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Cup Spy Sept 18-20: Questions asked of Cup Challengers

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 21 Sep 04:45 BST 21 September 2023
American Magic - AC40 - Day 65 - Barcelona - September 20, 2023 © Paul Todd/America's Cup

Two Cup Challengers have been sailing off Barcelona, on three days of this week - getting back into their testing programs off the back of the weekend's Preliminary Regatta.

What happened in the Cup - September 18-20, 2023:

  • Alinghi Red Bull Racing - towed back from Vilanova, on Monday, and then started sail testing their one-design sails against some interesting custom builds. They rounded out the session with a spectacular nose dive. Alinghi Red Bull Racing are predicted to start sailing their upgraded AC75 in the near future.
  • American Magic - sailed out of Barcelona, on Tuesday and Wednesday, with their latest AC40 set up for testing. On Tuesday they hit a "solid" 38kts of boatspeed. However an increasing sea state made water-starts more difficult, triggering several nose-dives. On Wednesday they struck light winds initially and then did a long 17nm sail into a freshening breeze most of the way back to Vilanova. American Magic are also predicted to commission their upgraded AC75 in the near future.
  • Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli - No report, meaning either they did not sail, or sailed only in their AC40-One Design and were not accompanied by the AC37 Joint Recon program team.
  • Orient Express Racing Team - No report, meaning either they did not sail, or sailed only in their AC40-One Design and were not accompanied by the AC37 Joint Recon program team. The team are participating in this weekend's Italy SailGP regatta in Taranto.
  • INEOS Britannia - No report, meaning either they did not sail, or sailed only in their AC40-One Design and were not accompanied by the AC37 Joint Recon program team. Team members are participating in this weekend's Italy SailGP regatta in Taranto.
  • Emirates Team New Zealand - No report, meaning either they did not sail, or sailed only in their AC40-One Design and were not accompanied by the AC37 Joint Recon program team. Due to being without a wingsail for this weekend's Italy SailGP, the sailing team will not participate. There may be a change to ETNZ's sailing program to utilise this unexpected time.


Two of the America's Cup Challengers wasted no time in a resumption of training and testing after the conclusion of the first Preliminary Event in Vilanova.

Alinghi Red Bull Racing did a fast tow back from Vilanova, docked briefly at Barcelona, took on new crew and sails and headed out again.

"We took the opportunity as the boat was coming back this morning to hoist the sails and get some hours of training. We had another crew jump in ready and waiting for this moment. We did some sail testing. It was a good day - difficult in terms of conditions, but in the end, we got what we needed," coach Pietro Sibello explained.

He told AC37 Joint Recon program that he was pleased with the Swiss performance in Vilanova.

"This was a good test, with super light, light-medium condition. I think the team really did well for the first event. And we take a lot of learnings, of course, and we know now where to put our effort to improve the most."

He explained that the breakdown causing the Swiss to drop out of the last fleet race occurred when they couldn't "activate the cant system - so couldn't sail the boat."

Questioned as to what the main takeaways from the weekend, Sibello gave an interesting response. "It's making sure that the team never give up. We saw a very tricky conditions and also learning how to sail the boat in the light wind and the marginal wind. The race never is never ended until the finish we also need to to work on the displacement mode, and of course, many other things. But that is the most interesting."

As all teams are now in the 12 month window for the 2024 America's Cup in Barcelona, the training and weather take on a new edge. Alinghi Red Bull Racing will tweak their programs to reflect the current timing.

"We will be sailing during during the period of the of the racing. We'll have a mix of of the 40s and the 75. Of course the 75 as a bigger priority in this in this period, and and also for our project in the system testing and other stuff."

Winner of the first Preliminary Regatta, at Vilanova, American Magic - who toppled the series favorite, and current America's Cup holder, Emirates Team New Zealand, showed that despite a late start to their 2024 America's Cup campaign, and having several key people leave for other teams, American Magic appear to have made the right calls.

Wednesday was a rare and invaluable day for the US team - allowing them to look at one mainsail as it was tested across the full wind range - from below the minimum to above the maximum. That testing includes having a sail that can be grunted up sufficiently in the light to provide the 15kts of boatspeed to allow the AC40 to self-start foiling, and then be flattened, and de-powered as the apparent wind increases in strength to 45-50kts. That's quite a challenge for sail designers, sailmakers and sailing team.

Flight controller/Trimmer Andrew Campbell says the variance in wind strength for Wednesday was predicted - being light wind early on, and then freshening throughout the afternoon. It transpired that the breeze was too light for sailing the AC40, set up in test mode. Then the inevitable tow-ups started, before the AC40 could free-sail.

"We were expecting it to be in a little earlier. Our our weatherman had us ready for the breeze. And when it did come in, we were ready to get the most of it. By the end of the day, we ended up halfway back to Villanova. I think the guys kind of like get back down there," he quipped. "So we we had a really nice long session going upwind towards Villanova and the breeze started to pick up in a big way in a big hurry. And we blasted back downwind and by the time we got back it was top end."

AC37 Joint Recon program's Elia Miquel, who was on the water for the session asked Campbell why the team chose to sail so far offshore, when the Cup racecourse is going to be just off the beach in Barcelona. His response gave some interesting insights into the testing, and the reliability of snap-shots in the evaluation process.

"Today was more of a good day for us to settle in and try testing settings for a longer period of time," Campbell explained. "The conditions right on the beach, for us aren't that different from the conditions a mile or two miles offshore. While we went 17 miles up wind, but I don't think we're ever more than five, four or five miles offshore."

"We're always kind of in what we think are similar conditions to what we're going to see off the off the beach here in Barcelona. When we have the right day, we can spend a long time going upwind picking the settings, and getting the boat settled, and getting the people settled - that's valuable for us."

"We were going through all kinds of different settings through the course of the day. We had sections where we were doing some things one way, and some things another way. And some, some settings aren't always as pretty as others."

"These long sections are really great for getting our arrow shapes set up, it gives us time to get not only get the shape set up, but then get good photos and good scans of them. Our priority for these long segments is to let the boat settle. The boats are so dynamic that anytime you snap a photo, it's just a moment in time when you're going through a big dynamic change. We're trying to get to let the boat settle, so we can get a few photos. If we get one good photo out of each stretch, then we're pretty happy."

Elia Miquel asked Campbell to elaborate on the take-outs from today's session across the America's Cup breeze spectrum - ranging from breeze well under the racing minimum, to probably beyond the allowed maximum.

"Well, the cool thing is that we saw the range of the breeze right. We saw so little breeze that we couldn't take off and then we saw too much wind at the end almost.

"So to see this [single] mainsail go through that range is exciting for us. We saw a couple of different jibs go through the transitions and how they set up against the mainsail. That's all really good learning for us - seeing how the sails pair up, how that changes the loads and the dynamics on the boat. That's all really positive. We have a lot of people on board and the more people can see those kinds of effects are all really beneficial for us."

AC37 Joint Recon Team Reports:

American Magic - LEQ12 - Day 65 - September 20, 2023 - Barcelona

A full range of breezes session for NNYC American Magic who waited patiently for an hour on the water, waiting for the wind to fill to start their training.

"America" the team's modified AC40 [turned into a LEQ12], was rolled out at 10:00hrs followed by the usual mast procedure and some electronic and hydraulic checks. The team craned the boat into the water with the same foil configuration as yesterday: both anhedral gull wings with the weight correcting 'aero bombs on the foil arms and elevated tips. After placing the anemometer on top of the mast and their daily dock-chat they docked out at 12:00hrs. . Tom Slingsby, Paul Goodison, Andrew Campbell and Michael Menninger where onboard when they hoisted the newly declare MNC-2 mainsail and waited for 1 hour with slight breeze outside the harbour. At 13:04hrs the boat was towed onto its foils 2nm from shore where they hoisted J1 with a little bit more of a breeze barely reaching 6knts and flat sea.

At 13:18hrs they started sailing upwind on starboard tack and needed tow assistance to take-off and then foiled for 5mins before ending in a touch-down tack. Next, they did a self-take off which ended in the exactly same way. . By 13:55hrs, the J1 was down and the J3 #2 up having Tom Burnham onboard and changing crew configuration, Andrew Campbell for Riley Gibbs. In the vicinity of El Prat Airport, they started a long upwind which consisted of eight touch-down tack maneuvers experimenting with ride heights.

A battery swap took place 17 nautical miles away from La Barceloneta beach having already 11knts with a notable 0.65m chop sea state. Proceeding with two more touch-down tacks in 10 minutes before heading downwind to Barcelona at a blistering 40knts. .

At 15:40hrs with 15knts from 215º they did five foiling gybes and one last majestic tack before heading straight to the port entrance where they lowered their sails and ended their training docking in at 16:20hrs.

Elia Miquel - Recon Unit NYYC

Crew: Paul Goodison, Tom Slingsby, Michael Menninger, Andrew Campbell, Riley Gibbs

Session Statistics: American Magic - LEQ12 - Day 65 - September 20, 2023 - Barcelona

  • Weather: Sunny 24 degrees
  • Wind Strength: 3knts 180º at 12:00hrs. 11knts 220º at 14:00hrs. 15knts 215º at 15:20hrs
  • Wind Direction: 215 degrees - 220 degrees
  • Sea State: 0.65mtr
  • Crane In: 1000hrs Dock Out: 1405hrs
  • Dock In: 1740hrs Crane out: 1820hrs
  • Total Tacks: 12 - Fully foiling: 1; Touch & Go: 1; Touch Down: 10
  • Total Gybes: 6 - Fully foiling: 5; Touch & Go: 0; Touch Down: 1
  • Foiling Time: 1hr 27min foiling time from a 4hr on water session.

Crew: Paul Goodison, Tom Slingsby, Michael Menninger, Andrew Campbell; Riley Gibbs

American Magic - LEQ12 - Day 64 - September 19, 2023 - Barcelona

Another LEQ12 training session for New York Yacht Club American Magic two days after winning the Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova.

The team rolled out the AC40 "America" at 11:15hrs and after the usual mast procedure they deep cleaned and polished both wings and foil arms for a long half an hour. Once the boat in the water they placed two anemometers on top of the mast.

After a five minute dock chat they docked out at 14:05hrs and raised the sails inside the port, showing up two new Mainsail Skins; AM-LEQ-MS3 #CMN-2 #B on starboard and AM-LEQ-MS4 #CMN-2 #B on port side. Both of the skins featured 5x7 tell-tales in the head and a line in the other four sections. Next they hoisted J2 also with a similar tell-tale configuration.

Sea state conditions were notable, lead by 10,5-11,5knts from 170º when they started sailing upwind near the merchant ship anchorage area at 14:42hrs. The first tack was a touch down in the vicinity of "Sierra buoy", followed by a foiling tack and a bearing away consisting of four gybes; one touch and go, two touch down and one foiling manouvre.

They have stopped at 15:04hrs when the sun had no chance to shine as rain clouds appeared and covered all the sky. From the same direction, the wind was persisting 9knts intensity.

After being stopped for 12mins abeam the chaseboat and including crew trimmer changes, they were foiling at 38 knots bearing away until they did another touch down tack.

At 15:40hrs sea state seemed more significant as the wind started to drop and they started to have some difficulties for taking off. Finally they did, but nose-diving several times made them stop again, taking advantage of doing some adjustments and check on the hydraulics.

Was at 16:18h when they decided to change the J2 and hoist a different one. After several taking off attempts they did a tow straight back to port, where they lowered the sails. Dock in at 17:40hrs.

Crew: Paul Goodison, Tom Slingsby, Michael Menninger, Andrew Campbell; Riley Gibbs Elia Miquel - Recon Unit NYYC

Session Statistics: American Magic - LEQ12 - Day 64 - September 19, 2023 - Barcelona

  • Weather: Sunny 24°C
  • Wind Strength: 2-8kts
  • Wind Direction: 215° - 225°
  • Sea State:
  • Crane In: 1115hrs Dock Out: 1405hrs
  • Dock In: 1740hrs Crane out: 1820hrs
  • Total Tacks: 3 - Fully foiling: 1; Touch & Go: 0; Touch Down: 2
  • Total Gybes: 5 - Fully foiling: 1; Touch & Go: 1; Touch Down: 3
  • Foiling Time: 31 minutes out of 2hr 25mins on the water.

Alinghi Red Bull Racing AC40-7 - Day 6 - September 18, 2023 - Barcelona

Alinghi Red Bull Racing began by towing the AC40-7 from Vilanova, docking in at their Barcelona base at 10:20hrs. The yacht was prepared for a day of sail testing, and docked out by 11:30hrs.

Outside the port entrance, the yacht's M1-2 OD mainsail was hoisted alongside the chase boat, followed by the new J3-1 LE jib. This jib featured extra tell-tales in the luff, and two sets of square formations positioned at the tack and clew of the sail. The tell-tale configuration was identical on either side of the sail, and was also setup identically on the J3-1 OD jib.

Wind conditions varied with time and location. At 12:15hrs, the inshore areas near the city measured 3-5kn west wind, while the sailing area close to the Forum encountered stronger West breeze coming through the valley.

By 13:10hrs, the thermal wind started to increase, however when measured, we were located in the convergence are, with wind inshore and offshore significantly stronger (˜14kn) than the 7-9kn measured.

By the end of the session in the Barceloneta sailing area, wind speeds up to 17kts from 210 degrees and slowly turning to the right.

Offshore sea conditions were notable with wave heights ranging from 0.9-1.5m, coming from 185 degrees with a consistent 6-second period. In contrast, the inshore waters remained relatively calm.

The crew for the day comprised of helmsmen Phil Robertson and Nico Charbonnier, with Lucien Cujean, Jason Waterhouse, and Nils Theuninck serving as trimmers.

The initial sail with the J3-1 LE jib was brief due to insufficient wind. Post-release from the tow line, the yacht could only maintain flight for a short duration. The team adjusted the jib before rehoisting, then towed further North towards the stronger winds by the Forum sailing area.

Meanwhile, the recon unit was unable to cover the following 20 minutes of sailing as the recon rib was not able to get on plane. It is understood that the recon rib was serviced on land over the weekend, however the bilges full of water from the heavy rain were not emptied before launching the boat back in the water, as the bilge pump was not working.

The recon unit caught up with the team for the final minutes of their sailing stint, which then saw the switch between the J3-1 LE to the J3-1 OD jib. With the one design jib up, the yacht sailed a long upwind beat on each tack, followed by two long runs on each gybe. The jib was then exchanged back to the J3-1 LE and the drill was repeated.

The session came to an end with a big nose dive after exiting a gybe. This resulted in a capsize due to the windward foil arm not being lowered as the yacht was heeled over on its side after the nosedive. After righting the boat, the sailors inspected the mast, suggesting potential concerns. Water was also pumped out of the boat. The mainsail was eventually dropped, but the jib was not able to be lowered, requiring a tow back to port to safely lower it.

The recon unit covered almost 40 Nautical Miles observing the team over just under four hours on the water.

Crew: Arnaud Psarofaghis, Maxime Bachelin, Bryan Mettraux, Yves Detrey, Jason Waterhouse

Session Statistics: Alinghi Red Bull Racing AC40 - Day 6 - September 18, 2023 - Barcelona

  • Weather: Cloudy 29 degreesC
  • Wind Strength 12-15kts 290 degrees at 14:00hrs, 14-17kts 210 degrees at 14:30hrs
  • Wind Direction: 210 degrees - 290 degrees
  • Sea State: 0.9 - 1.5m
  • Dockout: 1130hrs Dock In: 1540hrs
  • Total Tacks: 3 - Fully foiling: 3; Touch & Go: 0; Touch Down: 0
  • Total Gybes: 4 - Fully foiling: 3; Touch & Go: 0; Touch Down: 1

Weather conditions at Barcelona September 18-20, 2023:

At Port Olimpic, on the edge of the sailing area, and 12 metres above sea level, on the three days, the breeze has been fresh on two days Monday and Wednesday, and on Tuesday, while lighter, was more than seen in Vilanova over the weekend. The directional pattern on all three days is similar, being variable until around midday, and then settling into a southerly direction and building in strength.

On Monday, Alinghi Red Bull Racing reported an offshore sea state of 0.9metres - 1.5metres from 180-185 degrees on Monday, but with conditions inshore being much more subdued. At the AC Wave Buoy - 1 in the America's Cup race area, the wave height was recorded at 0.9mtr on Monday, decreasing to 0.7mtr on Tuesday. On Wednesday the AC Wave Buoy reported a flat wave height around midday, increasing to 0.5mtr mid-afternoon. The recon team accompanying American Magic, reported a higher sea state of 0.65nm - however that was recorded further up the coast, SSW from Barcelona.

This commentary was written and compiled from video, still images and statistical content extracted from the AC37 Joint Recon program and other material available to Sail-World NZ including photo files, and other on the water coverage from the 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2021 America's Cups. Its format is intended to give Sail-World readers a snapshot of all teams' progress on a given day or period.

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