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America's Cup Rialto: November 12 - AC75's have racing practice on Course C

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 12 Nov 17:29 PST 13 November 2020
Opening stanzas of a minor sky jump - Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli - October - Waitemata Harbour - Auckland - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell /

Two AC75's had racing training sessions on Course C, on Thursday - sailing in conditions that are typical of a Kiwi summer.

Despite of all the hype over race course access of the past few weeks, and just how that was going to be allocated for practice, today it was a case of "first up best dressed".

American Magic docked out at 1100hrs and 30 minutes later set up their racing marks on Course C - which is the Stadium Course for the 36th America's Cup.

The breeze was in early at 15kts from the SW - which is blowing straight down the NE/SW course axis, ideal conditions for when this course is expected to be used in the Prada Cup and America's Cup. It stayed that way for the rest of the day - and for the rest of the week, that could be it for the three crews. As a high pressure zone moves over New Zealand, light winds are predicted until Monday afternoon.

This is the first time we have seen the boats doing genuine race training on what is expected to be the most difficult course. There was some inkling of what it would be like back on September 19, 2021 when Emirates Team New Zealand's Te Aihe and American Magic's Defiant happened to find themselves on the same patch of water for the testing of a TV positioning system. While that looked real enough, a close look at the images shot, show crew walking around out of position, checking sail shape and the like.

Today's session was full on with American Magic doing several races around the marks they set off Rangitoto Island at the NE end of the course and close to Orakei Wharf at its SW end. For spectators it meant that North Head and Bastion Point provided great vantage points and from that perspective the Stadium Course is outstanding.

Luna Rossa came onto the course at 4.00pm having docked out at noon and sat off Takapuna for a couple of hours or so - seeming to have difficulty hoisting their main, and then hanging off the back of the chase boat for an extended period. American Magic's program seemed to race for a couple of laps, and then have a break, and start again. After the extended lunch break, which may have also been to try and repair a difficult break down, they pulled up their marks and packed it in.

Luna Rossa didn't lay marks but appeared to use the many channel markers in the area as a guide. They ran into an evening race fleet which meant they were slightly constricted.

Overall, the commentary about the relative performance between the two is about the same. Each performed a spectacular "sky jump" - we missed American Magic's in a lens change (takes about 10 seconds). Luna Rossa's we caught as the rudder appeared to ventilate - blowing the force it was generating.

Both were sailing very impressively, but at the same level as we have seen off ETNZ's Boat 1, Te Aihe - however American Magic has easily had the most time on the water of all the Challengers, and is working impressively. Today's effort came on the back of a very hard session in 25kts plus winds in The Paddock, testing a smaller mainsail.

The crews seem to have accepted that the trade-off for creating an end-plate effect with the rig and water via the hull and skeg, is that the skeg will kiss the water occasionally. We shot over 21,000 images during the day (mostly for camera gear and technique - manually focussing a 1200mm lens on a 40kt foiling monohull is not simple) and have nt had time to work through all of those. But it is clear that there is some tolerance for a light touchdown - that means the focus is on damage control - which explains the much more refined skegs on theses two race boats. As a result there is no obvious slow down in speed, and there is no splash down - as we saw in the early Boat 1 days.

Tacking was generally very good. Can't recall seeing any major snafu on either AC75. The co-ordination could have been a bit sharper at times. The big focus during the tack will not be hull contact with the water as it was in the AC50's and early AC75 days, but the efficiency with spending as little time as possible with both foil arms deployed.

Clearly the whack and splash with which the new foil hits the water during a tack/gybe is not helping boatspeed, and getting through this necessary process as quickly as possible - and get back to a single foil and 30kts plus upwind and into the 40's downwind. Small time deltas will turn into big distances at those speeds almost regardless of speed through the water. There are a lot of corners to be turned on Course C.

We also got a chance to gauge how close winded the AC75's are in relation to normal keelboats. With the evening race fleet rounding a mark in Course C, and occasionally Luna Rossa got on their same line and tack. The AC75's approach seemed to be to come out of the tack much fatter than the 34ft keelboats, build speed and then come up onto their line. Probably what would have been expected in theory, but it is nice to see the practice working that way.

Bottom line is that we can expect the AC75's to sail a "normal" yacht race but at four or five times the speed.

Both Dean Barker and Jimmy Spithill were driving hard as could be expected - and were sailing at race pace - which is something you don't always expect to see on the AC75 when they are transitioning through the harbour.

The difference between the two was that Luna Rossa seemed to be sailing the same lines each upwind leg, while there was more variation from Dean Barker who has the greater experience match racing in this area. However Barker had course marks to sail against and didn't have a Thursday night race fleet to contend with.

Overall impression, having not seen the British boat out since Sunday and with the Kiwis yet to launch Boat 2, is there is not a lot of difference speed-wise between the two AC75's. American Magic has always looked quick out of the box and has not had the same downtime as the others, and they were five days ahead of their program at the time of launch. So they should be well down the track now.

Luna Rossa had a week long time-out after their first sail - whether that was planned or not, who knows? The Italians certainly have the pace, and if they can hit their time benchmarks will lift their performance. But while USA have been putting in the work in Auckland, bear in mind they had five months off the water, before their arrival. Luna Rossa on the other hand were the only team that didn't "lose" their AC75 because of COVID-19, and came to Auckland with maybe more time in their logbook than the New York Yacht Club.

One thing is for sure is that on the Stadium Course, the fans will be the big winners - who takes the Cup is almost secondary. However that event will be very closely fought from what we saw today. Maybe the closest and most difficult Cup ever. Certainly it will be a test of seat of the pants racing and sailing skills as much as technology.

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