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America's Cup: DutchSail Challenge 167 years in the making

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 28 Mar 2019 22:17 PDT 29 March 2019
12 months on from his Leg win in the Volvo Ocean Race, Simeon Tienpont, came to Auckland for a look at facilities and options - DutchSail visit Auckland, February 15, 2019 © Richard Gladwell

Plenty of water has flowed around the America's Cup since mid-February when DutchSail's skipper Simeon Tienpont was in Auckland.

The twice winner of the America's Cup had a busy agenda and reckoned he could have stayed another week at the venue for the 2021 America's Cup.

In early February, complaints were made by several teams quibbling over the entry of the three Late Challengers, of which DutchSail team is one. Those issues are now resolved.

All three teams, who entered on November 30 - the final day for making Late Entries, have struggled to get traction, compared to the three so-called “Super Teams” and their billionaire backers who Challenged before the June 30, 2018 deadline for regular entries.

The DutchSail challenge was born out of the Tienpont skippered Volvo Ocean Racer, Team AkzoNobel. Although one of the earliest teams to start their sailing program, they had a difficult start to the race, including a tricky mast repair in a Southern Ocean gale on Leg 2. However they improved as the race progressed, and on the Newport RI - Cardiff leg they set a record - for the longest distances sailed in a 24hr period in the 45 year history of the Round the World Race.

Not once in the hour-long interview in downtown Auckland, does Tienpont talk about the economic benefits to Holland if the Dutch score a statistically unlikely win the America's Cup at their first attempt. In fact, it is not until 20 minutes into the interview that he even mentions the most prestigious event in Sailing.

Instead, he espouses a Grand Coalition comprising the Dutch marine industry, research programs, licenced racing sailors, yacht clubs and Government – all hanging their hat collectively on an involvement in the DutchSail America’s Cup program via the newly created DutchSail Foundation. The Foundation sits alongside the crowdfunding initiative designed to get clubs, corporates and fans behind the team by committing to a regular financial contribution to the team over a 24 month period.

The DutchSail Foundation is a long term plan for the team, offering research data and project experience that is both valuable, accurate and not obtainable through other sources.

The fact that it can tap into revenue and from both the marketing as well as the research and development divisions of corporates and universities sets it apart from other America’s Cup campaigns.

In addition, both the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup are extreme sports events which both present superb images and provide data on people, teams and technology under stress in a way that is just not possible elsewhere.

The America's Cup offers access to a prestigious event available in only a small handful of top tier sports.

Getting politicians on-side

One of Tienpont’s first stops in Auckland was to the Dutch Embassy to see the Ambassador and Consul.

"For us, they are quite important, as they can get the message back to the Dutch Government as to what the America's Cup does in terms of social impact. Besides the economic impact that everyone is always speaking about, they need to know the social impact. In Holland that is what we are really interested in - how many youth get inspired? How many people go to the technical universities to study? What does it do for watersports in general? How do they deal with sustainability?

"In Holland, we are surrounded by water, and we are very vulnerable. More of the surface of the country is water than land. That is the great opportunity this time.

"The America's Cup is an unbelievable tool to develop a platform of innovation, sustainability and for youth to be inspired to bring everything together.

"Of course there are people in The Netherlands who have the financial ability to have an America's Cup team, with a first-time win as its objective.

“But for the backers, an America’s Cup win of itself is not on their agenda. If it is something that makes sense and has current relevance, then it is more interesting to them personally, as well as being a good business proposition."

"A lot of the things that we are developing in the team are very interesting and useful if you share that knowledge and have co-ownership as a business proposition."

For the America's Cup, Tienpont has identified a couple of possible joint venture projects for the DutchSail Foundation.

“In Rotterdam, we have [road] traffic that is completely stuck - so the only way of transporting people in a clean and fast way is over our waterways."

“We need foiling buses. But they can’t make any wake - besides going super fast - we don't want any wake because of the damage."

Where better to learn about foiling than as part of an America's Cup design program?

“Also the whole composite industry comes into play with the replacement of steel barges - all our transport is done on barges some of which are 120 years old. They need to be replaced, and it is only logical to do it using composites to construct them as lightly as possible.”

Playing catch-up with smart analysis in Volvo OR

The Volvo Ocean Race was the trigger for what is now the DutchSail Foundation aimed at exploiting the technological possibilities from the 36th and subsequent America's Cup.

In the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race, Team AkzoNobel as a first-time team was up against four other teams that were all repeat competitors in the race, sailing the same one-design boats they had before. They were competing on substantially the same course and timings and with a mass of data and knowledge that could be applied to almost every aspect of the race.

Tienpont’s response was to cover three key areas.

“First how fast the boat can sail. We had to develop a very accurate VPP system that can handle all the data and can grow as the race goes on. We needed a tool better than any of the other teams.”

That led to the development of a VPP tool that worked not only flat water but would also work in waves. They developed the tool using a supercomputer at Marin Research Institute Netherlands, a facility specialising in ship design, whose progeny includes a 116m superyacht for New Zealand's richest man, ex-tow truck driver, Graeme Hart.

“It was an interesting proposition for them because they work more and more in wind-powered solutions for commercial shipping, superyachts design.

“Then we needed a partner that knew everything about waves and weather and were able to tap into a Dutch company who were the only ones who have a prediction model for the whole world covering all the ocean currents all the waves and all the weather systems that are connected to it. Even down to a very specific location and time. So we could find out what had happened in the past 60 years in Hong Kong harbour at 5.00am if we were finishing the Volvo leg at that time.”

“When we could connect those two information sources with the VPP we had an outstanding tool - not only for preparation in the race but also during the race when we could keep developing it.”

Maybe it should come as no surprise that AkzoNobel became the first boat in the history of the Volvo Ocean Race to crack 600nm in a 24-hour run. The 65ft VO65’ new mark of 601.8 nm was just 17nm short of the open record of 618nm set by the supermaxi Comanche.

“Our two partners in the nine months during the Volvo Ocean Race got very good usable data back that was collected in a useable format for their own models – so they were adding to their knowledge – which gave them an advantage against their competitors.”

Another AkzoNobel joint project looked at measuring the physiological and human performance data from the crew, who were working under the stress of a very competitive nine-month trans-oceanic race when the boats were frequently insight of each other.

The team worked with one of the biggest university hospitals in Europe, Erasmus MC Rotterdam.

“During the race, they could advise us about human performance.”

“They were looking at specific body markers for stress, and could tell us which crew members needed rest. Some excellent predictions came out of it. They came in and checked us every stopover. But we were part of a way-way bigger research about the effect of the biological clock on the human body.

“We gave input on a research project to advise industry - nurses, pilots, aircrew, and everyone who works on shift work to determine what was a healthy roster and when did people need more rest.”

“We offered a unique opportunity because we were nine months with a roster that was completely messed up and a biological clock that has no reference. Every stopover they would cut our hair to measure cortisol levels, and being able to see long term effects of a running a disturbed biological clock.”

Due to occupational health and safety requirements, collecting this extreme data would not be possible in a normal workplace situation, making it even more valuable to their partner.

“After the race, I realised that the research that was being done was being financed by the industry that wanted the results of the research because it was applicable in their daily business. They had never seen our data before. So these research institutes became co-owners in the campaign.”

“Next year in Holland we want to renew our submarine fleet - and now the Marin Research Institute Netherlands, which does the design of our submarines can start wondering why they have 15 people on board instead of eight people. They can see from our performance on the Volvo Ocean Race that the performance of the crew is way better if they have a different watch system.”

Tienpont says that the input from the sailing program is valuable and powerful as the Government and Universities do all the research for industry, and redistribute that knowledge. “There is so much going on - it is the environment, it is lifestyle, and it is technology,” he explains.

DutchSail campaign to embrace the Dutch fans and racers

“With the Volvo Ocean Race complete the partner companies involved asked the question “Simeon what's next?” That is where the America’s Cup challenge popped up.”

Despite being invited to participate in the original race around the Isle of Wight, in 1851, for what became the America's Cup, the Dutch had never challenged.

“So my thinking was that we should go for it? We've been waiting for 167 years - so why not?

“That is what I like about this America' Cup because there is a very good balance with budget restrictions, but also in this Protocol, there is a lot of room for innovation. The event also gives excellent value for a naming sponsorship.”

“Time is the biggest enemy, but it is also my biggest friend. Because if we have to do it, we have to do it now.”

“The two yacht clubs said we believe in this proposition, but as an entry, we do as a country, and we all stand behind it."

Both clubs, Royal Maas YC and Royal Netherlands YC, have both been in existence before the start of the America’s Cup in 1857, and while one is in Rotterdam on the river - both have their annual regatta on an arm of the sea. [Following an Arbitration panel hearing after this interview one of the two has to be nominated for the title role of Challenging Club.]

However, there is a wider project for the DutchSail America’s Cup team to embrace the 60,000 Dutch sailors who hold a racing licence

“The older sailors complain that the yacht harbours are becoming empty, there is no youth any more in the yacht clubs. The reason is simple – because nothing has changed. What 16yr old wants to sail on a Bavaria 38 if they can go to the beach and go foiling for 2% of the price, instead of sailing on a boat that can do 5.5kts?”

The Dutch national authority Koninklijk Nederlands Watersport Verbond (the Royal Netherlands Watersport Association) is bigger than just sailing embracing canoeing and surfing. To obtain a racing licence, you have to be a member of a club which in turn is affiliated to KNWV.

“Everyone is looking at these foiling America’s Cup boats,” says Tienpont.

“If you are a windsurfer, a foiler or you are an Optimist sailor, these boats are inspiring.

“That is the cool thing with the Cup - you have this whole water awareness.

“We are running an open campaign - if you want to participate in the campaign come down to the base. We did the same in the Volvo - with the Youth program.”

“It is impressive to see how many kids are coming into the Optimist. The Dutch federation is running a program Optimist on Tour - which I think has been running for four or five years.”

“Every kid in the Netherlands in a primary school has been sailing at least once. If they like it they can go to their local sailing club - it is not only sailing but all watersports. It is this sort of initiative that can be run straight into an Americas' Cup team.”

“We have to come up with a youth program that will get people back to the Clubs and to make them part of this Challenge,’ he says.

Defender design package access a key

One of the primary reasons for Tienpont and DutchSail’s new CEO Eelco Blok’s visit to New Zealand was to review Emirates Team New Zealand’s design package which has been offered to the teams at a price said to be north of $5million a pop.

“It is one of the main reasons why we’re here to have a look at it and learn more about it, says Tienpont.

“It makes sense in some ways. They benefit from other teams using their creation. We need to go back home and think about it.”

As to whether it is possible to buy modules of the basic design package, Tienpont says: “That is the stage where we are going to now. I think Team NZ is open to that, but it is something we need to discover in the future.”

Currently, the DutchSail team is set up in a base in The Hague in the same facility they used for the Volvo Ocean Race. Although there are currently 14-15 people on the team, which is expected to grow to 80, they are also able to draw on resources, such as rules expertise from within the two clubs.

The launch of their AC75 foiling monohull is set down for February or March 2020 – a date which is a tight fit alongside the first America’s Cup World Series event in April 2020 in Cagliari, Sardinia.

“That means that by the beginning of summer this year – June 2019 - we need to be full on, and have started the build process. For us, the upcoming two and a half months are very critical.”

“In the next couple of months, we have to determine where to build the boat, what's the best way. One thing is for sure - we know how to build a boat.”

“There are some big shipyards in The Netherlands you can always get the expertise. The top builders in composites can always be bought in. The project management is harder to find,” Tienpont says.

"One of the strongest assets we have as a team is that we can rely on an unbelievable marine industry, and also a composite industry. Not only from builders, but of resins, core material, and carbon manufacturers."

“The Netherlands has the most autoclaves of any country in the world”, he adds - underlining the Dutch composite construction capability.

Crew recruitment requires new thinking

Time has probably run out for the development of an AC75 prototype similar to that being used by Ineos Team UK or NYYC American Magic before the Dutch AC75 is launched.

“We want to get on the water as fast as we can,” says Tienpont. “If you look at Ben [Ineos Team UK] and Dean [American Magic], they must be learning so much.

“I can only guess, but looking at what they are doing and learning on a daily basis. We will have to discover how to accelerate these boats to get then foiling, and how to manoeuvre on the starting line and so on. I am most worried about it."

“ETNZ has an excellent simulation team, and I assume they are building two AC75's. So they will have a boat here to sail every single day and the other to go on tour.”

“The biggest disadvantage for us as a late-entering team is we don't physically have the time to build two boats. And we know we have to have something in the water when the AC75’s start going on tour in the ACWS events starting in April 2020.”

“For a one boat team, you also need a prototype. When the AC75 is being packed up, you want to fly home and get back out on the water the next day.”

Tienpont made many sit up and pay attention when DutchSail announced that triple Olympian and Volvo Ocean Race champion Carolijn Brouwer would be joining the team as a helmswoman.

“When you start on a campaign like this, you start the campaign with the best people you can get and people you rely on,” says Tienpont explaining the rationale behind her selection.

“They are familiar with the standard that is required to operate at this level."

“If you look at Carolijn’s experience she has one of the best professional track records we have in sailing, in The Netherlands.

“I contacted her to see if we could work together on this project. She is ambitious and says she will do whatever it takes to be the best on the helm. She knows that once the team starts growing that she will have some pretty tough competition - but has she set out her ambitions and I think that is great.

“We will have 14-15 people in the sailing team - of which two or three would be helming."

Following the Emirates Team New Zealand model with Glenn Ashby and Peter Burling, Tienpont believes that you need a tactician and wingsail trimmer who can steer the boat as well.

"Timing is everything. The boat handling and the calls that are being made are very critical because everything happens so fast.”

A twice America’s Cup champion Tienpont was with Oracle Racing and then Oracle Team USA when they won the America’s Cup in 2010 and defended in 2013 in San Francisco. For the 2017 America’s Cup, he sailed with Softbank Team Japan with Dean Barker as skipper.

As well as Carolijn Brouwer, twice America's Cup winner (with Alinghi) Peter van Niekerk, has also joined DutchSail. He is also a double Olympian and has competed in three Volvo Ocean races, the last with Tienpont on AzkoNobel.

Another world-class sailor is keen to come into the America’s Cup sailing program is twice Olympic champion in the RS:X windsurfer, Dorian van Rijsselberghe.

“When you have guys like Dorian, it brings through an attitude in the team. If you are talking about sailing in Holland, Dorian is a hero. What he has done is exceptional in sailing.

“When someone like that steps up and says “if there is one dream I have as a sailor it is to be part of this campaign”, that is great. But that is also the attitude that a twice America's Cup champion brings into your team. Dorian knows how to sail at the top level. He is an unbelievably strong fit guy."

“These guys know the game and also know the whole foiling game. But of course, there is expertise we need to bring in from the outside - like match racing and also knowing as a sailor how to give feedback on the design side and all the daily routine of the performance tools - is something that we still miss.”

Tienpont says he expected the team to be in Auckland in late 2020.

“If you are looking at the planning, we have to be here in December 2020, and we need to be on the water well before that."

Currently, two teams from the USA are entered along with teams from Italy, Malta, United Kingdom and Italy as well as the Defender, New Zealand.

Final arrangements on the schedule for the preliminary regattas comprising the 36th America's Cup have yet to be confirmed. Three events are expected to be held in the America's Cup World Series in which all teams have to compete.

There is a possibility of an ACWS event in Auckland. Otherwise, the first event will be the Christmas Cup for all teams in mid-December 2020, with the Qualifiers getting underway in January.

The Challenger and Defender will contest the 36th Match for the America's Cup starting on March 6, 2021.

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