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America's Cup Rialto: January 8 - INEOS on the pace as three AC75's fleet race

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 8 Jan 04:22 PST 9 January 2021
INEOS Team UK, American Magic, Luna Rossa - Waitemata Harbour - January 8, 2021 - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Today was in some ways a repeat of a Black Friday in mid-November, when the wind fluffed around all day, before the SW breeze cracked in - first at 8-10kts and then increasing to just under 20kts around 7.30pm.

On the Black Friday sail the three Challengers headed for the inner Waitemata Harbour and started a light air work out using a mix of Code Zero's/FR0's and J1 (full hoist fractional jibs). The sail around was played out again in the recently concluded Xmas Cup - where a small increase in wind pressure made a huge difference to crews being able to foil, and start sailing at several times windspeed.

Today started out with heavy rain in the morning, giving way to blue skies and sunshine around noon - but with no wind, and then the SW cracked in.

INEOS Team UK went out as soon as the rain eased, got her mainsail up and drifted down the Waitemata attached to her chase boat. In the end the Brits gave up, dropped the main and headed back to base.

Mid-afternoon the three challengers were all off Rangitoto, with little wind, before they made their way back to the Waitemata, and the show began.

Luna Rossa were the first to get going, followed by American Magic and the INEOS Team UK. The three AC75's made a spectacular sight foiling side by side up the harbour. With the crews now confident in their ability to sail the AC75's we can expect to see some spectacular displays of top professional crews pushing the AC75's to sail at their best.

By the time INEOS got going the wind was probably just above the 6.5kt minimum for starting a race in next weeks Prada Cup, but nevertheless the Brits got on their foils using a #1 jib, like the other two and taking about 100-150 metres of runway to lift off.

The next couple of hours involved solo runs, and a series of hookups, with two or three AC75's foiling in an impromptu fleet race.

As we have seen in the past couple of days, INEOS Team UK, the problem child of December's America's Cup World Series and Xmas Cup, has pressed the right buttons, and looked to be clearly ahead of American Magic, and maybe also Luna Rossa, with the Brits improving as the breeze increased.

In the three boat sessions, INEOS had speed at least equal to or better than the other two, and good height.

The Brits performance has put a real edge into the upcoming Prada Cup, which now does not appear to be the fait accompli that many expected after the two December series.

Although there are no numbers to check, it could well be that INEOS is the faster of the three at the top end of the wind scale - and we are told she recorded the top speed in the ACWS. The Brits had no breakdowns or crewing errors - aside from coming off the foils once - but that may have been deliberate to stop the boat.

Luna Rossa also looked good sailing steadily and fast with good height. During a time-out taken by the other the Italian Challenger was put through some snappy routines which looked to be aggressive pre-start practice. That being the case it seems that the Spithill/Bruni helm combination intend to be aggressive and will use conventional match racing tactics in the start to either get a penalty on an opponent or force them to drop off their foils late in the pre-start.

American Magic, strangely seems to have lost a bit of her edge since coming out of the hangar with her new skeg and other developments. Or, the other two have made great gains through their development program, at this stage, than the US team.

With all the emphasis now being placed on reducing crew windage and aero-drag, American Magic now stand out as being the most exposed crew. Whether that remains the case is yet to be seen, as obviously they too could fit Luna Rossa type crew cowls to reduce aero-drag.

The altered forefoot on American Magic's Patriot does seem to be working as intended and from study shots the fit of the hull with the water surface is very close.

However in their own way all four teams seem to have come up with a solution that works with their hull shape and sailing style.

INEOS does not appear to have made a decision on the preferred wing shape, and she was using wings that were not paired again today. It was not possible to tell from the shore which was the most effective wing, and they will make a decision based on the performance data before having to declare their configuration in four days on January 13, two days ahead of the start of the Prada Cup on January 15.

INEOS compete in both races of the first round robin on Thursday - and will need to come away with at least one win from the day. That target is not so much for points, but more for confidence - given they did not score one win in the ACWS, and need to break that duck.

Emirates Team New Zealand did not sail again today.

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