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Cup Spy: Defenders put on Game Face now AC40-OD commissioning completed

by Richard Gladwell/ 7 Oct 2022 05:45 PDT 8 October 2022
Emirates Team NZ sail the AC40 One Design past Takapuna Beach after the final commissioning session October 7, 2022 © Adam Mustill / America's Cup

The America's Cup Defenders, Emirates Team New Zealand say they have completed the commissioning of the AC40 in one design mode.

The team say they will now morph their first AC40 into a LEQ12, or test boat, and will start testing new components as part of their design program for the 2024 America's Cup defence in Barcelona, Spain.

The Kiwis have stolen a march on the Challengers, through being the first to start on the water design testing. They have gained a two-month jump given that the Defenders don't have to start America's Cup competition until eight weeks after the Challengers, who start their Challenger Selection Series probably in mid-August 2024. Although no dates have been announced for the America's Cup Match it is expected to start two months later in mid-October 2024.

In the 2021 America's Cup cycle the British were the first get sailing in a small prototype foiling monohull with just two crew. They were followed by American Magic, who built an AC75 class rule concept boat, "The Mule" carrying four crew, and under the 12metre (39ft) length restriction. American Magic were first to launch a first generation AC75, and Emirates Team NZ the first to sail an AC75 (now owned by Alinghi Red Bull Racing).

The teams were allowed to start test sailing three weeks ago on September 17, 2022. Alinghi Red Bull Racing, being a team that did not sail in the 2021 America's Cup was permitted to start sailing earlier in their first generation AC75 on July 17, 2022 for a maximum of 20 sailing days, using eight days in that allowance.

Today's final commissioning session took place in 6-12kt SW (offshore) breeze, the first reasonable sailing conditions of a week, in which New Zealand has been subject to the coldest weather for over 50 years, with heavy snowfalls in the lower North Island and South Islands.

Friday's sail took place in bright sunshine and blue skies, rather than snow and sleet in southern Aotearoa. The AC40 sailed down the Waitemata harbour, and along the North Shore of Auckland, past Takapuna Beach and out to Campbells Bay - which is the area used for Course A in the 2021 America's Cup - before returning to their base.

After the session, one of the helmsmen, Nathan Outteridge described the wind as "a lighter/puffier 6-12 knots, which is really tricky conditions for these boats. At 6kts we are underpowered and not foiling, and the next minute you've got 12 knots, and the boat is ripping.

"It is definitely easier to sail these boats in stable conditions. That's why we ventured out of the harbour and tried to a steadier breeze off Takapuna."

There was no swell, and the conditions off Takapuna appeared to be as patchy as they were in the harbour - and with flat water. Outteridge said the further offshore they went, the breeze just got lighter.

"The boat is still in 100% one design configuration," he said. "And I think today probably marks the day when we can say it's commissioned and signed off. Then we start to move into some custom parts onto the boat."

The other America's Cup teams have been in Auckland this week and were on the water having their first look at the AC40.

"It's been really cool to have the other teams down here at the moment, looking over the boat, and watching the sailing today," Outteridge said.

"I think they're pretty impressed with the package, and pretty impressed that everyone's going to get one of these boats as it's working right now.

"There's been lots of little software upgrades and improvements on the autopilot. It's all trending in the right direction now, and we're pretty comfortable to say that it's in good shape."

Comms vital

The team only used a #2 jib today. Outteridge explained that was because they didn't want to spend too much time switching jibs around.

As has been the case with AC72s, AC50s and AC75s, Outteridge confirmed the crew was totally reliant on onboard electronic communication systems, because of the sailing/foiling noise. On the AC40, like the larger AC75, the noise of the foil raising and lowering mechanism is significant.

"The motor and the pumps on board powering all the systems are so noisy that if you take your [ear] cups off, you can't hear anything either. So if you have a comms failure, you're best to park the boat and get it fixed."

Luna Rossa secret revealed

Much was made in the 2021 America's Cup of Challenger Luna Rossa's practice of using two helmsmen who stayed in one position throughout the race - with co-helmsmen Jimmy Spithill to starboard and Francesco Bruni to port.

When asked in media conferences, the Italians were always very coy about the advantages of the system. .

The AC40 is set up in a similar way for co-helmsmen - as was Te Kahu, ETNZ's test boat for the 2021 America's Cup.

Outteridge who as part of the international commentary team for the 2021 America's Cup explains.

"When you are sitting to leeward, you get a really good vision of the apparent wind through the slot between the jib and the mast. You get really good vision of the pressure, and what you're sailing into when you're to leeward - and what you are going to gybe into. It's the same upwind. The guy to leeward probably has almost a better picture of what's going on than the guys to windward, because they see much more."

"All the autopilot functions are all sitting on the dashboard. Sometimes you're adjusting the trim of the boat, sometimes you're adjusting the sink, sometimes you're just in the cant. And you do a handover every tack. That is what we have been trying to sort out over the last few weeks - who does what and when, and where.

"It would be nice if we could give a basic playbook to the teams - especially for the Youth and the Women's Americans Cup, so we can recommend that 'they do it this way'.

"We're still not there yet. There are so many different ways you could do it. But I think the fewer handovers you do, the less likely you are to have a mistake," said the Olympic Gold and Silver medalist.

Light air foiling focus

The end of the commissioning of the one design AC40, will pick up the pace of the 2024 America's Cup, as the recon teams try and identify design and component changes across the five teams currently entered in the 2024 America's Cup.

Most likely changes are expected to be in wing foils and flaps, but with other ideas may be tried in the sails and rig, that were not able to be progressed in the 2021 Cup. One of these could be the "Batwing" mainsail, designed for use in strong winds by American Magic, and used just once in training by Emirates Team New Zealand.

All teams are expected to focus on foiling performance at the lighter end of the wind range - to align with conditions expected in Barcelona, and given that the weight of the AC75 Version 2 has been reduced by 1000kg. The challenge for all teams is to get a boat foiling early with minimum size wing foils, with less drag, giving faster speeds. Teams will also be trying to push through the top end speed barrier of around 53-55kts.

The British team are expected to sail their LEQ12 test boat from Mallorca, ahead of the delivery of their one design AC40. Luna Rossa are also believe to have a LEQ12 close to being launched from their base in Cagliari, Sardinia.

The Swiss team is already working up their first generation AC75 off Barcelona, but to date no changes to its launch configuration have been noted. However they will be the third team to take delivery of an AC40, with Luna Rossa fourth and American Magic fifth.

Ten of the AC40's are on order for America's Cup teams, with boats being offered for private ownership once those orders have been filled.

The America's Cup Regattas start in August 2024.

Session Statistics - Auckland October 7, 2022 - Emirates Team NZ - AC40 in One Design mode

  • Wind Strength (PM): 6-10 knots, gusting 12 knots
  • Wind Angle: South
  • Current: Incoming
  • Sea State: Flat
  • Dock Out: 1145 (Dock In: 1345)
  • Total Tacks: 12 – 6 foiling, 4 splash & go, 2 touchdowns
  • Total gybes: 6 – 5 foiling, 1 splash & go
  • Helms: Nathan Outteridge, Andy Maloney, Josh Junior.
  • Crews: Pete Burling, Blair Tuke
  • Sails: M1 (used for 1.5 hours) J2 (used for 1.5 hour

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