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AC36 challengers launched, Key West racing returns, Vendee Globe race village opens

by David Schmidt 20 Oct 10:00 PDT October 20, 2020
Patriot - American Magic - launching October 16, 2020, America's Cup 36, Auckland © Richard Gladwell /

As the first chilly weather of fall starts rolling across sections of North America, there's some interesting sailing news emerging from New Zealand, from points south on our own continent, and from France. From Auckland comes word of two second-generation AC75 launches, and from the Sunshine State and the J/111 class comes word of a reemergence of winter racing off of Key West, Florida. And, from the other side of the Atlantic, the countdown is getting close for the start of the 2020/2021 edition of the singlehanded, nonstop-around-the-world Vendee Globe Race.

American Magic was the first team competing in the 36th America's Cup (March 6-21, 2021) to get their first-generation AC75 monohull up on her foils on the waters off of Newport, Rhode Island, and now, just over a year later, they are the first team vying for AC36 to begin steeping their second-generation hull in New Zealand brine following a christening ceremony that took place on Friday, October 16, at the team's base in Auckland.

The new boat, PATRIOT, has many interesting design elements, including a significantly enhanced "bustle", a significant amount of bow flare, a more skiff-like undercarriage, and a more aerodynamic look that includes the onboard crew stations.

Not surprisingly, given the team's positive, go-get-'em attitude, they wasted no time in stepping their old mast and sail package and taking the new boat for a spin, first behind a RIB, then under her own soft-sail wing and headsail configuration.

"We went off the dock thinking that if the breeze filled in, we'd have a good sail," said Terry Hutchinson, American Magic's skipper and executive director, in an official team press release. "Straight away, we came into 21 knots [of wind], and we were into it. This really demonstrates the confidence that the sailors have in everyone on the team."

While the boat's first sail ended up being a bit more dramatic than the team expected, the sailors did a nice job keeping everything calm and contained, and keeping PATRIOT's mast upright.

"We had a great nosedive, and that was exciting," said Hutchinson of the experience. "It was nothing that we haven't seen or done on our other boats, and our familiarity with PATRIOT will increase rapidly over the coming days."

Helmsman Dean Barker described the new boat as "lively" in the team's press release, which is a descriptor that's likely to grow even more intense as the team and its designers optimize the yacht ahead of the America's Cup World Series Auckland (December 17-20) and, ultimately, AC36.

PATRIOT may have been the first second-generation AC75 to get her hull wet, however this distinction was short-lived as Sir Ben Ainslie's INEOS TEAM UK also launched their second-generation AC75, which they christened Britannia, the following day.

Aside from some eye-catching graphics, the British-flagged AC75 features some unique-looking undercarriage geometry and what appears to be a bit of a dreadnaught bow.

"The biggest change from RB1 is simply that the fundamental capabilities of our design group have evolved immeasurably over the past two years," said Nick Holroyd, INEOS TEAM UK Chief Designer, in an official team press release, referring to the team's first raceboat. "This boat is on time, perfectly on weight and the detail of the fit out and systems is immaculate. That is a real credit to each team member involved.

"Since developing the first boat, the race area and the condition limits have been clarified, and we have had time to sail and test the dynamics and loads," continued Holroyd. "That has made the focus of the design team much clearer and enabled us to design and engineer finer tolerances. On top of that, having a crew that has now sailed an AC75 in RB1 makes us much more dialed in with the end users, the sailors, and enables us to be more specific to their set of requirements."

While the British-flagged challenger has now conducted some RIB-assisted foil tests with Britannia,, the Italian-flagged Luna Rossa, who is the Challenger of Record for AC36, is expected to launch their second-generation AC75 today (October 20).

Be sure to stay tuned to the website for more information on this christening.

Meanwhile, much closer to home, word broke last week that the J/111 class is returning to the fabled waters of Key West, Florida, for two winter regattas (Key West Winter Series; January 16-18 and March 5-7, 2021). This announcement is exciting for several reasons.

First and foremost, it's a green shoot indicating that 2021 will hopefully be a better year for yacht racing than 2020, in light of the still-raging coronavirus pandemic, but, secondly, it's also an optimistic sign that winter racing off of Key West could return following the 2017 cancellation of the (in)famous Key West Race Week (KWRW), which ran from 1988 through 2017.

Having personally attended Key West Race Week in 2008, I can, like thousands of other sailors, attest to the fact that there's no other event in sailing like KWRW, and while this announcement from the J/111 class is a far cry from KWRW's halcyon days, it would be wonderful to see winter racing unfurl on these waters again.

Finally, excitement is building in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, as the race village for the ninth Vendee Globe has opened three weeks ahead of the race's start (Sunday, November 8).

"There is real joy for us all today in seeing our 33 skippers, their boats and their teams present here along the Vendée Globe [dock]," said Yves Auvinet, President de la SAEM Vendée and the Département de la Vendée, in an official press release. "Seeing them here in the Vendée [village], these wonderful machines and their skippers, be they experienced or rookies, fierce competitors or adventurers alike is a source of pride for the Department of the Pays de la Loire region and the city of Sables d'Olonne.

"Given the health context [of the pandemic], [it] is also a relief the Vendée Globe teams, and the state and health authorities, partners and all the sports projects have worked so hard to make sure the Everest of the Seas runs this year, and for the Vendée Globe to preserve its popular character," he continued.

Get the full scoop on these stories, as well as the latest news from the Bermuda Gold Cup and 2020 Open Match Racing World Championship (October 26-30), the ongoing Rolex Middle Sea Race, and the 2021 edition of Antigua Sailing Week (April 24-30), on the Sail-World website.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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