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America's Cup Rialto: August 14 - Kiwis give a foiling masterclass in revamped Te Aihe

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/NZ 14 Aug 2020 05:09 PDT 15 August 2020
Emirates Team NZ - Te Aihe - Waitemata Harbour - Auckland - August 14, 2020 - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Both America's Cup teams sailed today in Auckland in a 15-20kts seabreeze, and overcast skies. Ideal conditions for testing and crew training.

With the Viaduct Harbour webcam offline - we missed getting the dockout for both teams.

On the harbour, Emirates Team New Zealand got away to a slow start sheltering in the lee of Brown's Island, as they despatched a chase boat back to the base, presumably on an errand to get a replacement part.

They then moved up to the lee of Motuihe Island, having more downtime as alterations were made.

After a couple of short runs, again in the lee of Motuihe Island before proceeding slowly over to the eastern side of Browns Island in full force of the easterly. It seemed that America's Magic was already sailing in "The Paddock".

Te Aihe could then be seen running across The Paddock with a couple of speed runs across the leeward side of Motuihe.

Problems solved, she started up downwind heading for the entrance of Waitemata Harbour.

As she approached the Browns Island reef, American Magic's chase boat came into view, with Defiant on a displacement tow. As they moved past our camera position both Defiant's foil arms could be seen in a raised position and with the wings both partially above the surface.

Executive Director and skipper Terry Hutchinson's comment on the issue was "just gremlins - occasionally the force you back to the beach."

The raising of the foil arms into this position was intentional, not part of the failure.

The crew looked relatively relaxed on the tow - another sign of a minor issue.

"We had a great week on the water. Very thankful to be here sailing", Hutchinson reflected on the bigger picture.

This was the first time we have seen Te Aihe since her emergence from three weeks in the shed, presumably having a major upgrade. Today's conditions were the freshest breeze seen since the upgrade. Whatever their issues were at the start of the session they appeared to have vanished by the end of it, sailing in conditions in which Te Aihe has often been impressive. But this was another level again, and well worth the three hour wait on a cold winters day.

Few watching would have been surprised had Peter Burling got out and wandered over to the chase boat at the end of the run.

Hyperbole aside, this was a very impressive display with Te Aihe sailing at pace down the 6nm run. Gone were the splashdowns, which are obvious for their spectacle, with white water being sprayed about a third of the mast height.

From that perspective this was quite a boring piece of sailing. About 4.5nm down the run Te Aihe turned and ran along the Rangitoto shore with a cloud of fine high speed spray being evident against the green foliage of Rangitoto Island.

Now sailing in quite flat water, there were no splashdowns, for a 2nm leg up the Rangitoto Channel and back before pulling up in the lee of Rangitoto, dropping her sails and towing home on her foils.

We tracked Te Aihe through the camera viewfinder for a period of over 16 minutes, except for a brief break to move the camera to shoot Defiant's return under tow. The shutter would have been fired if the telltale showers of white spray began to appear.

This was a very impressive run, given that we have tracked many similar runs in these conditions - and they were usually punctuated with multiple splashdowns - particularly with the frequent changes of course seen today.

The only outstanding question was whether Te Aihe was flying on manual flight control or a computer driven flight control. If the former then this run is even more impressive.

The only surprising aspect of the week is that the teams have spent so little time on America's Cup Courses "B" and "C", instead opting for Course A and beyond into the Hauraki Gulf, and out on Course E - or The Paddock. The winds around the 260mtr (850ft) volcanic cone of Rangitoto Island which dominates the racing areas, is subject to sudden change in direction and pressure.

It is a little hard to understand rationale of developing straight line speed in a steady breeze - as is found on the Outer Hauraki Gulf and Tamaki Strait areas - without testing that speed and foiling ability in the race area which is prone to significant wind fluctuations.

A more balanced sailing area choice would have been expected, but it is early days.

Lighter winds are expected for the next couple of days.

The Coalition Government has extended the COVID-19 Lockdown at Level 3 (Four is the most severe) for another 12 days, reviewed in a week.

This does not prevent the America's Cup teams from training as only recreational sailing is on the prohibited activity list. In fact it is better for the teams as the harbour will be clear of pleasure boats for what promises to be a fine weekend, and the crews will be spared the delight of running the gauntlet of fishing boats on the edges of the channels.

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