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Cup Critiqued: Barker moves to Alinghi Red Bull Racing ... Wing foil wonderings

by Richard Gladwell/ 9 Aug 14:15 BST 10 August 2022
Test Wing foils - BoatZero - Alinghi Red Bull Racing - America's Cup 2024 - Barcelona - August 8, 2022 © Alinghi Red Bull Racing Media

The rumours were confirmed at the launch of Alinghi Red Bull Racing's newly acquired AC75 that Dean Barker, a veteran of seven America's Cups, has shifted to the coach boat.

Yet to be seen is whether he has hung up his AC75 crash helmet and the coaching move becomes permanent. Or if the former World Youth Champion, Olympic rep, and top match racer shifts across to the helm of an AC40 further into the campaign, is Alinghi's to know and others to find out.

Certainly, Barker is a valuable acquisition for the Swiss team, which, while having been in a rebuild for a decade, has made few missteps.

Along with his nemesis, twice America's Cup winner Jimmy Spithill, Barker is one of the two skippers/helmsmen who have been through all five iterations of the America's Cup Classes. From the leviathan, IACC 83ft keelboats, to the not intended to be foiling AC72 wing sailed catamarans, interspersed by the still-born AC62 foiling wing-sailed catamaran which lasted just nine months as an America's Cup class, before being replaced by the largely one-design AC50 foiling wing-sailed catamarans. Then he and Spithill moved onto the AC75, 69ft long foiling monohulls.

Tellingly, over the last 17 years, only one of those classes has been used for successive America's Cups.

As helmsman of American Magic in the 2021 America's Cup, Barker worked up a team that was also re-entering the rarefied atmosphere of the America's Cup. But for 2024 - assuming no new Challengers, all the other teams will have one AC75 campaign in their logbooks.

Alinghi Red Bull Racing has a couple of coaches who have been with the team since the 2003 Cup and who have worked with the squad during its learning phase in the GC32, TF35 and Extreme Sailing circuits.

So the quietly spoken Barker is not on his own, and in the last Cup, worked with what was as close to a multi-national team as the rules would allow. He also worked with a couple of key members of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing design team - principal designer Marcelino Botin and former ETNZ and Team GBR design principal Nick Holroyd. Barker should be a useful conduit between an experienced design team and a new to AC75's sailing team.

Also joining the coaching/transition team is former Luna Rossa crew member, wingsail trimmer and twice Olympic representative in the 49er class Pietro Sibello (ITA), who provides a different dimension and skill set to the Kiwi.

Barker transitions to a coach at the right time - where he is not necessarily locked into working full-time with a team but brings a ton of experience garnered over the past 25 years. He has worked through some tough times with both Emirates Team New Zealand and American Magic.

Once they get through their first capsize or three and a few high-speed nosedives, life should be much steadier at Alinghi. Barker will be relieved to have the experienced hands of Ernesto Bertarelli and Brad Butterworth on his shoulder rather than having the Kiwi mainstream media on his case anytime they are short of a headline.

Wing things

Of course, it wouldn't be an America's Cup launch without a look below the waterline.

The key point from the ARBR launch, of what they unimaginatively call "BoatZero", is the starting point of the foil design.

Typical of a boat in testing mode, the wing foils differ from side to side.

Both are smaller-sized wings- favoured by American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand.

While more challenging to get foiling and not so good around the corners as the wider span wings favoured by INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa, the minimum wings are quicker in a straight line. The theory is that the designers come up with the fastest possible wing shape and the sailors - skilled as they are, have to learn/teach themselves how to sail with the narrower wings.

The other point of difference is the bulb, with the port side wing foil having a larger bulb in the style of American Magic, while the starboard wing foil appears to have a smaller bulb in the more extreme design style of Emirates Team NZ. The bulb is used to get weight and righting moment onto the end of the foil arm. If there is a larger bulb, the designers give themselves more latitude in optimising wing size and shape but trading off increased drag.

With a smaller Kiwi-style bulb, there is less drag, but the weight has to be pushed into the wings in some way without giving too much away in optimised shape.

The third point of difference is the downward angle of the wings. Again the port side wings and a deeper angle, tending towards the America's Magic style of design, while the starboard side is near flat and aligned more with the Kiwi way of thinking.

Of course, it is all very early days, and certainly, nothing can be read into what we saw on the christening day of BoatZero.

We don't know whether the wings are the design product of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing team (and maybe with some F1 thinking injected) or if they are hand-me-downs that came with the former Te Aihe. Recent rule changes allowed more liberal use of parts built for the 2021 America's Cup without affecting the number of wings and flaps permitted to each team for the 2024 event.

Countdown is running

Even at this early stage, everyone is cognisant of design and testing time, with the Barcelona-based teams heading into winter.

Design sign-off dates for the teams' raceboats can be back-calculated from the dates of the America's Cup regattas, which have been set in an August to October 2024 window.

Allowing 10-12 months from the first line being "lofted" in these days of computer-controlled cutting, plus three or four months for workup, maybe race boat hull design sign-off for a Challenger, will be in the first quarter of next year.

Of course, wings and other parts have a later cut-off and more freedom with design cut-offs, but even so, construction time for those items is significant, and while the AC40s are a useful test boat, they are not full size.

An essential task for the new AC75 sailing crew and their bevvy of coaches will be learning the nuances of AC75 flight control.

During the early days for the team, it is usual for the boat to be on computer-driven flight control - so the performance should initially be quite impressive.

The fun starts when the flight control computer is decoupled. Unfortunately for watchers, only the team knows in which mode they are flying.

Tomorrow there should be a towing test to check foil systems.

The following day will likely be rig and sail checks with the first sail a day later - ideal weather permitting.

Click here to see the Countdown Clock

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