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Cup Critiqued: The Week that Was - AC40 launched, Brits' T6, Dalts offer rebuffed and more

by Richard Gladwell/ 27 Sep 06:11 BST 26 September 2022
ETNZ AC 40 and Chase Zero - America's Cup Joint Recon Emirates Team New Zealand AC40 Day 2 - September 21, 2022 © Adam Mustill / America's Cup

It has been one of the more significant weeks in the 18-month-old America's Cup 2024 cycle.

On Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, Emirates Team NZ sailed, broke the 40kts speed mark, and "capsized" their new AC40.

Half a world away on the Mediterranean, Alinghi Red Bull Racing claimed their first serious foiling experience in a first generation AC75.

At McConaghy Boats, the second and third AC40's rolled off the production line in China.

In Cadiz, the America's Cup 2024 Challenger of Record and Defender crews had a less than satisfactory regatta at SailGP. At the same time, their nemesis Jimmy Spithill (Luna Rossa), came within an ace of scoring his second successive event win on the circuit.

The waters have peeled back in South Australia's Lake Gairdner, revealing a salt lake pan - and ETNZ's wind-powered land speed record attempt has been revived.

Back in Auckland, the stand-off between Auckland Council and Emirates Team NZ is apparently still ongoing, with an apparent rejection of an olive branch proffered by the Kiwi team last April to host an America's Cup preliminary regatta in the AC40s ahead of Barcelona 2024.

AC40 a game-changer?

The launch of the first AC40 was completely ignored by many of the legacy media, as happened with the hydrogen fueled foiling Chase Zero.

The AC40 is the same size as ETNZ's 2020 test boat, Te Kahu. But even though each is a scale version designed to the respective AC75 rules, the AC40 has the much different look of a one-design class boat from a top production builder.

While ten AC40s are said to have been ordered, it will be interesting to see what takeup there is outside of the America's Cup teams. Despite the price tag of around $2million Kiwi, the boat is unique - and not too many production monohulls will go upwind at speeds of more than 20kts and downwind at double that.

ETNZ's AC40 was put through its paces last week by a crew that had not sailed foiling monohulls except for foiling Moths.

Of course, one helmsman Nathan Outteridge has experience in the wingailed foiling catamarans at America's Cup and SailGP level. The other Sam Meech - a bronze medalist at Rio 2016, was part of the ETNZ Youth Team at the 2013 Youth AC in San Francisco. Nick Burridge - listed as flight controller, is part of the ETNZ shore team with a strong background in professional offshore sailing. ETNZ's coach Ray Davies takes the fourth slot as sail trimmer.

Although it will be challenging to sail well, with some solid training plus simulator time, the Youth, Womens and AC75 crews should not have too much trouble with the AC40, particularly with its semi-automated flight control system.

The Kiwis hit 40kts on their second day of sailing in the AC40, which makes one wonder what the top-end speed will be. Pre-launch predictions were 45kts.

The 40kts mark was hit on a not particularly breezy day. There was no wind for a while, just overcast skies with light rain. Quite what the AC40 can achieve in a cracking southwesterly and flat water can only be imagined.

The "capsize" was a nothing event, with the AC40 falling over after it was released from the chase boat after the wind arrived. The capsize seems to have been one of those silly skiff episodes, often seen in 12 and 18ft skiffs where gravity rather than the breeze was the overturning force.

Despite being a scaled version of the AC75, the AC40 proportionally appears to have a taller rig and lighter weight - weighing in at just 2000kgs compared to the 6200kgs of the AC75.

The good news for Youth, Womens and AC teams from the incident was that no water got below decks during the incident. The AC40 was quickly righted with assistance from a chase boat - Emirates Team NZ has done at least four of these AC75/AC40 rightings now. The AC40 kept sailing after being righted, hitting 40kts.

It would seem that the AC40 is more bulletproof than the AC75, and fans and media will have to get used to the fact that flipping one of these boats and maybe an AC75, is no bigger deal than doing the same in an 18ft skiff - which suffers similar issues with gravity on a light day and no forward movement.

Brits announce test boat close to launch

The AC40's are allocated in the order of entry acceptance. Alinghi Red Bull Racing will take delivery of the third AC40, which has rolled off the McConachy Boats production line in Jin Wan, China.

Boat 2 has gone to Challenger of Record INEOS Britannia. They have also announced that they are close to launching their own self-designed test boat classified under the LEQ12 Protocol/Technical Regulations provisions allowing teams to build test boats between 6mtrs and 12mtrs in overall length. The Brit's "T6" has been built by Carrington Boats, who built both the team's AC75s in the last Cup.

Presumably, both the AC40 and T6 will sail from the Brit's interim base in Mallorca. The Brit's LEQ12 is the progeny of the new INEOS Britannia and Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 teams design housed under the same roof in the F1 team base at Brackley, UK.

While the AC40 can sail in test mode with different foils and other components, the one-design hull shape is a limiting factor.

It would be a brave team that went straight from the design computer to a race boat for their AC75. Whether the other teams follow the Brit's lead with their own LEQ12 remains to be seen. The Brits have clearly learned from their experiences in the build-up to the 2021 Cup when the design shortcomings in their AC75 were badly exposed in the first ACWS regatta and Xmas Cup in mid-December 2020.

It will be interesting to see how the Brit's LEQ12, compares against the AC40, which Emirates Team New Zealand claim is an extension of their thinking of the Cup-winning AC75 design. It will be up to the AC37 Joint Recon Program to provide the answer to that question for the other teams.

Brits and Kiwis misfire at SailGP Cadiz

The sailing teams of the Challenger of Record and Defender will be smarting after their respective performances at the latest SailGP regatta, which concluded in Cadiz, Spain, over the weekend.

The Kiwis were hopeful of winning their third successive SailGP regatta but instead finished sixth in the nine-boat fleet, despite winning the first race of the five-race qualifying series. The Brits were one better at fifth overall but suffered from some technical issues - possibly a hang-over from the grounding during practice racing in the previous event at Saint-Tropez, forcing them to withdraw from that event. The INEOS and ETNZ crews were hanging in after the first day, in which just three points separated the top five teams on the overnight leaderboard. However, the Kiwis made life hard for themselves with a double penalty in the fifth race - a race in which the Brits finished last.

Of the other teams with an America's Cup connection, Jimmy Spithill, twice America's Cup champion and one who never lacks self-belief, dug deep once again, fought back to make the final, and then missed taking his second successive event win by just three seconds in the Final. American Magic's Tom Slingsby made the final of the Cadiz series but placed a distant third. However, his Australia SailGP team came away with an extended lead in season points, over Peter Burling and the Emirates Team New Zealand sailing squad.

AC75's struggle in a seaway?

Cadiz did highlight the perils of trying to sail foiling yachts in a seaway, a phenomenon which we also saw on Day 3 of the Prada Cup in Auckland, in racing before American Magic's capsize.

With a modest swell across the racecourse which reverberated off the seawall, the F50s sailing in marginal foiling conditions of 8-9kts of breeze, displayed more than the usual crop of flight control issues.

The same issue is apparent in the videos released of Alinghi Red Bull Racing foiling intermittently off Barcelona in an awkward sea state but well offshore.

Early in their 2021 America's Cup program, sailing the same AC75, Te Aihe, Emirates Team New Zealand had a close call in a NE seabreeze, which kicked up plenty of whitecaps, where the leeward foil pushed the AC75 into windward in a spectacular roll.

Those who sailed in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 reported a similar awkward sea state. The phenomenon is not uncommon and will prove to be a challenge to AC design teams and their simulation packages to come up with a response prior to arrival in Barcelona - as will the sailing teams and their simulators/AC40's

The Alinghi Red Bull Racing videos (albeit shot through a very unstable camera lens) show the AC75 flying nicely clear of the water on occasions and throwing a lot of spray from both foil arms on others. It is not a new phenomenon - and indeed, after the Day 3 incidents in the Prada Cup, changes were made to avoid rough water sailing.

Fortunately, Auckland had five differing race locations - including the near landlocked Course E - but Barcelona appears to offer no such sheltered water options, and it would seem that the designer and sailors will just have to learn how to sail in a larger seastate.

Racing Rules and Calls may need a re-think

The incident in Cadiz between New Zealand and Switzerland as the crews were about to round Mark 3 in Race 5 highlighted the shortcomings of the racing rules or the tactical options open to the crews.

Generally, the situations arise when two foiling boats are happily sailing at 20kts, and the right-of-way boat suddenly decelerates to just 7-8kts or less while holding a steady course, and it's panic stations aboard the give-way boat.

In Cadiz, in Race 5, New Zealand approached the mark foiling on a direct course to round at speed (probably 20-25kts) while Switzerland came in on the opposite angle - also at speed - gained rounding rights at the mark, by being first into the 50metre zone. The Swiss F50 dropped off its foils in the gybe and jogged across the path of the flying Kiwis, who were obliged to keep clear, with few options to take late, avoiding action.

We saw the same thing but involving a different Racing Rule in Race 5 of the Final of the Prada Cup when Luna Rossa led INEOS Team UK into the final approach for the start line with both foiling and sailing fast. Realizing they were early, the Italians hit the brakes and nosedived the boat, slowing dramatically, dropping the boatspeed by 8kts in just 2 secs while holding a straight course. As a trailing boat, the British had to keep clear, under RRS12 and then RRS11, and their only option was to shoot to weather and cross the start line early.

One of the fears with the AC75 has always been a high speed foil clash - and the two boats came very close on this occasion.

The issue in both cases is not so much a racing one, but safety, and whether the right of way boat should be able to hit its brakes, in this way. The practice is illegal in F1, to prevent high speed shunts set up by the car ahead.

It is quite different from regular sailing, where boat speeds are much less - and the options to reduce speed are not available. Tactically a right of way boat has always had the option, within the rules to expand its advantage. But the practice of "hunting" is not permitted.

In the image of Race 5 in Cadiz - the three boats in the same patch of water are shown sailing at speeds of 6kts (SUI), 18kts (NZL) and 28kts (USA). In this type of racing, situations develop very quickly, and the usual lines about needing to keep a lookout, pass behind etc are unreasonable when a safe option is chopped off in just a couple of seconds.

The match racing playbooks were never adequately developed for the 2021 America's Cup because of the lack of two-boat racing before the event. However, it will be a crucial task for the AC40s when the teams get their second boats.

There are no doubt more, as yet undiscovered tactical plays that are unique to foiling monohulls, which maybe put too much power in the hands of the right of way boat - and the outcome is that the race is decided before it has started.

Team NZ hosting offer spurned?

Saturday morning's New Zealand Herald carried its first America's Cup story for some time, running one of ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton's emails obtained under the Official Information Act. The almost six-month-old email was to the new CEO of Auckland Council requesting a "sensible discussion with someone (sensible) on an AmCup World Series". The story's timing was curious, as always - with the local body elections underway in New Zealand and due to close in a couple of weeks.

In such situations, any opportunity for publicity is usually grabbed. One current councillor seeking re-election commented: "I wouldn't say there was a huge appetite [within Council for such an event]. I think a lot of us are feeling pretty bruised by Team New Zealand's exit, and they are going to have to rebuild their relationship not just with the Council but with Aucklanders if they want to have a way back into having an event on the Hauraki Gulf.

"Before they start talking about an event, they need to reset their relationship, not just with the Auckland Council but with Aucklanders, because it is totally eroded," he told the Herald.

It seems that City Hall's petulance with the team is still running strong and that no thought is being given as to how the event could return to Auckland if the Kiwis were successful, 24 months hence, in their defence in Barcelona 2024.

The Kiwi America's Cup team told the Herald that they were keen to hold an event in the next 12-18 months in Auckland and were already working towards one in October 2023 in Cagliari, Sardinia - where Italian team Luna Rossa is based.

The situation with Auckland, and indeed New Zealand, is that nothing seems to have changed in the 15 months that have elapsed since the period of exclusive negotiation between the NZ Government, the Auckland Council, and Team NZ failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

In the meantime, SailGP has managed to secure Government and Council funding to the tune of $5million, to stage four regattas in NZ, with Auckland booked likely for March 2024.

Come October 9, Auckland will have a new Mayor and new Council. If the polls are to be believed, the same may be true for the country in just over 12 months.

In the intervening period since the last Cup, the situation in downtown Auckland has become increasingly desperate and politicized, with little in place to turn around a situation where Auckland was severely damaged by lockdowns, including the last "short, sharp" Auckland only lockdown, which lasted 104 days.

Currently, the area set aside for America's Cup bases is being used for teams competing in the upcoming four-day Rally of New Zealand, which is part of the WRC tour. Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA), son of Luna Rossa's Patrizio Bertelli and Miuccia Prada is a rally competitor.

An America's Cup hosting would not be the long-term solution to the problems of the downtown Auckland area, but it would be a medium-term significant event.

Unfortunately, righting the capsized downtown Auckland economy is not as simple as righting an AC40, and will be a lot more expensive.

"Cup Critiqued" takes an off-piste view of what isn't said in the media releases from the teams, Cup organisers, other Cup related parties/events and anything that isn't being done to death elsewhere.

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