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America's Cup: Emirates Team New Zealand pushes the wind limits in early training session

by Richard Gladwell, 2 May 2020 19:21 PDT 3 May 2020
Emirates Team New Zealand's test boat Te Kahu throws up the fine high speed spray - Rangitoto Channel - May 2, 2020 © Richard Gladwell /

Emirates Team New Zealand took to the Waitemata Harbour for an early training session ahead of an adverse weather forecast of strong winds and heavy rain.

It is just the second day of sailing since a mandatory five-week COVID-19 lockdown, which has cost the team dearly on an already tight design, testing and construction. The team's AC75 Te Aihe has also gone on a four-month walkabout between New Zealand and Europe after two planned America's Cup World Series Regattas were cancelled triggered by the advance of COVID19.

The session was impressive - sailing in an onshore breeze close to the top end of the allowed 23kts for the America's Cup.

Te Kahu docked out of the team base at 0800hrs and returned three hours later from a testing session without any challenger team reconnaissance boats present.

Today's conditions were in contrast to the first sail on Thursday which was mostly in light winds, with the 12-metre test boat being towed onto its foils early in the session, before free sailing.

Strong winds and rain are expected to lash Auckland for Sunday and into the early part of next week, hindering opportunities to catch up lost development and testing time through the severe five-week Level 4 CONVID-19 shutdown which was only eased on Tuesday.

The other four America's Cup teams are also having to rethink their campaigns for the third time this Cup cycle.

For the teams, the silver lining in the CONVID-19 cloud is that the restarted programs will be free of the reconnaissance boats and spies from competing teams. All have apparently been recalled to their home country as air travel comes more fraught, expensive and constrained.

By now, under the original regatta schedule, teams and fans would know the outcome of the first America's Cup World Series Regatta, and the AC75's would be in the process of being shipped to Portsmouth UK for the second ACWS regatta starting June 3.

INEOS Team UK called an abrupt end to their planned four-month sojourn in Cagliari and returned to the UK and are expected to spend the English summer training on the Solent in their first AC75. Their second boat is running on an accelerated build program and will be air-freighted to New Zealand in September or earlier.

Emirates Team New Zealand fired up their program on Tuesday, with their North Shore construction facility running the usual double shifts and even with that construction effort will struggle to catch up any of the five weeks and 8,000 man-hours lost.

The kiwi's on the water program resumed on Thursday with their test boat trialling what is believed to be wing developments on their 12-metre test boat Te Kahu.

About the time the America's Cup team got governmental consent to resume testing and development, those in charge of setting the constantly changing Alert Rules landscape in New Zealand published further edicts allowing marine organisations to venture onto the water in certain circumstances.

Even so, the regulations are full of inequities. Initially, they banned all recreational sailing, but allow canoeing, kiteboarding and windsurfing. Later the predication "recreational" was dropped from "sailing" on the list of banned activities, meaning it covered all forms of sailing.

Emirates Team New Zealand has implemented probably the most rigorous social distancing practices and technology of any organisation in New Zealand. That includes wearing unique distancing devices and taking an extra two chase boats on the water for the design and development engineers to be able to social distance in compliance with the latest prescriptions.

For the first test session test cameras were rigged extending to the outer extremity of the foils. The cameras would have been viable for tow testing but would have been a different proposition for sail testing.

Crew member Blair Tuke revealed on a TV news item on the resumed testing and development program that the new features had been due to be tested two days before the five-week lockdown, but inclement weather prevented the team getting on the water.

The America's Cup programs are now beginning to get into the territory, six months out from the first Cup regatta, where time is running out for the design, development, testing and construction of new parts.

In the last America's Cup daggerboards took three months to build, and sets of wings are probably not too different in this edition.

For teams running a program with test boats and trialling a new design feature at half-size will be an even longer process - but with more certainty of a positive outcome.

Luna Rossa sailing with electric crew

In Sardinia, Luna Rossa has repaired their twice damaged AC75 and gone sailing - with a crew of five after replacing six grinders with electric motors. The change indicates that the team's test boat is no longer operative and that their first AC75 is now fulfilling this role.

Luna Rossa is the only competitor currently sailing an AC75. However, the Brits are not expected to be too far behind.

Looking back on the cancelled America's Cup World Series Regatta in Cagliari and Portsmouth, Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena told Sky Sport in a video interview:

"From a technical - and athletic - point of view, it's a pity not to race against our opposing teams, and that is true for every team involved in the race.

"We must remember that we are dealing with a completely new boat, a new class that reaches really high speed: we almost got to 50 knots a little before the lockdown. So we had to reorganise all the development plan, we had prepared Boat 1 for the World Series, and we had partially stopped the development of that boat to race in the regattas.

"One of the strengths of our team is that we are very flexible and we can adapt our plans quickly. Therefore, as soon as the two World Series were cancelled, we completely changed the strategy getting back to getting on the water to develop the boat further.

"It might seem strange, but it's been an advantage not having to go to the UK because we had the opportunity to develop the boat for the America's Cup specifically.

"In hindsight, considering all the logistic difficulties that the COVID-19 created in the world, the fact that we didn't have to move the boat has been a great advantage.

"The NZ boat arrived at Gioia Tauro port in Calabria [Italy]. The UK team were here in Cagliari, and now they're heading back to England. I would say that in this disastrous situation we got lucky from a technical point of view."

Sirena says Luna Rossa were initially planning on arriving in New Zealand in mid-September, but their plans will now be delayed for at least a month, maybe later, depending on the COVID-19 in the rest of the world.

When spoken to last week by Sail-World, the team advised they would continue sailing their first boat from Cagliari until the end of September and will fly the second AC75 to Auckland and expected to be sailing around October 20.

There are conflicting reports as to whether the build team actually stopped work completely on their second AC75 in Persico Marine, in Belgamo, Northern Italy - the epicentre of the pandemic in Italy.

INEOS Team UK gets an add-on

Images of the arrival of the first AC75 of INEOS Team UK showed the scow-hulled AC75 sporting a new strake running down the centreline of its hull. Most design pundits put the addition down to tidying up airflows under her fuselage/hull, rather than a crude attempt to emulate the centreline bustle of the Kiwi and Italian first-born AC75's.

Hull alterations are restricted to a maximum of 12.5% of the outer surface of the hull - which may have dictated the extent of the new addition.

The Brits are expected to arrive in Auckland in September after flying the hull of their AC75 to New Zealand.

Construction restarted on their base on Wynyard Point, this week.

American Magic continues build

American Magic's second AC75 is under construction in Bristol, RI - they were able to continue their build through the lockdown only with the assistance of the State Governor.

Their first AC75 avoided being shipped to the first America's Cup World Series Regatta, by the matter of a few days. But as of mid-April had not yet resumed sailing operations out of their winter base at Pensacola, Florida

Almost regardless of the on the water program, the design and build "bubbles" continue, with the sailing "bubble" having to make-do with clocking up the "sailing" hours in a very realistic simulator facility.

All teams are expected to fly their first and second AC75's to Auckland, to regain some design/development time in a severely disrupted schedule.

Stars + Stripes USA gets second life

With the Protocol requirement to compete in the Cagliari and Portsmouth ACWS events now removed, potentially the 2021 America's Cup door is still ajar for the fourth challenger, Stars + Stripes USA.

The team has a part constructed AC75 to a Team New Zealand supplied design package. Their America's Cup aspirations went on hold when it was realised that time had run out for the young California based team to make the mandatory regattas at Cagliari and Portsmouth, UK.

Co-founder Mike Buckley told Sail-World on Friday the team was "close" with securing funding, and that "S+S continues to push on to be in Auckland".

Buckley reports that he has been out of action for a month, having fallen victim to CV-19. His family also contacted the coronavirus. All are believed to be in recovery.

There is no word from the New Zealand Government on plans to loosen restrictions on inbound tourists into New Zealand.

It would seem from comments made by the New Zealand Prime Minister, that a 14 day supervised quarantine would be required for the teams. A similar restriction has been imposed on a New Zealand professional sports team intending on entering Australia for a resumed competitive season in late May or June.

Quite where that leaves America's Cup fans intending to travel to New Zealand is another matter entirely.

(Translations from Italian kind courtesy of Alessandro Contrino.)

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