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America's Cup: A day on the Waitemata with Emirates Team NZ's AC75

by Duncan Johnstone/Stuff.co.nz 28 Dec 2019 02:34 PST 28 December 2019
Onboard view of a splashdown - Emirates Team NZ's Te Aihe © Emirates Team New Zealand

Stuff.co.nz's Duncan Johnstone reports on his ride on the Emirates Team NZ chase boat and a training session with the AC75 Te Aihe

Team New Zealand are 30 minutes into a vital testing session when it all comes to a sudden halt.

One minute Te Aihe is foiling beautifully, the next moment the 75-foot monohull splashes down with Peter Burling's voice coming over the intercom, reporting a problem towards the bow.

Back on the chase boat where a mix of team management, designers and spare crew watch the high-speed action unexpectedly stall just metres away, Grant Dalton laments: "It's probably a $5 bracket."

He's not far wrong as an expensive instrument designed to measure wind speed off the front of the boat dangles precariously above the water, literally hanging by an electrical thread.

It's an example of how the smallest component can threaten a multi-million dollar boat.

It's not all plain sailing when an America's Cup team is coming to grips with a new design, particularly when that boat is a state-of-the-art affair that is having its boundaries pushed so hard and so fast.

America's Cup holders Emirates Team New Zealand are doing just that and on this day Stuff is invited along for the ride.

There's a long check-list to work through as modifications are put to the test. Small gains can take extraordinary amounts of time to eventuate.

The morning's light conditions on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf make an ideal stage for the massive 200sqm Code Zero sail to be trialled. This is the sail that will be employed when winds are at the bottom end of the limit.

The sail is a tricky beast but it's frighteningly effective. In around 7 knots of breeze, Team New Zealand are finding incredible speed until the frustrating finish to that phase.

The setback is quickly shrugged off because there's always something else to work on.

The salt-crusted crew take a breather and refuel – plenty of nuts, fruit, chocolate, energy bars and fluid are consumed – while the shore-based weather gurus offer hope of more wind deeper in the gulf for the next test assignment.

Burling has the boat weaving through a series of turns. The choreography of the crew is slick as Burling, Blair Tuke and Glenn Ashby move from side to side as the boat swings through tacks and gybes with the grinders staying at their stations. The boat looks stable and the crew confident for the relatively short time they have had together since it was launched in September though their testing later in the week would be marked by their first capsize, a mishap they quickly shrugged off without injury or damage.

As as always, time is ticking away. The first America's Cup World Series regatta is scheduled for Late April in Calgliari, Italy. A second will follow midyear in Portsmouth, England before the syndicates relocate to Auckland for next year's Christmas Cup which will be the curtainraiser to the Prada Cup challenger series in January and February 2021. The winner of that sails against Team New Zealand in the America's Cup match.

For the rest of this story and videos click here

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