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Cup Spy: American Magic leaps straight to an AC75 Version 2

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 17 Oct 2022 02:22 PDT 17 October 2022
American Magic - AC75 Patriot - Pensacola Fl, October 15, 2022 © Paul Todd/America's Cup

US Challenger NYYC American Magic has thrown down the gauntlet to other 2024 America's Cup teams, with the relaunch and sailing of their turbo'd AC75 Patriot.

They are the first team to sail an AC75 to the latest version of the America's Cup Class Rule, and potentially have stolen a march on the other four Cup teams.

The US team were the first to be eliminated from the 2021 America's Cup and was the last to enter the 2024 America's Cup. They will also be the last team to receive their first AC40 One Design from builders McConaghy Boats.

But despite appearing, on paper, to be well behind the other three America's Cup Challengers and the Defender, the New York Yacht Club's team showed they have turned adversity into positivity. They are the first of the 2021 Cup teams to sail an AC75 boat to the Version 2 of the class rule, which is operative for the 2024 America's Cup.

"We're always on the back foot, and we're always late, as far as we can tell," Flight Controller Andrew Campbell told the AC37 Joint Recon team in a mandatory interview after the sailing session. "Time is never on your side in the Americans Cup, so we're doing everything we can to make every hour of every day," headded.

From the AC37 Joint Recon photos, it is clear that American Magic have used the last six months to turbo-charge a boat that was regarded by most as a very fast package in Auckland. It holds the record speed mark for an AC75, in 2021 Prada/America's Cup racing, of 53.31knots.

Patriot was designed by a team led by Marcelino Botín, who has since joined Alinghi Red Bull Racing. He and several others were lost from the 2021 American Magic team while the team principals and the Club took time out to consider their program for the 2024 Cup. Helmsman for the 2021 America's Cup, Dean Barker, who was eligible to sail for American Magic in the 2024 Cup, also joined Alinghi Red Bull Racing, but in a coaching capacity.

The American Magic team retention process was not aided by the New York Yacht Club, who dithered as to whether they should enter the next Cup and, if so, who their team would be.

Having overcome the tribulations of the 2021 America's Cup, the assumption was that American Magic would continue with New York YC - until the Club announced it was "suspending America's Cup operations." They then announced they would be represented by a late entry in the 2021 America's Cup, Stars+Stripes. Then a couple of months later, the Club did another volte-face, confirming that they would be running with American Magic for the 2024 America's Cup.

One big catchup?

American Magic is not the first to sail an AC75 in the current America's Cup cycle - that honour belongs to Alinghi Red Bull Racing. However, the New York Yacht Club team has made a move to go straight to an AC75 Version 2. Others, like Emirates Team New Zealand, claim to be using an AC40 only, but as a LEQ12. Two other teams, Luna Rossa (ITA) and INEOS Britannia (GBR) have taken the Surrogate LEQ12 route.

The US team is or rather was, well behind in getting started on the water and looks to have caught up some valuable time judging by AC37 Joint Recon images taken on Saturday of Patriot, sailing from their base in Pensacola, Florida.

Andrew Campbell was the flight controller for Saturday's sailing session - a role he undertook for the team in the 2021 Cup. Campbell represented the USA at the 2008 Olympics in the Laser class, finishing a disappointing 25th, after a couple of alphabet race results. The Gold medalist in the Laser event, Paul Goodison (GBR), was AM's tactician in the 2021 Prada Cup, has taken over from Dean Barker as helmsman of American Magic for the 2024 Cup.

"We had a nice day. The sun was out. We got the most out of the early morning northerly before the sea breeze filled in. We're just trying to make the most of every hour we can get at the moment," Campbell .

"The team's done a really good job putting the boat together, so we can get it out any time of day, anytime we like. We're really happy with how the boat is set up," he added.

Of course, by going straight to a Version 2 AC75, American Magic have created a development platform where they can develop and install design and engineering ideas on Patriot, and when the time comes to commission their race boat, they transfer and re-install the gear on their race boat. It is a common practice, and one which saves a lot of time and angst as bugs and compatibility issues have been largely resolved on the test AC75 .

In previous Cups, with one exception, the teams have always been allowed to build at least two boats to the current America's Cup Class rule. The exception was 2017, where multiple AC45's were permitted - the single race boat rule became a nonsense when the AC Class Rule was changed nine months after announcement from being an AC62 to an AC50 - only marginally longer than the 45ft permitted surrogate boat. Emirates Team NZ stretched the envelope more than the others, being the last to launch an AC45 test boat, which by virtue of an extended rudder gantry - not seen by the class rule - developed a platform that in terms of foiling geometry was effectively and AC50. The Kiwis rigged it out with AC75 gear, and effectively got six months more testing than the other teams, who had not thought outside the box.

The AC45/50 was one of a few key factors that won the Cup for the Kiwis in Bermuda. The others being the development and accuracy of simulators, along with the development of a set of light air daggerboards that were effective in a much higher wind range than the other teams.

In the 2024 America's Cup where only one new AC75 hull can be built, Emirates Team New Zealand could also follow the same route as Patriot by re-purposing their Cup winner Te Rehutai into a Version 2 AC75. However very few secrets come out of Team Tight, and those that do are usually decoys.

Of the other two teams Luna Rossa has launched a 12 metre long surrogate boat or LEQ12. They still have two AC75 hulls and gear from the 2021 campaign. The British have given their second AC75 from 2021 to the Cowes Museum, and their first AC75 was free to a good home.

Alinghi Red Bull Racing could have gone to Version 2 with Boat Zero - formerly Emirates Team NZ's first launched AC75 Te Aihe. But from the AC37 Joint Recon photos to date, there is no evidence of the Swiss having gone in that direction. Of course, the Swiss could later convert their Boat Zero to be a Version 2 AC75. That could happen once they have their AC40's on stream - of which they are about to receive #3 hull off the production line at McConaghy Boats.

For both Alinghi Red Bull Racing and American Magic, the rejuvenated AC75's offer the opportunity to trial cyclors instead of grinders. The latter was the only way human power was allowed to be inputted into hydraulic systems in the last Cup. But under Version 2, the AC Class rule has changed.

It is not clear how the other teams are going to test their design ideas in this regard. In 2017 Emirates Team NZ tested cyclors in great secrecy only revealing the bike seats and handle bars when their race boat was unveiled for the first time.

On Patriot, we guess that American Magic have installed electric power to generate pressure for the hydraulic system. Later there could be a cut-over to a grinder or cyclor, or some hybrid system - once the options have been worked through by the design and engineering boffins.

Weight reduction

Campbell alluded to one of the changes now made legal in Version 2 of the AC75 class rule with the comment: "we've changed a bunch of things as to how the boat's set up. And the running rigging is kind of settling while we get it right."

The AC37 Joint Recon photos show that while the running backstays are in place while the AC75's mast is being set into the boat, they are removed for sailing.

In the 2021 America's Cup, Luna Rossa came up with the concept of "losing" their running backstays - removing weight and drag. But despite several innovative approaches to the Measurement Committee, their idea was rebuffed, and they had to race with the running backstays attached and tensioned to the aftermost corners of the deck, as shown in the AC75 Rig Plan.

Luna Rossa's design team would have enjoyed a moment of quiet self-satisfaction to see their idea made legal for the next Cup. It's a giveaway indicator as to whether an existing AC75 is set up as being to Version 1 or Version 2 of the AC75 Class Rule.

The idea is that the power exerted on the mainsheet ram, into the mainsail leech (which can obviously be carbon-strengthened) is supporting the top of the mast, making the running backstays redundant while sailing.

The removal of running backstays also means that the risk is obviated of the mainsail hitting against on a jammed/unreleased back stay, during a gybe, and triggering a capsize - as happened in Patriot's capsize on Day 3 of the 2021 Prada Cup. In an urgent situation, with no running backstay to get in the way, the mainsail can be fully eased just with the sheet and traveller if required.

One of the significant changes from Version 1 to Version 2 of the AC75 Class Rule is that the overall weight (including crew) is reduced by about 1000kg. To facilitate this, the crew numbers drop from 11 sailors to eight. That move alone accounts for over 300kg out of the boat. Removal of the backstays and related gear is more weight gone, along with jib winches.

As mentioned, it would also appear from AC37 Joint Recon photos that Patriot has been converted to electric power, as compared to recent AC37 Recon Program images of ARBR's Boat Zero, there was no evidence of grinding pedestals, or job sheet winches, in the forward crew cockpits. Also gone is the 2metre bowsprit, which used to turn a 69ft long "AC75" hull into a boat that was 75ft long. On Patriot, it is replaced with a stub bowsprit to hold wind measurement gear.

The AC75 Version 2 Class Rule and its companion Technical Regulations make it clear that only 12.5% of the AC75's hull surface can be altered. But above the "perimeter line" - an AC75 defined term, but one which most sailors would understand to be the gunnel or the edge where the hull joins the deck, 100% of the deck surface can be changed. So expect more changes as American Magic's design team can experiment full-size with cyclors, conventional grinders and a raft of other design changes and options.

Of course, the team have the option to sail their yet-to-be-delivered AC40 while the AC75 Patriot is being modified. The two boat (maybe more) program allows the team to minimise downtime, test scaled-down AC75 components on the AC40, or sail it in One Design mode.

A boom-less mainsail

Although not required by the new AC75 rule, Patriot has changed to a boomless mainsail setup. American Magic solution appears to be similar to that used by the Kiwis in the last America's Cup.

"There's a pretty significant change going on with the foot of our mainsail," Campbell said in an interview with the recon team. "There's no boom anymore. There's a new toy back there, which gets a lot of attention."

Impressive start

Boat changes aside, the sailing session looked very encouraging. Despite the light winds of 6kts - just below the 6.5kt minimum windspeed for a race to start in the America's Cup, Patriot completed 16 legs and 28nm of sailing in the 2.5hr session.

Sailing in a fading northerly breeze, Patriot got foiling on her own account or with a chase boat assist - common practice in light air testing sessions - as once foiling, the AC75 will generate sufficient apparent windspeed to stay foiling until a massive drop in wind pressure or a foiling tack/gybe is attempted.

In the tack/gybe, while the AC75 may stay foiling during the actual manoeuvre, on the reciprocal course, the AC75 will almost immediately run into its own turbulence created in the last 100 metres or so of the previous run, and will not be able to sustain foiling.

But once up on foils, from the Recon team video, Patriot looked very good indeed. While that is a credit to the team, it is also a big thumbs up for the changes made to the AC75 class rule. The 1000kg weight reduction has hopefully reduced the AC75's notorious stickability in light airs, which marred several races during the 2021 America's Cup regattas.

Patriot also seems to be using a set of minimum-sized wingfoils from Auckland, which make the boat difficult to get foiling in light airs but faster once foil-borne due to the reduced drag.

While American Magic may be a little late to join the Barcelona 2024 party, they are turning a few heads and may well have made a Cup-winning play.

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