With just over 20 weeks left on the clock until the start of the 34th America’s Cup, Grant Simmer, COO of Defender Oracle Team USA, is playing the usual psychological games, picking challenger Emirates Team New Zealand to win the America’s Cup.
'Emirates Team NZ is the favorite. I would say that they are the favorites to win the Cup, at the moment - from what we have seen of their on the water performance.
'We are obviously working to overcome the lead that they’ve had, and are confident that we are going to get there.'
An Australian, Simmer makes a grab for the underdog role, the high ground so beloved of teams from either side of the Tasman Sea.
Then he twists the thumbscrews further on the New Zealand team, adding 'at the moment they are the favorites, and when you are the favorite it puts you under a lot of pressure.
'I would say that Dean (Barker, skipper of Emirates Team NZ) has got a lot of pressure on him, not only from within the team, but the whole nation.
'New Zealand is so into the America’s Cup, that it is putting a lot of pressure on him and his key guys.
'It is a matter of whether they can maintain that advantage, and if they can keep developing,' he finished, taking the opportunity, once again, to rattle the Kiwi’s cage in a very measured way.
Of the other two teams, Simmer says 'Luna Rossa clearly have a good boat. From what we have been able to see, they haven’t been able to beat Team NZ in any of the practice racing they have been doing.
'Even though they have been working together very closely it looks like there is a performance difference, at the moment, between Team NZ and Luna Rossa.
'Artemis sailed with us for just a short time, and they apparently weren’t very happy with their configuration. They’re modifying their boat, as has been reported, and we’re hoping they will be out on San Francisco Bay in the next few weeks. We would be happy to line up with them and do some racing when they turn up again.'
Grant Simmer’s first America’s Cup win was as navigator aboard Australia II in 1983 -
Simmer says they haven’t had any correspondence with Luna Rossa about lining up with them once the Italians arrive in San Francisco.
'We’d be keen. Emirates Team NZ probably wouldn’t like that – I don’t know what they’d say,' he adds, twisting those thumbscrews on the Kiwis once again.
Simmer is one of the few remaining from the historic 1983 America’s Cup, and still active 30 years later in the 34th edition of the most prestigious trophy in sailing. In 1983, the then 26-year-old navigator of Australia II, had his first of three America’s Cup wins from eight campaigns.
This is his ninth America’s Cup, being bought into Oracle Team USA, in May 2012, after his previous gig with Team Origin evaporated, when the British team decided not to pursue a campaign in the AC72 catamarans.
An insider with one of the leading teams in 2013, admits they were disappointed that Simmer joined Oracle Team USA, adding that the former sailmaker was a 'good operator' and his recruitment was a significant gain for the America’s Cup Defender.
Simmer was on the other side in the 2010 Deed of Gift Match, being Technical Director with Alinghi, then Defender of the America’s Cup, and the team which he assisted to two America’s Cup wins, before losing the Cup in February 2010 in Valencia. In that event, the Swiss team’s weapon of choice was the 120ft catamaran, Alinghi 5, which proved to be no match for Oracle Racing’s wingsailed trimaran.
Most of his competitive sailing life has been in the hands-on engineering world of the high performance classes, eschewing one design Olympic racing.
Simmer worked with Oracle Team USA’s CEO, Russell Coutts, at Alinghi for their first win in 2003, helping break the hearts of the New Zealand sailing nation, and carving a gaping wound in the Kiwi sailing psyche.
Losing that battle, the deepest and most painful defeat ever in New Zealand sport, now drives a very focused Emirates Team NZ, in its current America’s Cup campaign.
The laconic Australian has had his challenges within Oracle Team USA.
Just five months after joining the Defender their AC72 cartwheeled in San Francisco Bay, putting the team’s first catamaran into the building shed for three months and trashing their 40metre wingsail.
That incident should have been a body blow to the Defence team, but Oracle Team USA re-grouped, and Simmer says overall, they are now back on track.
'I’m quite happy where we are. We are in a development stage and that is really exciting. The designers and sailors are working together developing the boat and we have the second boat coming along in a month or so. As long as we keep learning, I’m happy.
'We have some exciting stuff lined up, not the least of which is the second boat. If we keep learning and improving at the rate we are at the moment, we are going to be in good shape.'
Modifications made in rebuild after capsize Simmer chuckles at the labeling of their rebuilt AC72 as Boat 1.5 – a reference to the fact that while the team repaired their broken boat, they also took the opportunity to undertake a number of modifications based on what was learned in her first eight days of sailing, before the capsize on October 16, 2012.
'We had sailed the boat for only eight days. It was enough to learn what we could about the boat and then we just had to make a call as to what the mods were going to be,' he explains.
'While we were repairing the boat, we did some modifications. It forced us to make some decisions quite quickly. We are happy that we chose wisely on the changes that we have made to the boat. I don’t know the exact percentage, maybe 30/70 in terms of mods versus repairs.
'We were trying to learn as much as we could from the short time we had sailing Boat 1, that would influence to affect the design of the second boat. The changes that we implemented on during the rebuild of Boat 1, we implemented on Boat 2 as well,' he adds.
Simmer puts on his game-face again, responding to a question as to whether Boat 1.5 and Boat 2 will be similar or different design concepts?
'You’ll see them at the end of April, but they will both be good boats,' is his quick reply.
Collective responsibility for capsize Turning to the capsize itself, Simmer says the whole team has to take responsibility. 'We collectively made a mistake. Being over-confident, pushing the boat too hard.
'We learned that we made a mistake in bearing away in that much wind on the eighth day of sailing.
'All the teams have made mistakes. Artemis dropped their wing – which was a mistake on their part. Emirates Team NZ bashing their wingsail into the side of a building.'
Simmer denies that the inherent design of Oracle Team USA 17 made the cartwheel inevitable in those extreme conditions. 'No, I think we know enough about it now, that we could deal with it. Still with a lot of wind, but I think we could deal with it, today.'
Currently the two groups of America’s Cup teams are working 8,000nm apart in San Francisco, USA and Auckland, New Zealand.
The two teams based in Auckland were both designed as full-foiling AC72’s, while it would seem, with the benefit of hindsight, that was not the case with the two teams based in West Coast, USA.
Maybe that’s not surprising since Luna Rossa built their AC72 to the base design package purchased from Emirates Team New Zealand. And in San Francisco, Sweden’s Artemis Racing popped back into the builder’s shed for a month of surgery after a few days practice racing against Oracle Team USA.
Not originally a foiler Simmer revealed that Oracle Team USA’s first AC72 was not originally designed as a foiling boat, but that changed during construction.
He explains that the AC72 catamarans were always going to generate a lot of lift from their dagger-boards which doubled as hydrofoils, and the only question was 'whether you were going to lift the boat totally out of the water, or if it was a percentage of lift that you were carrying on your foils.
'A lot influenced the decision to go to a full foiling boat.
'Watching Team NZ, they were ahead of us, had a big influence. During construction we were foiling in the AC45’s. We were developing our own foiling program about the same time that we were watching Team NZ in their 33-footers, and finally they launched their AC72 and were foiling shortly after they launched.
'Clearly they were using a very different set of foils, when they first foiled, than what they are using today,' he adds.
Although Emirates Team NZ’s AC72 and Oracle Team USA’s AC72 were launched reasonably close together, visually they were very different.
The Defender’s first AC72 had focused on reducing the aero-drag of their boat, with narrow hulls and plenty of fairing on the cross beams to improve the efficiency, or aerodynamic footprint of the platform and rig, along with more fairing below the wingsail, while the New Zealanders seemed more relaxed on aero-drag, and more focused on full-scale foiling in their first AC72
'I don’t think ETNZ designers were ignoring the aero drag of their package', Simmer reflects. 'We certainly weren’t, and we certainly have been very focused on the aerodynamic efficiency of the wing and the platform. By the same token we are very focused on the foil geometry we should be using. Both of those things have played a big part in the performance of this class of boat.
'I think Emirates Team NZ felt they understood the issues around aero-drag, but needed to understand foiling, rather than going to too much trouble with the aero package early on. They were focused on what they needed to learn about, which was foiling.
'We were very confident with our predictions about aero drag and the overall aero package. So we launched our first boat with all the fairings on. They didn’t.'
Later, Emirates Team NZ had some interesting experiences when they came to address and reduce aero-drag, as the AC72 literally attempted to fly upwind in apparent wind speeds of 50kts.
For its part, Oracle Team USA had some rather obvious shortcomings with the amount of racking in the platform (with the alignment of the windward hull being very bow down, compared to the leeward hull), together with a very hesitant foiling performance.
Simmer puts the latter down to a combination of foil geometry and control systems on the boards.
'The platform racking was exactly as the engineers had predicted,' he says. 'And it is fair to say that when we saw it in real life, it was considered to be excessive by those watching, and particularly by the people on the boat.
'We have a tripod rig, and that causes twisting around the main beam. It is simply the rig load that puts torsional twist into the platform, around the main beam, and the result is that you can see the difference in angle between the windward hull and the leeward hull.
'We just considered the twist to be excessive. We could never put our finger on what was the exact downside of the platform racking.
'Now that we have winglets on the rudders it obviously affects the angle of the windward rudder winglet. That is probably one of the biggest effects that the racking has.'
The amount of racking is a trade-off in the design of the platform.
'You can either have a spine support structure like Emirates Team NZ and Artemis and Luna Rossa, to spread and support the rig loads. Or, you can have a geometrically simpler package like we have got.
'The trade-off is to have a certain amount of racking relative to the windage of the spine structure, and also the weight of the beams.'
In other words Oracle Team USA have accepted a degree of platform racking, in order to gain reduced drag from the support structure, reduced weight in the crossbeams.
Simmer believes that the Defender’s performance has improved quite markedly in last few weeks.
'Since we re-launched at the beginning of February, we have made huge steps.
'This is attributable to Jimmy and his sailing team working very closely with the designers and understanding and changing the whole way they are sailing the boat, and just understanding the whole foiling process.
'It has been really great to watch that whole development and how it has worked. It is not stopping. We know there is a long way to go. But we are on a good track.