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America's Cup: Three teams advise launch date intentions - and what we could see in early April

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 7 Feb 03:08 GMT
Emirates Team New Zealand launch Te Rehutai - November 18, 2020 © Richard Gladwell /

Three teams have now given the required two months' notice of their intention to launch their respective new AC75s, which will be their race boats in the 2024 America's Cup Regattas.

Emirates Team New Zealand and Alinghi Red Bull Racing gave notification yesterday, and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli issued theirs today.

Three teams have yet to advise their intentions.

On Monday, the INEOS Britannia team principal, Sir Ben Ainslie, confirmed that the team's boat had left Carrington Boats to build the facility in Hythe, Southampton. The team has yet to nominate a launch date officially.

The new French Challenger, Orient Express Racing team, has yet to issue a launch date notification for their AC75, developed from a base design supplied by the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand. Experienced French builder Multiplast is building the yacht.

New York Yacht Club's team, American Magic, are the other team to have yet to advise a launch notification. A months ago, in an interview with the AC37 Joint Recon team, President of Sailing Operations, Terry Hutchinson, responded to a question on whether American Magic was at or close to the deadline for locking in the current foil design and indicated that the American Magic launch date was still a couple of months off.

"For sure, the deadline for us has passed," he said. "I don't know about the others. But you'd have to think from a manufacturing perspective, if you wanted to launch a boat anytime, in June, you'd be pretty pressed up against it, to be much later than what we are today."

The US team got off to a slow start to their 2024 America's Cup campaign after indecision within the team's backers as to whether they were prepared to continue after their campaign for the 2021 America's Cup - which is remembered for the spectacular capsize and near sinking of their race boat Patriot on Day 3 of the Challenger Round Robin.

So far, the team has used that 2021 campaign as a learning experience. The team has not looked back since making what Dennis Conner called the "commitment to the commitment" and lodging a challenge to the Royal NZ Yacht Squadron. American Magic has made some innovative decisions, putting the team in quite a different situation from the 2021 Cup.

The launch of the first of six AC75s in early April will trigger the usual round of quizzical comments and plumbing of the depths of design thinking when the AC75s are revealed. The unveiling will occur at individual launches rather than a common "Reveal Day" used for the 2007 America's Cup in Valencia when all the IACC yachts were revealed en mass. That exhibition showed a diversity of design thinking to resolve the various design questions posed by the then International America's Cup Class Rule, which had been used for the previous four America's Cup cycles.

America's Cup design teams always play their cards very close to their chests, and this, the second cycle of the AC75 class, is no different.

The usual expectation is that the boats in the second design cycle will start falling into the same corner of the rule. Whether this plays out in the next two months remains to be seen.

The obvious changes will come from the major changes arising from adopting Version 2 of the AC75 Class rule. They include the removal of running backstays, the removal of the bow sprit from which was set the Code Zero, the use of cyclists to provide the necessary hydraulic pressure, and the use of mechatronics - particularly in control systems.

Overall crew numbers are reduced from 11 sailing crew in 2021 to eight for the 2024 Cup - with the question being how just many are involved purely in sailing, how many are in the power group, and how many do a bit of both. Jibs are now sheeted using a traveller, and mainsheet systems are controlled by elaborate clew sheeting systems - refining the concept employed by Emirates Team NZ in the 2021 America's Cup.

Nothing has been revealed by the teams of their cyclor systems, and that will be another point of interest - if they can be spotted - come launching day.

There are now no winches aboard the AC75s and no running rigging or sail sheets. Hydraulic rams and push-buttons control all sails.

A fundamental change, not forced by the design rule, will be the shift to the crew being split on the other side of the boat - and not changing sides between tacks/gybes. This approach was one of Italian Challenger Luna Rossa's innovations in the 2021 Cup, where they split steering duties between two co-helmsmen.

Although two AC75 boats were allowed to be launched in the 2021 America's Cup campaign, the hull designs used by the four teams in the 2021 America's Cup were signed off, and construction started before the teams got data from the first launched. That accounted for the diversity of hull shape, but other factors, such as wing foils, fell into one of two design camps, and of course, sails could be developed virtually to the start of racing.

In this 2024 AC edition, the teams have an adequate design testing window, but using only half-size test boats and computer simulation. Wind tunnels and use of test tanks are also prohibited.

Expect the obvious hull changes to be a much slimmer, more aerodynamic hull shape to reduce aero drag.

In mid-January, ETNZ's CEO Grant Dalton said that Emirates Team New Zealand's new AC75 design is radically different from Te Rehutai, which Dalton describes as being like a battleship compared to the Kiwi's latest - currently under construction. He predicted the next generation of AC75s to be 10% faster than those which contested the 2021 Cup in Auckland.

Expect hull underbodies that will be more forgiving of the treacherous Barcelona seaway.

However, most of the changes will be invisible to the discerning eye - being inside the hull with the use of mechatronics allowing the linking of multiple control systems to a single crew action and other control system refinements.

Only three of the six America's Cup teams have used AC75s from the 2021 Cup, to develop full size systems, and some of these will be transferred from the test boat to the race boats in the coming two months. Emirates Team New Zealand and American Magic have shut down their AC75 test boat programs ahead of their race boat commissioning. It is not clear when the Swiss Alinghi Red Bull Racing team will do the same - however they have been focussed on sail development using paired AC40s in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, using the flatter waters and steady breezes to obtain good comparative data advantage.

The Formula 1 factor will also come into play in the design assessments, with INEOS Britannia having a close association with the INEOS Mercedes AMG F1 design program. Alinghi Red Bull Racing also has a similar association with the world champion F1 team. The other four are using in-house design resources.

Once launched the AC75 race boats are not allowed to sail against each other until the third Preliminary Regatta which will be sailed in AC75s in Barcelona will be from 21 – 25 August 2024 (inclusive). An Event Authority Notice issued on January 24 states: "It is intended that the format will be Match Racing consisting of a Round Robin and a one race Final between the two top scoring Competitors in the Round Robin." This is a different format to that used for the previous two Preliminary Regattas sailed in AC40 One Designs, which were fleet racing with the top two boats progressing to a two boat Final.

The Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand is eligible to sail in the first two weeks of the Round Robin phase of the Challenger Selection Series for the Louis Vuitton Cup. The Cup champions will not be eligible to score points and it will be a point of interest as to whether the Challengers opt to "sandbag" against the Defender - depriving the Kiwis of any relevant performance indication, or if they indulge in hard racing to lift themselves relative to the other Challengers.

Looking back at previous Cups, including the 2021 edition in Auckland the Round Robin performance is often not a good indicator of Cup outcome.

With the first launch notifications being announced today, all teams will be well aware that their options are increasingly limited - as the time clock counts down to the start of racing.

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