed AC45.
The day in, day out training comparison with rowing squads comes to mind as the SL33 is set up and lowered into the Viaduct Harbour.
Today’s a bleak day. Almost the winter Solstice. Drizzling rain driven by a fresh, cold breeze.
It’s the sort of day you see the world champion rowing squads enduring training on a chilly lake, and there’s the same hardness about this effort as the crew dressed in dinghy sailing gear head out past Camper, their Volvo 70, whose are also preparing to go training - but more appropriately dressed in full foul-weather gear.
But to underscore that there is still some fun to be had on a miserable winter’s day, the SL33 flies a hull while still in the Viaduct harbor.
She's no moggy.