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America's Cup: Emirates Team NZ's AC75 up close after two weeks off the water

by Richard Gladwell/ 11 Dec 2019 16:51 PST 12 December 2019
Te Aihe - ETNZ's AC75 heads out in the bright morning sun - December 10, 2019 © Richard Gladwell

After a couple of weeks off the water, during the Hyundai 49er Worlds, Emirates Team NZ's AC75 was back on the water in a fresh offshore breeze on Monday for a four-hour session.

The breeze wasn't quite so co-operative the next day, and the team set up at the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour before being towed further offshore into the Hauraki Gulf for another four-hour session in light winds.

Yesterday was an early morning start for what proved to be a nine hour on the water session in fresh breezes.

There are no obvious differences from the previous edition of Te Aihe, given that above deck the AC75 is deceptively simple in appearance, and the "engine room" and control systems are largely below deck. This simplicity is evidenced to some extent by the fact that it takes the team around 30 minutes to step the mast and set up/connect up the boat after the hull is wheeled out of the shed.

It seems that most of the changes have been refinements and enhancements as to what has been seen before, rather than taking the design and systems in a new direction.

Not apparent in these shots are changes that seem to have been made to the top of the mainsail. The head of sail now appears to be pre-loaded on the dock, and a new system may be in place both making the sail easier to hoist, but also give greater control over the head of the sail.

The endplate area - or where the sails meet the deck appears to have been tidied up to make a cleaner sail to hull join.

There may be new wings fitted; however, these are harder to track, as these are not always visible when the AC75 is towed - trifoiling (with all three foils underwater). The Challenger spy boats can track this very accurately through beam-on camera/video shots when the windward wing raised clear of the water.

What is obvious is that Emirates Team NZ has chosen to stay with the longer wing, no ballast fuselage, adopted by the other teams, who all seem to have less length in their wings/thinner wings to reduce drag. The others have offset the lack of weight in the wings with a centre ballast torpedo or fuselage to bring the weight of the wings, and righting moment, up to the maximum weight allowed under the AC75 rule.

It is also likely that the Kiwi team is running the same practice as followed in the AC50 with running different wing shapes and designs on different sides of the boat. This allows better comparative testing of foils to be undertaken - as the two designs are being tested in the same conditions. It also allows the teams to test more wings - a maximum of six (three sets) are permitted per AC75. Up to 20 foil flaps are allowed (which are control surfaces separate from the wing). For wings and flaps, the item may be altered in any way except that alteration may not exceed 20% of the weight of the wing (184kg maximum alteration).

Yesterday (Wednesday) ETNZ conducted one of their longest sessions to date with nine hours on the water, in fresh breezes of 15-20kts. There were plenty of stoppages indicating adjustments were being made regularly either as part of a test script for the day or to resolve software and hardware issues. The sailing including a lot of reaching runs, without crew training exercises - indicating that the team is in a substantial testing phase of the changes to lock down design options for the second AC75 - expected to be the team's race boat.

In almost exactly 12 months the first racing will be underway for the Christmas Cup - the preliminary regatta ahead of the start of the Prada Cup or Challenger Selection Series. It is not known whether the Defender will race their first or second AC75 in that series. If it is the first built AC75, Te Aihe, then the team will effectively have another couple of months design/build/test time over the Challengers, with the America's Cup match not starting until March 6, 2021.

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