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America's Cup: "The boat is quite extreme - because this is the one to try the AC75 extremities."

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 5 Sep 2019 17:43 PDT 6 September 2019
Emirates Team New Zealand's base from which the AC75 will be launched on Friday, September 6 © Richard Gladwell

Emirates Team New Zealand's CEO says that America's Cup fans should expect to see an extreme version of the AC75 design when the Defender's first boat is launched on Friday morning.

"The boat is quite extreme- because this is the one to try the extremities," Grant Dalton told Sail-World on Tuesday at the announcement of Sky City as a major sponsor of the team.

"You can always back up from that [for the second boat]," he said justifying the approach.

The Kiwi boat is expected to be the first of the new AC765 foiling monohull to be launched for the 36th America's Cup, with others expected over the next month or so.

The launch on Friday will take the Cup back to the advent of the first of the International America's Cup Class keelboats used in the 1992-2007 America's Cups.

In the first iteration of yachts launched under that rule, there was a wide disparity in design treatments for the first batch of designs before the Cup designers settled in the same corner of the IACC rule and adopted a common response. Winner Bill Koch commissioned four yachts to be built, covering the range and found that the narrowest beamed boat was the fastest. He successfully used that boat for his America3 Defence - setting the trend for the next five America's Cups.

A similar process followed the introduction of the AC72 wing sailed catamaran, where two teams adopted the approach of a displacement wingsailed catamaran, and Emirates Team New Zealand worked out a way to foil. The then-Defender Oracle Racing was forced to follow suit, and eventually leap-frogged the Kiwi design team to win the Cup by 11-8 races.

In the 2017 America's Cup, the AC50's were one-designs except for foils, control systems and fairings.

For the 36th America's Cup Emirates Team New Zealand is in the position being the only one of the four "Super Teams" involved in the 36th America's Cup in that hasn't built a Prototype boat to test various design options, and to learn how to handle the new class.

Instead, the Kiwis are relying heavily on computer simulation and will be keen to get the new boat sailing as soon as possible.

"The only other boat that we have seen is NYYC American Magic [which has had some images leaked onto the internet - not by the team]. We understand the assumptions they have made to come up with that boat - will have to see where it sits in the big matrix of an open design rule."

Already there has been a diversity of approach, illustrated by images of a snub/bluff bow on American Magics first AC75. Dalton says he believed the bluff bow of the New York Yacht Club entry was real, and not shrouded or a subterfuge. But would not be drawn on a follow-up question as to whether fans could expect the Kiwi boat to follow the same trend. "You'll have to wait and see, mate," was the short response. "You only have to wait to more days," he chuckled.

"I've got no idea what the English have done, and no idea what Luna Rossa have done. Until they are all you, you just don't know."

1992 Cup revisited?

Dalton said that it was back to the future for the America's Cup, harking back to the days of the first IACC designs aimed at the 1992 Match. The big difference between the two eras is that tank testing and wind tunnel testing or design permutations were permitted for the 1992 America's Cup, while this America's Cup cycle they have been banned.

That forces the teams to rely on simulators to predict the performance of a class that has never previously sailed. Emirates Team NZ was acknowledged as a clear leader in boat simulation for the 35th America's Cup.

"Time will tell," is Dalton's response to the question as to whether in retrospect the Defender should have built a prototype, to both provide some calibration for the simulator and to train crews in the new design type.

"There's some advantages for sure with what they [the other teams] have done. They have learned to sail. But it's a decision we made, and I don't know what the right answer is - we'll find out."

Back in November 2017 when the AC75 Class Rules was first announced, the team's design head Dan Bernasconi told Sail-World, that the team would not be building a prototype boat (limited under the Protocol to be 12 metres or 38ft overall length) and would put all their efforts into the first AC75.

That boat was able to be first launched on April 1, 2018. Due to design/construction issues with the carbon foiling arms and the decision not to hold any events in the America's Cup World Series in 2019 (up to two events could have been scheduled), the ETNZ AC75 is hypothetically being launched five months late.

In reality, little time has been lost as the New Zealand team would have launched into the southern hemisphere winter, characterised by light or strong winds - with few useful testing days in-between.

The other Super teams have missed a northern hemisphere summer of sailing and testing. Luna Rossa - being based in Cagliari, in southern Sardinia, has a more favourable weather pattern but were the last to launch a 30ft prototype.

The British team will move to Cagliari before the onset of winter, to test sail their AC75. They are not permitted to sail against Luna Rossa, but inevitably will be able to develop their own performance assessment of the Italian AC75 from seeing her sailing in similar conditions to their own.

Whatever the location, all teams could use the delay to invest in more design work and options, also with a view to the design configuration of their second AC75, permitted to be launched after February 15, 2020.

Fans won't be seeing the new AC75 foiling on the first or launch day.

"This is quite a complex boat, and if it doesn't work it will be fairly messy", says Dalton. "We have to take a softly, softly approach. We aren't going to go out in 20kts on the first day. We have to check that the hydraulics and everything is working, so we don't need to go sailing to check that.

"Then we will just slowly work it up and go sailing."

That's quite a different scenario with the launch of the team's Cup-winning AC50, when the Arbitration Panel required all teams for the 35th America's Cup, to have a 28 day sailing blackout from early January 2017 as part of the settlement for the Defender, Golden Gate Yacht Club breaching an agreement for the America's Cup Qualifiers to be sailed in Auckland. The blackout was imposed to allow the Kiwis some catch-up time on the teams already in Bermuda.

The upshot of that time-out was that Emirates Team NZ spent most of the time dry-sailing their boat and ensuring that all systems were functional. When first launched, with her four cyclors, she was able to start foiling immediately.

The build-up for the AC75 will be much more gradual and weather dependent. (Current long-range forecasts show strong winds for the rest of the week, with maybe one weather window on Monday afternoon, and Tuesday morning.)

After the boat checking process on the dock is complete the calibration process to verify the accuracy of the simulator will begin. There is something of a Catch-22 in that until the boat is calibrated with the simulator, the accuracy of the shore-based sessions on what expect from AC75 boat handling will not be known. Those first few days are likely to come down to seat of the pants sailing as much as anything, and checking to see if there are any surprises.

"It will take a while to calibrate because we can't sail the AC75 at full efficiency until we learn [the gap between the AC75 simulator and the AC75 sailing boat]. Ultimately the boat has to be calibrated against the simulator - but that won't be a quick task, and certainly won't be done in the first three days.

"It will take a while to understand how to power the ASC75, the settings - and do the settings replicate what the simulator says? Peter Burling is the right guy to ask about those things."

Back from a commanding win in the 49er class, in the Pre-Olympic Regatta at Enoshima, Burling was tight-lipped on "where to from here?" questions on the AC75's sailing program.

"It will be a little weather dependent. We can't pass on too many details."

"You'll have to wait and see", was his response to a question on the windstrength they would be after for a first sail (and maybe the first sight of the SC75 foil-borne).

"There's definitely been a lot of development on this boat," he says in response to a question as to whether this AC75 is really Emirates Team NZ's prototype boat. "We have been through a very thorough load testing program, and we are very confident that we will be able to go out and start pushing it."

Of the accuracy of the simulator to the as yet unsailed AC75, Burling says at this stage they are as confident as they could be with the co-relation between the virtual world and AC75 sailing reality.

"We are as confident as we could be at this stage. It is all part of our development plan, and we are really happy with where we are at."

He echoes Dalton's comments on the decision not to build a development boat. "Everyone has made a decision as to what they have decided to prioritise, and we are really happy with the decisions we have made to get to this point, and we are looking forward to the next phase and getting on the water. "

Looking at the sailing schedule ahead of the team going into the Southern Hemisphere Spring and Summer, Burling agrees they have a good run weatherwise, but also have to ship the AC75 in 2020 for the World Series Regatta in Cagliari, Sardinia.

"We are really happy with where things stand," he says.

[Sailing] Client led design

After the Kiwis first America's Cup win in 1995, led by Sir Peter Blake, much has been made of sailor led programs in the America's Cup. After the narrow loss in the 2013 America's Cup, Dalton says the debrief from that campaign showed the design program would benefit from having "a strong [sailing] client who knew what they wanted, and how to achieve that with the designers."

"So that interaction between Peter, Glenn and all the sailors is a very important component to creating the right boat. You can't have one without the other - it doesn't work."

Asked to comment on the status of the fourth challenger Stars & Stripes Team USA, based in Long Beach, CA. Dalton says as far as he knows they are still in the Cup. He expects the fledgeling US team to be paying close attention to the performance of the New Zealand team's first-born AC75.

A lot of their future "will depend on how good this boat is," says Dalton.' Because if our boat is right then, they're sweet. If not, they are not in real good shape at all."

Several months ago, pending a team restructure, the second US team suspended the build of their AC75 to a design supplied by Emirates Team New Zealand. Once they have feedback on the Kiwi design, they will be in a position, other issues resolved, to complete the build as per the original design, or modify it based on the feedback they will be able to obtain after the early sailing trials of the Kiwi AC75.

The five teams are all beginning to come under time pressure, particularly regarding the options for their second boat, which is allowed to be launched in five and a half months.

While the New Zealand team will get a useful five months testing in the AC75, she has to be shipped to Europe (a 53-day voyage) for the first, and only, announced America's Cup World Series event, scheduled for Cagliari in late April 2020.

Dalton is non-committal on a launch date for the second AC75. "We haven't decided yet. It depends on how it goes with this boat. Very soon, all teams are going to start having to decide on what they are doing with that boat."

"We can't wait until next year and have a think about it. All teams will be going through the process of thinking about their second boat already. Given that it takes say ten months to build a boat, you've got to have already started design thinking.

"Our guys are thinking about Boat 2, but the focus has been on getting this one in the water and finding out whether we are on the right track."

That design development process for the America's Cup race boat will get under way sometime next week when the team's and world's first AC75 begins sailing.

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