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Lessons for AC75's from a gale-swept SailGP Cowes

by Richard Gladwell, 14 Aug 21:51 PDT 15 August 2019
Series winner Team Australia - SailGP Cowes, August 10-11, 2019 © Chris Cameron / SailGP

The penultimate SailGP 2019 circuit regatta has come and gone.

For those who missed it, England turned on a fresh Solent gale, and Day 1 was cancelled 24 hours out from its scheduled start.

Day 2, the final day of racing was completed in fresh winds, which were still sufficient to cause some damage and capsizes.

As it always does, the Solent asked plenty of questions of the competitors. Team Australia was a deserving winner - with a team stacked with talent from the 2017 America's Cup. Five of the six Team Australians were part of Oracle Team USA 2017, and one was with their acolyte, Softbank Team Japan.

That level of expertise really showed in the fresh conditions off Cowes, as Tom Slingsby and his team could consistently drive their F50 harder, and with more confidence than the other five teams.

To the surprise of no-one, they also became the first team in SailGP to better the 50kt mark during a race.

Three races were sailed on Sunday - and that was pushing life to the extreme - for both boats and crews.

SailGP Cowes was a very rugged regatta, with conditions comparable to Day 2 of the Semi-Finals in Bermuda, when Emirates Team New Zealand pitchpoled.

The Australians were not without their challenges, stuffing their F50 into the Solent, on a Practice Day, emerging with a broken wingsail - and an unscheduled test for their shore-team. Fortunately for the Australians, like the Kiwis in 2017, the next race day was called off - providing time for the shore team to turn a workable fix into a quality repair.

While little was made of it at the time, there was gear damage on most of the boats, which impacted their performance, and forced the crews to focus on finishing the race, rather than their place.

Sunday was a day of attrition.

Team USA capsized before the start of the first race but recovered well to sail in the next two. The home team, Britain dug in on the penultimate leg of the first race. While they recovered to finish, the damage sustained in the incident was sufficiently serious to force them out of the remaining two races.

At Cowes, we saw a repeat of the issues with the America's Cup World Series that occurred in the lead-in to the 2013 and 2017 Cup.

Running a two-day regatta is very weather dependent. Cowes could well have been a blow-out both days.

It would seem that the only real way to overcome the issue is for the regatta to be spread over two weekends as was the 2017 America's Cup Match.

The five-day gap also allows time for repairs and recovery - so in a situation where the home team is damaged on the first day - they will be back for the following weekend. Sudden death is all very well but doesn't work in a competition of this type. Teams should be eliminated by a competitive outcome and not a crash.

The seaworthiness of the race boats in SailGP has implications for the 36th America's Cup and the radical AC75 foiling monohulls.

Obviously, there are some very talented people involved in the 36th America's Cup, who will be able to come up with design changes that can be applied between now and the Match if there are issues with capsizing or nosediving.

Extrapolating the performance of the various development boats into the AC75 is not a sound practice. As Ben Ainslie told us the INEOS Team UK prototype was designed to be extreme. That was so the crew and designers could gauge the limitations of its handling and performance, rather than just opt for a safe ride.

We won't know if there really is an issue until the AC75's start sailing in the hands of top sailing professionals.

SailGP Cowes put the seaworthiness issue firmly on the America's Cup table.

Laser class rings changes

The other news of significance has been the announcement on Tuesday of the outcome of the Laser Class Rules vote.

Perhaps not surprisingly the outcome was a ringing endorsement of the rule change proposed by the World Council of the International Laser Class Association. Three vote outcomes seem to be in play, but all versions are in excess of the required 66% majority required to pass.

Quite what happens next remains to be seen.

While the media statement from ILCA says the rule change has been submitted to World Sailing for confirmation as required by Regulation 10, that is only half the story - not even that.

Regulation 10 has no less than 17 clauses and a myriad of sub-clauses. Several of those cover the appointment process for licenced builders.

So the next moves will be watched with a degree of interest. Whether the vote outcome resolves the outstanding issues is another matter entirely.

AC75's start the launch countdown

For the America's Cup teams, a vexed era came to an end with the delivery of carbon foil arms to Emirates Team New Zealand.

Although the other teams haven't commented one assumes that it was not an exclusive delivery for the America's Cup Defender.

We are now seeing the first signs of movement in the America's Cup Challenger ranks. Luna Rossa has moved their first AC75 from Persico Marine in Belgamo to the team base in Sardinia.

Images have been floating around the interweb showing what could be a disguised AC75 hull being loaded into the INEOS Team UK base in Portsmouth.

So far only one team has announced a launch date - Luna Rossa was to launch on August 25 but shifted that date to September 9. Emirates Team New Zealand is expected to launch in September - probably after Luna Rossa.

In our interview with INEOS Team UK, Ben Ainslie said they weren't too focused on a date for a launch function, preferring the lower-key approach of just getting the AC75 in the water and going sailing.

This story was first published on August 14, 2019 as the editorial in the Sail-World NZ newsletter.

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