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America's Cup Rialto: November 30 - A revealing day on Course B

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 30 Nov 2020 19:06 PST 1 December 2020
INEOS Team UK - Waitemata Harbour - November 30, 2020 - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell /

A dull day with passing showers, greeted the three teams who made an early start on the Waitemata, on Monday, ahead of an inclement weather forecast for Tuesday.

Emirates Team New Zealand was first to dockout - just after 7.30am and was joined soon after by Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (ITA) and INEOS Team UK.

It was the Brits' second sail after a period in the hangar, with waterfront scuttlebutt having it that they were in a desperate search for boatspeed. Generally INEOS train a lot on their own, and it was interesting to see them mixing it with the other two - and Emirates Team New Zealand in particular.

All three started in the same area of water - the overlap between Course C into the entrance to the Waitemata harbour and Course B which runs the length of the Rangitoto Channel.

Today, November 30, was officially the last day of Spring and leaning more to Winter than the Summer-like conditions we saw a few days ago. This pattern usually occurs up until a week before Christmas, or slightly later - and it can be expected that the upcoming America's Cup World Series and Xmas Cup - starting on December 17, will be sailed in a transitory weather system.

However if one of the harbingers of the Kiwi summer are to be believed - a pohutukawa tree in full crimson bloom - then judging by the magnificent specimen on North Head overlooking the five America's Cup courses, the Cup can look forward to a great summer.

The breeze was all over the place - strength wise - but generally from a NW direction - once again favouring Course B - a location that was expected not to receive much use.

Emirates Team New Zealand were the first to get going, and headed off in the direction of Motuihe Island to the east under Code Zero and then tried to return under Code Zero. Their lack of speed and inability to foil may have been deliberate as the Code Zero itself appeared to be very eased. But as the video verifies, when they did sheet on and got foiling there wasn't the giveaway speed increase from the following chaseboats.

The sail design jury would still appear to be out on the best options for light air. While the Kiwis were struggling to get their Code Zero to fire, closer to the Rangitoto shore, INEOS Team UK were foiling fast under a maximum width #1 jib - which has an LP measurement almost 5 metres short of the Code Zero - 7.050m to 12.000m.

(LP is cross measurement width from the clew of the sail intersecting the luff at right angles - effectively a foot length measurement. The Code Zero is set off bowsprit which in imperial measurement is 6ft long and rakes the 69ft long hull out to 75ft - giving the America's Cup class its AC75 name.)

In profile both the #1 jib and the Code Zero look the same - closing out the foretriangle with the leech parallel to the leading edge of the mast, but with the tack point of the jib at the forestay point and the tack of the Code Zero attaching to the end of the bowsprit.

During the course of the day, we saw the full inventory of short and long hoist jibs as well as Code Zeroes used.

On a stint out in Course A (off Takapuna) with less breeze interference from the surrounding landscape, and steadier pressure, both the Kiwis and Brits returned with short hoist jibs set.

Earlier in the day INEOS, along with Luna Rossa had opted for full hoist jibs. At this point it would seem that the Code Zero is only marginally better in a very low windstrength (4-6kts), but above that the #1 jib comes into its own. A few Fridays ago we saw a similar pattern with three Challengers trying a mix of Code Zeroes and full hoist jibs. The trend there was the same - if an AC75 could get foiling with a jib, they were quicker than with the Code Zero. However ETNZ has been seen sailing very fast, and foiling in light airs with a Code Zero - so maybe the definitive answer is yet to be found.

What we saw on Monday, in a patchy breeze backed up up what we'd seen two or three weeks ago when the three Challengers were all in the same patch of water in a streaky pressure breeze - and flying #1's and Code Zeroes.

Clearly the sail design teams are going to play a key role in this Cup - the first to be sailed with a complete soft sail inventory since 2007 in Valencia.

For all INEOS Team UK's rumoured lack of speed, it was not evident in their run down the Rangitoto Channel, chased by Emirates Team New Zealand. The margin didn't seem to alter. But whether both sailing at race pace, is theirs to know and others to guess.

If the upcoming America's Cup regattas are all about closing out the gap between the rig, hull and water surface - then Emirates Team NZ would seem to have this issue resolved. The flat keel rocker looks to have been optimised with the flight control, and after looking at many, many study shots, the Kiwis seem to have this one in right degree of very fine balance.

On the inner harbour Courses - B and C, with their variable wind angles and pressure the winner is more likely to be determined by who can "puddle jump" between the areas of stronger pressure and optimal direction.

In lighter winds, the AC75's sail at three or four times windspeed. That translates to a boat speed differential of at least 3-8kts for a wind increase of just 1-2kts 50 or 100metres away on a nearby part of the course. From an elevated position on North Head, the streaky wind patterns are more obvious than on the water - and there's plenty of them.

While the nuances of hull design have fascinated many commentators, it is clear that the ability to play windshifts and pressure to advantage, along getting maximum effective power from the rig - essential to get foiling early and stay in the air - will pay the biggest dividend.

For that reason it is surprising that the Challengers have spent so much time out in the open sea beyond Course A, or Course E, rather than working out the nuances of the two Stadium courses. Monday was the first day we have seen the teams spend so much time in this location.

The Practice racing, ahead of the Xmas Cup ACWS Racing is expected to start in a week or so, will give some inkling as to how this Cup will unfold in 2021. But on the basis of what was seen on Monday, currently there are no standout performers, and f that remains the same come next March, the Cup will be decided by who has the best sailors rather than the best boffins.

Videos of the day

Calling all Cup Fans - support your favorite team

This America's Cup will be different for international fans, who thanks to COVID-19 travel restrictions into New Zealand won't be able to attend the regatta, unless they hold, a New Zealand passport and are prepared to live in two weeks of quarantine.

But you can still show your support for the team and feel part of the event - at racing watch parties and similar.

Or order now for a unique Christmas gift for that special America's Cup fan you know.

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