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America's Cup: Revised Cup schedule takes pressure off teams

by Richard Gladwell & Radio Sport 11 Apr 2019 21:05 PDT 12 April 2019
Kevin Shoebridge, Grant Dalton, Peter Burling, Matteo di Nora and Glenn Ashby - 2017 America's Cup Bermuda © Emirates Team NZ

Emirates Team New Zealand COO, Kevin Shoebridge says that a revised America's Cup World Series schedule will help Emirates Team New Zealand and the three so-called Super Teams.

Speaking with the doyen of America's Cup commentators, Peter Montgomery on Radio Sport, Shoebridge said the idea is to try and sail four ACWS events in 2020.

Originally the first ACWS regatta was due to be held at Cagliari, Sardinia in October 2019. For various reasons that opening event will be held in Cagliari in late April 2020.

"Then there will be one of either Europe or USA - probably in June. The one after that will be in late August or September, and then a fourth one - which is relatively new - could be back here in Auckland in October 2020.

"That fourth regatta in Auckland in October is what we are working on at the moment," he added.

The Christmas Cup starting mid-December 2020, will be sailed as originally scheduled, and at that point, the America’s Cup sailing program will be back on track.

Shoebridge explains that the original schedule involved a lot of downtime for the America's Cup Defender.

"Our initial plan for this year was to sail in Auckland for three weeks and then go on a ship for 53 days to get to Italy and then put the AC75 on the ship for another 53days to get it back. So there was a lot of dead time for us."

"What the schedule does now is that it allows us to go on the water this winter and get six to seven months of uninterrupted testing down here in Auckland, continuing into the summer and leading into having to start construction on the second boat - which is going to be our actual race boat, sometime early next year."

"So it's not a bad thing, and I think it works for everyone. The teams can all stay in their home bases and sail their AC75 a lot more before they have to race. That will be a positive thing for everyone."

Shoebridge expects some of the Super Teams to be in Auckland for the summer of 2019/20 - particularly now the America's Cup World Series at Cagliari has been pushed back by seven months to April 2020. Three of the Wynyard Point base sites are due to be handed over to the teams ready for base construction in August 2019.

Shoebridge says they have had an indication that Ineos Team UK and also NYYC American Magic are intending to be in Auckland later this year for the summer.

There will probably be a re-jigging of project timelines and plans by the three Super Teams with the revised ACWS schedule, given they are able to launch a second AC75 after February 15, 2020 - two months before the start of the first ACWS regatta.

Teams are not allowed to sail a second AC75 while an ACWS regatta is underway. But with smart logistical planning, the Super Teams should be able to have boats in two locations and maximise AC75 sailing time.

The one boat teams will not be so fortunate and will either have to accept a lot of downtime or have a development boat positioned in Auckland or at their home base.

Foil Arms failure resolved

The vexed issue of design and construction of the five-metre-long carbon foil arms has now been resolved Shoebridge said. The arms are a Supplied Part that is being built by Persico in Italy.

Persico played a leading role in the construction of the eight boat Volvo 65 race fleet which have now completed two round the world races without structural incident and are set to do a third lap in the 2021/22 edition of The Ocean Race.

For a time, the America's Cup rumour-mill had it that the carbon arm structural failure was a major issue. But Shoebridge said that only one arm broke during testing and was subsequently redesigned. It is now in full production.

The foil arm has a wing attached to the bottom of the arm, which provides the upward force to lift the AC75 clear of the water. The wing is custom designed and built by each team.

Driving the foil arms is the electronic and hydraulic foil cant system, another one design Supplied Part which puts the arms and wings in and out of the water. The foil cant system was designed by Team New Zealand and manufactured in Auckland before being sent to the teams.

"The foil arm is a highly stressed piece of equipment”, Shoebridge told the Radio Sport audience. “We thought it pertinent to design and build one and then test that to breaking load. There was only ever one arm built, and that was all done some months before Christmas.”

The results weren't as good as everyone had hoped. The arm failed sooner than it was engineered to do. Instead of carrying on down a blind tunnel, the decision was made to do a re-design and start from scratch. There has been more design and engineering input from all the teams, and we have come up with a solution. All of those foil arms are now under construction at Persico in Italy. (To see an AC72 daggerboard on a stress test in 2013 click here)

"Yes, they are going to be ready later than intended by 6-8 weeks originally planned. But the structural issue with the arms was not the reason the first ACWS regatta was canned, that due to be held in Cagliari later this year. That decision was made for several different reasons."

"We wanted that first regatta to be an excellent regatta and a competitive one where everyone is sailing properly. We felt that it was better give everyone some more time and to push the event into early next year."

Shoebridge explained that the foiling arm and cant system were split into two projects and which were undertaken by Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand respectively - as the two projects were too much work in themselves for a single team. With Luna Rossa being in Italy and in charge of the foil arm aspect, it made sense to have them built in Italy.

Shoebridge explains that the foiling arm and cant system were built as supplied one design systems to "keep costs under control, and secondly, so the system and foil arm didn't get turned into an arms race. With new teams entering it would be very difficult for them to put together people with the experience to design those parts", he explained.

The rotating mainmast is a one design element on its front section, with the sail attachment system to the after edges of the "D" section mast being a designed solution by the teams. "It can be built wherever you like, although I'm assuming that 80% of them will be built at Southern Spars here in Auckland. But the masts are all to the same specification."

The rigging package is also a supplied item from Valencia-based Future Fibres, who like Southern Spars are part of the North Technology Group.

While the teams were allowed to launch their first AC75 on April 1, 2019, it was a date that was never going to be achieved by most teams, even before the issues with foiling arm issue becoming known. Most were expected to launch in May/June.

Now Shoebridge expects the Super Teams to "be definitely sailing by August".

Empathy for Late Challengers

The acceptance of three Late Challenges by the Defender has come in for a lot of criticism, including the lodging of complaints with the Arbitration Panel who adjudicate on rules issues within the America's Cup.

The three Super Teams, who challenged in the regular entry window, are all comfortably funded, supported by financial backers and sponsors.

Emirates Team New Zealand has a lot of empathy with the Late Challenging teams, having stood in their shoes many times during previous campaigns, and using every means available to defer payments when cash flow is tight to non-existent. In the last Cup cycle, they had their voting rights suspended for a period because they, along with Groupama Team France, had opted to put their entry fees on a deferred payment arrangement.

Higher than expected entry fees and performance bond of US$3million along with earlier time frames squeezed the team, forcing layoffs. The economic thumbscrews continued to be applied and on October 25, 2015, just over 18 months before the start of the Qualifiers in Bermuda, CEO Grant Dalton drafted an email to team sponsors advising: "It is with deep regret that I wish to inform you we will be closing on the 30th October 2015". He was able to turn the situation around with just hours to spare, and the rest is history.

"It is really hard to start a team from scratch - so they need all the help they can get," Shoebridge says in a comment that is not typical of your usual America's Cup Defender.

A fortnight ago, in early April one of the lead items on prime time TV news had it that none of the three Late Challengers would make it through to the America's Cup and that one had already penned a media statement announcing their withdrawal.

Ten days later, Shoebridge says all three are still in the mix.

“Malta is looking more promising that it was previously’, he says based on a phone call the Defender had fielded a few hours before the Radio Sport interview.

"Stars and Stripes Team USA has gone through a management restructure - but the Long Beach Yacht Club is still fully behind the Challenge. The Dutch are still working full speed ahead trying to make the deadline, he adds.

"There are other things that will come into play soon," Shoebridge says, "which are that you must start building a boat, to be able to sail in Cagliari, in April 2020. “

"Typically these boats take about nine months to build", he explains. "So with a nine-month build time, plus six weeks of training and then you need to freight the boat to Cagliari, so time is running out.”

"That build window will start to close soon, but we are not there yet."

"We are remaining completely supportive of those new teams to help them along the way."

"Stars and Stripes Team USA are well down the road with their boat - so they will be fine for timing."

"It's tough being a new team starting from scratch. This time we want to support them as much as we can – by offering design and design backup packages to allow them to be on the pace from Day 1."

"We have to be patient and give these teams as much support as we can and assume they are going to make it. That is our intention, that's for sure.

“They are probably not all going to make it. I think that would be wishful thinking, but there is no point in pushing it any harder at this point."

"We will continue to support the Late Challengers until it is not possible for them to make it anymore."

"The three teams that entered early, are very strong teams - probably the strongest group of Challengers that we have had for years," Shoebridge says.

Simulator being taken to a new level

The three Super Teams are not wildly enthusiastic about the Defender selling basic design packages to the three Late Challengers. The supply of the design package is really the only way now for the Late Challengers to meet their critical timelines and be on the start line in Cagliari in 12 months. But the package comes at a price - which is also a contribution to funding the Kiwi Defence of the America's Cup.

DutchSail's Carolijn Brouwer is reported, in a CNN interview, as saying that the late Challengers can also buy a simulator package from Emirates Team New Zealand.

"The simulator was a big part of our process last time," Shoebridge told the Radio Sport audience. "A lot more of it came out of necessity than an actual plan because we were late with our funding. We were late with getting our boat in the water. We were nearly a year behind the other teams who were actually sailing. To keep on the pace we had to develop something - so that's how the simulator was born."

"A simulator is not that hard to make - if you want pretty graphics and have a boat moving through the water. The real trick with a simulator is getting the physics and mathematics right to be able to drive it - so you can actually trust the results that come out of it unless you can trust the results that come out of it. Unless you can trust the results, it will take you completely down the wrong path."

"This Cup we are taking a big step forward again in our simulator development," he added.

"Everyone is onto this now. All the teams are going to have simulators. But if you want to test components such as rudders and wings and daggerboards, you have to make really sure that what is driving it - the physics - are deadly accurate.

"That is where we are heading at the moment. We are still using the simulator every day. We are not on the water, like some of the other teams are at the moment. We are sitting in a little dark room every day, racing boats around the course."

"Last time we had to confirm the results on the water to make sure we were seeing exactly what we saw in the simulator. Once you get that bit done you have a lot more confidence in the results that you see."

Sailing and design team integration

Having covered every America's Cup since 1980, including the first New Zealand Challenge in 1987, Montgomery raised the point about the New Zealand boats always encouraging sailor input right from the outset.

"Close integration between the design team and sailing team is absolutely key," says Shoebridge who under Peter Blake won a Whitbread race on Steinlager 2, and the America's Cup in 1995. Blake was part of the sailing crew in the 1995 Cup to ensure there was a good connection between the sailing team and the designers, shore support and management.

"You can have all the brains in the world in the design team, but you have to have the guys that race the actual boat around the course who can say: "that's not practical", or "I want to be able to do this no-look gybe from the windward side". All that stuff is a process that we are very conscious of, and we make sure we get all the feedback from people like Ray [Davies] and Glenn [Ashby] and Dick [Richard Meacham] and Pete [Burling]," says Shoebridge.

"Pete [Burling] is a good one because he has an engineering background and he is really interested in the technical side. He, as can Glenn, can have one-on-one conversations with designers, and not get baffled. The designers love that too - they like the push and to have these discussions with the sailing team who are the end-users of what they are creating."

America's Cup's skipper, Peter Burling adds a strong engineering understanding to his remarkable sailing skills - photo © Gordon Upton / <a" />
America's Cup's skipper, Peter Burling adds a strong engineering understanding to his remarkable sailing skills - photo © Gordon Upton /

Emirates Team New Zealand will field a smaller than expected sailing team.

The AC75 races with 11 crew, Shoebridge says the sailing squad will consist of 16-17 people. As most of the roles on the boat will be grinders, it is likely that people will be spelled between races.

"They will need to have the skills so that they can jump straight on and pick up a role," Shoebridge says.

"I think people will be amazed when they see these boats launched in Auckland, this winter - what they actually look like, and what they can actually do."

In simulation, Shoebridge says they are expecting the AC75 to be lifted onto the foils in 7-8kts.

"We are also seeing that with the training boats that the Brits and New York are using at the moment, which has been pretty encouraging. The AC75’s will be difficult. They will be a handful, and it will be baby-steps to start with."

"One of the reasons why the first ACWS regatta was pushed back a bit, was that we would have been lucky to have three weeks sailing here [in NZ] before we put the boat on a ship and sent it to Europe to race.

"That is not ideal. The AC75 is going to take longer than that to get sorted."

In-house build a novelty

For the first time in their 30 years of competing in the America's Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand are building their own boat.

Despite having a large base facility in the America's Cup Village on Auckland harbour, the team has set up their own build facility in Albany, on Auckland's North Shore.

There are 42 on the build team, doing the first boat. Shoebridge describes it as the most high-tech boatyard in the country.

"We need to have complete control over what we are doing," he explained. “It is not a commercial venture. We want to have the best boat possible at the best price. The boatyard is now an extension of the team. In future, if we want to build rudders or foils, we can do it much more quickly and economically."

Despite a very difficult ten months after winning the America's Cup as the facilities, hosting and financials were determined, with the alternative venue coming close to being triggered at one point when the situation appeared to be stalemated.

However, with that settled, and the team established in its new base, Montgomery asked Shoebridge if he was comfortable with the team's situation and progress.

"I don't think you are ever comfortable," Shoebridge replies. "All I know is that the team we have put together now is stronger than the one we had in Bermuda.

"That's what you've got to keep doing - you've got to keep changing and developing and keep refreshing.

"I think we are a pretty well-oiled machine - that's how we want to function."

"Everything is looking good at the moment, but it will all come home to roost when we get into the first regatta in Italy next year when we get the first real look at the opposition."

To listen to the full broadcast on Radio Sport click here

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