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America's Cup - Glenn Ashby - How the Lone Wolf won the America's Cup

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World on 30 Jun 2017
Emirates Team New Zealand - Challenger Final, Day 2 - Race 5, Leg 6 - 35th America's Cup - Day 15 - Bermuda June 11, 2017 Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
Late in 2016, when they refused to sign an agreement on how the next two America's Cups would be conducted, Emirates Team New Zealand was cast in the role of being a 'Lone Wolf'.

The moniker has stuck with the team since then and has been the hallmark of a campaign that has struggled financially and has been forced to eke the most out of the resources that it does have.

That struggle made their America's Cup win last Monday in Bermuda, all the more sweeter.

'We have been the Lone Wolf from Day 1, ' says skipper Glenn Ashby. We have had to adopt that as our stance - as we were away from everyone. But we also had to be the Lone Wolf in our design philosophy and our projection and anticipation of where the bar would ultimately be, in this cycle.'

'We have definitely run our own course, and it has proven to be the correct one.'

Emirates Team New Zealand stayed out of Bermuda, arriving two years after Oracle Team USA. The risk for the other teams was that they became too familiar with each other, and risked becoming clones of each other.

With that strategy and situation, they were always vulnerable to a team like Emirates Team New Zealand coming at the group from out of left field, with different ideas and a different approach.

'We ultimately didn't have a choice as to when we came over', said Ashby.


'While venue knowledge is important - like it is at the Olympics when you have to there for years before to see what the conditions are like. But we had spent enough time in Bermuda over the last couple of years to know what sort of water we had, and to know that it was shifty.

'Ultimately we knew we were racing ourselves. We knew where the level was going to get to - and if we didn't reach that level, we wouldn't be competitive.

'We had to push on our own program by ourselves.'

Ashby says they knew that they were going to have to do dry laps (full races where the foiling AC50 didn't touch the water). Good starts were also going to be essential, and the boat had to have good boat speed.

'We had to be 100% focused on our own program,' he explained. 'We knew what the others were up to, but it didn't change our path. We believed we were on the right course and didn't change our decisions.'

Emirates Team New Zealand had their preferred training ground to the east of Browns Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, known as the 'Back Paddock'. Ashby says that the conditions there were a 90% match with what they expected in Bermuda.

'That helped a lot with the way we set up out boat and control systems.'

Ashby says the switch to leg power for the grinders rather than the traditional arms wasn't the silver bullet behind the team's win.

'I think ultimately it was our aggressiveness in our design philosophy. That to me sums up our whole program - we had to throw it out there. We were either going to be a laughing stock when we arrived in Bermuda, or we were going to do what we did.'

'There are a lot of aspects to the program, and the bicycles were a big part of that, but it is the full package of how aggressively we attacked the problem that we had, and we did that better than the other teams.'


The turning point
Ashby agrees with several commentators that Day 2 of the Challenger Final was the key moment in term of winning the regatta, for Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis came away with two wins from three races, despite being caught out with the light-weather daggerboards in a breeze that rose and fell during the afternoon.

'My thinking was that if we could race well against Artemis in breezy conditions - given that they had beaten Oracle in 17 races in a row, then we possibly might have a chance at the Cup.

He says he knew they were going to have a big battle with Artemis Racing in the Challenger Final. 'My thinking was that if we could outsail them in these conditions, we could keep on our path and keep improving ourselves and the boat.'

On the AC50, Ashby kept a very low profile, with one commentator claiming all you could see was his eyes peering above the cockpit edge.

In his hand, Ashby was running a control box which allowed him to control all the wing functions and the jib as well - which included the jib cunningham, jib track and jib sheet. The box ran all the twist for the wing.

'Every single aero function on the boat could be run from my cockpit, and that one little control box', he explained.

'You could do that from either side of the yacht - so we could tack or gybe without me having to get out of my seat to go to the other side.

'We could also push or pull the wing, with the sheet, which the other guys couldn't do with their standard drums. They always had to have someone holding onto the sheet. With our push-pull system, could basically do anything, we liked from either side of the yacht - which was a big advantage for us.'

The control box, in turn, triggered a series of electro-mechanical switches which controlled the valves to make the sail adjustments.

'All the buttons on the boat were set up to do exactly the same functions - so the buttons that Pete had on the wheel, my floor buttons for getting the daggerboards up and down in the tacks and gybes, were all set up the same way.

'So when you did the button press or the toggle movement, an electrical signal would be sent to the valve, and then the valve would open and allow the hydraulic pressure or fluids to go to the ram and operate that function.


'The whole boat ran off a PLC (programmable logic controller commonly used in factory production processes) - that operated the hydraulic system. It was very complicated, but well set up.'

Ashby believes that the other boats used a similar system. However, the main difference between the Emirates Team New Zealand set up was that in different manoeuvres, the wingsail could still be trimmed from the wheel.

'I don't believe any of the other teams could do that,' Ashby added. 'They would have to reach forward while hanging onto the sheet. While we could have both hands operating the daggerboard, the jib, wing sheet and the rudder functions all in one go as well. So we could sail the boat and do a lot of different manoeuvres and have a lot of cross-over while there were people moving around the boat. It all worked very well.'

Being able to top up the hydraulic pressure more easily than other boats meant there could be more functionality on board the boat.

'One of the things that not many people know about this campaign was that we only ran two accumulators (a pressure storage reservoir of hydraulic fluid) on board, and not three. We decided to take the extra weight of an accumulator off the boat because we believed that our guys could top up the accumulators quite quickly, which allowed weight reduction.

'While the other boats started off with more stored energy, we believed that we could get around the track cleanly, with the weight saving, and utilise that energy elsewhere.'


No mistakes?
The late Warren Jones, one of the management masterminds behind the successful Australia II challenge for the America's Cup made a comment 'that to win the America's Cup, you had to make every decision the right one for three years.'

When asked whether Emirates Team New Zealand had made any wrong decisions over the past three years, Ashby replied:

'Without wanting to sound like a plonker, looking back now, I can't think of too many things we got wrong.

'There are things that we would have liked to have had earlier. But as far as the decision-making process and the decisions we did make, I can categorically state that I don't think we made any major errors along the way. You can't make mistakes at any point of the campaign - particularly at the latter stage.

'I don't think we made too many mistakes which ultimately made us very competitive over here.'

One of the downsides with the use of multihulls in the America's Cup is that teams seem to acquire an enormous amount of kit in terms of boats, parts, training and test platforms. In the 35th America's Cup some teams ran up to four AC45S test boats, plus various other two-man foiling catamarans and single handed foiling Moths.

Budget constraints imposed by the loss of Government funding when the Qualifiers were taken away arbitrarily from Auckland, meant that Emirates Team New Zealand scrapped plans to run a two sailing team and two test boat program, instead launching a single AC45-S and then the single AC-50 (as allowed by the Protocol).

'We didn't have too much choice in the matter, but by having less, we were able to focus more sharply on the future and where the boats needed to be', Ashby said.

'For us, two boat testing is absolutely imperative for development and going forwards. But having the vision and the people who can actually make the correct decisions is the key to success.

'I think we had the right people to enable us to make the right decisions to progress in the way that we did.'

In the 2013 America's Cup campaign Emirates Team New Zealand built two AC72's but decommissioned the first to provide some parts for the second boat which became the Challenger in the Match.


Strong relationships produce speed
In 2013 as well as the 2017 America's Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand arrived with a boat that was quick out of the box, compared to teams that had been training for months or years in the regatta venue on Bermuda's Great Sound.

A key to this is the traction the team seems to be able to get between the design computer, performance simulation and then translating this very accurately to on-the-water performance.

'In this campaign, we definitely used the computer simulation side of things a lot more than in the previous campaign, ' Ashby explained. 'We were forced into that by the fact that we didn't have any test boats and we didn't have any resource to be able to get on the water in those early stages.

'Dan Bernasconi has done an amazing job with this team by being able to go through the computer simulation/VPP (Velocity Prediction) side. As a sailing team, there was just a small core group who spent time with those designers and engineers, and together we have been able to keep moving forwards and almost predicting where we needed to be at certain points in time.'

'When we launched our proper test boat it showed the rest of the world that we hadn't been sitting down in Auckland, mucking around. I think we possibly surprised the other teams as to how advanced our test boat actually was when we launched her for the first time.'

The financial constraints caused by the loss of the Qualifiers forced Emirates Team New Zealand to spend their early time developing computer software and design systems that would be quicker and more accurate when funding did come on stream.

'The technology, design and engineering side of things gave us, as the sailing team, great confidence in knowing that if we could keep up to our end of the bargain - keep developing and keep pushing those design and engineering guys as well then we would have a package that was, in our minds at least, ultimately the most advanced AC50 out on the water.'

'We had our ups and downs as all the teams did, but the philosophy that we had and the connectivity between the sailing and design teams and the shore teams was vital.'

'That relationship was very special, and without that relationship, we wouldn't have wound up with a package that is anywhere near as advanced as what we have here.'


Class options for AC36
Turning to the future and the options for the boat/class to be sailed in the 36th America's Cup in Auckland in February/March 2021, Ashby is a little guarded.

'We will be sitting down as a group and working out what was fantastic with these boats; where is the future of sailing headed; and the history of the America's Cup. I'd like to spend some time talking to the sailors on the other teams as to what their thoughts are on the boat, and how they see things.

'I would like to do my homework very well before I answered the 'what boat' question.

'Putting my sailing hat on, the AC50 was amazing to sail from a sailor's perspective - they have high speed, high technology, close racing and they are on the forefront of extreme sailing technology.

'If those qualities can forward into a monohull or multihull, to me that is where the sport needs to go.'

'My own thought as a team we want to do the right thing and make sure that we have the best boat that yachting has ever seen for the 36th America's Cup.'

'It will be a nice problem to have to think about', he added.

Ashby says that the team have not had a chance to sit down and think about the next Cup and the boat. That process will happen over the next new weeks.

'We know that we make the best decisions in this team when we do it collectively.'



Sailing crew had to be fast-learners

One of the features of the Emirates Team New Zealand campaign in Bermuda was how quickly the sailing crew learned and got race sharp despite losing a lot of planned time due to unsuitable weather in practice sessions and other teams refusing to sail against the 2013 Challenger.

They only really looked Match-ready after the second day of racing in the Challenger Finals and showed their polished act on the third and final day of that series. Five days later they started the Match for the 35th America's Cup.

'Our guys are very quick learners, and they have some fantastic guys around them - like Ray Davies, Murray Jones, Richard Meacham

'As a group, we knew that we would lack race experience. We were hoping that we would be fast enough and knew that we would have to work hard on our starting and sailing against another boat. We'd never done that in the whole campaign. We knew we were up against it. We knew we were on the back foot. The other teams had been in Bermuda for months and some for years.

'We had practised our boat handling back in Auckland, and practised racing against the chase boat.

'A chase boat with 1200hp is very different sailing proposition than an AC50 in prestarts. We knew what we could get away with in boat handling. But Land Rover BAR, Artemis and Softbank all had very strong starting packages. They had seen it all before, and they gave us some good sailing lesson in those first few races.'

'That made us stronger - and hats off to those guys for pushing us hard we knew that if we didn't get pushed we would always be up against it in the Match.'

Ashby says the sailing team worked out where their strengths were - which was their boathandling, and also their weaknesses.

'That put us on the front foot, against Jimmy, rather than the back when we finally lined up', Ashby said.

'When you have the right guys doing the right jobs in the right team around you, that allows you the opportunity to do some special things. You can then learn and keep learning and stay on the same path. That to me as Sailing Director and as a wing trimmer, it is a very proud moment watching your crew and team create greatness. That is a wonderful feeling.'


AC50 starting unique
Probably the biggest area of very noticeable improvement by Emirates Team New Zealand, as the Challenger series progressed was in the start box.

Ashby explains that the starting is unique in the AC50's as the boats can accelerate and decelerate very quickly on the foils. He points out that it is a very different process to the displacement multihull match racing. 'There is no other types of boats in the world that could do the type of pre-starts we do on these AC50's. Some of the lessons cross-over, but the decision-making process and boat handling is very unique.

'All the teams were on a steep learning curve, and there was a big difference between what was happening in the beginning during training and at the regatta end during racing.'

'We pushed that to another level with what we could do with our boathandling,' Ashby added.

He says that the New Zealand team knew before they went to Bermuda that they would have the edge in a tacking duel due to their extra power and ability to quickly top up the hydraulic pressure.

'We could tell that from the recon footage, as to how many tacks they could do, how often they were standing up and how many times they stopped.

'Because we knew we had more juice in the tank we could pull off slightly better manoeuvres and not be afraid to keep pushing an opponent to the point where they will start making mistakes.'

'We were always happy to get into a dogfight if it had to come to that.'

The team flies out of Bermuda on Sunday, headed for Dubai, with the America's Cup, and will be welcomed in Auckland on Thursday.

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