The development of the new AC45 class reached another significant milestone in Auckland, New Zealand today when four of the high-performance catamarans lined up for a sailing session in the Hauraki Gulf.
In a 10-15 knot breeze, the four yachts sped along at speeds reaching the mid-20 knot range, often within a couple of metres of each other. 'What we learned today is that we made the right decision,' said ORACLE Racing skipper Jimmy Spithill, referring to the choice to switch to hardwing multihulls for the 34th America’s Cup.
'It was unreal, so rewarding. I just can’t wait to see the TV footage,' he added. 'If it was this good with four boats, imagine what it is going to be like with even bigger fleets. And then imagine how much better it is going to be when the big 72-footers hit the water.'
Today’s training involved a crew from Artemis Racing, two crews from ORACLE Racing, and one sailing the ACRM prototype. There was no start, no set course and no mark-roundings, but plenty of upwind and downwind work, tacking and gybing. The purpose was not to discover winners or losers, but to line up and get a taste of racing these machines at close quarters.
However, Spithill noted that as soon as two or more of these yachts squared off against each other, it was all on. 'Everybody involved is competitive so everybody was trying to go fast, make no mistake,' he said.
'I think we will see much more of this during this period in Auckland. Maybe once a week we will all get out. There is still a lot to learn about these boats. I think the biggest thing we are discovering is just how physical they are. It is very athletic sailing. There is a lot on.'
One of the performance lessons was that flat is clearly fast, particularly upwind. Not so flat that both hulls are in the water, but with the windward hull just half a metre above the surface.
'You don’t want the windward hull too high, or too low,' agreed Terry Hutchinson, who helmed the Artemis Racing boat. 'Striking the proper balance between the two is a fine line, but there is a lot to be gained by getting it right. Teams will be working hard on that as they develop their racing skills.
'So far, we are just scratching the surface of what we need to know about sailing these boats fast. Today, there were some quite big differences between the various headsail sizes, for example.'
The Artemis Racing headsail sported a flat top and was considerably higher in the hoist than the other yachts. 'We felt that worked for us at the beginning of the session when the breeze was a bit lighter,' said Hutchinson. 'Later on, when the breeze was up a bit, the smaller headsails came into their own. We are learning about those kind of cross-overs.'
Also sailing in the Artemis Racing crew was Morgan Trubovich, who has gained a lot of experience in the Extreme 40 fleet. 'These AC45s are more of a development boat than I expected,' he said. 'You can see that there are a lot of gains to be made just by refining the handling systems and getting things to run more smoothly.'
'There are also big differences in the way the teams are doing things. It is new to all of us.'
Troy Tindill, who skippers the ACRM yacht, has probably clocked up more time than any of the others in the AC45s since their launching in January. 'You can get them really close to each other and race hard,' he said.