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America's Cup: Emirates Team NZ explain the hydro systems on the new AC75 raceboats

by Emirates Team NZ 19 Mar 00:40 GMT
Mainsail hydraulic control systems lie on the deck of an AC40 - Auckland - March 19, 2024 © James Somerset/ETNZ

There are many hidden parts to an America's Cup campaign where innovation, performance and design talent often remain unseen.

Hydraulics is one such area, so much so that when Emirates Team New Zealand's new race boat is launched next month, there will be very little of the department's work on display to the public or reconnaissance cameras. However, without an optimal hydraulics team running the complex AC75 hydraulics system, winning the America's Cup would be much more complicated than it already is for the teams.

"The whole system on the boat, like the lifeline or the blood of the boat, is hydraulics and hydraulic oil." Explained Peter 'Brush' Thomas, who heads up the Hydraulics department of Emirates Team New Zealand.

The boats, either AC40 or AC75, will not operate without hydraulics, so the 'hydro team' ' wakes up' the boat in preparation for sailing each day.

"We are one of the first groups in to turn the boat on, fire up the hydraulics, do a quick visual test and pressure test, and check that the systems are going to be functional for the entire day," explained hydro team engineer James Graham.

But that is far from the end of their daily job list, explains hydraulics engineer Ethan Jones. "It is an endless task for the team. Along with pre- and post-sail checks, you're always working on something. Testing and assembling manifolds, making new hoses—it's just constantly changing on the boat, so it's cool."

The AC75 foiling monohull has three different hydraulic systems, which the sailing team uses to sail the boat. So, when creating the overall hydraulic systems, the sailors provide input on what they ultimately want when sailing. That input filters down through the mechatronics team to the hydraulics department, which produces the hardware on the boat in a practical working condition.

Scott Barnes, the lead hydro engineer, explains the three different hydraulic systems on the AC75: "The cyclors are powering pumps under the deck, and they're controlling the sail functions that change the shape of the sails and make the boat go faster.

Then there is the FCS, the Foil Cant System powered by batteries. FCS is a one-design component that all teams have. It operates under crew control in every tack and gybe manoeuvre, raising and lowering the foil arms and their attached wing foils.

Finally, there is the flight control system, which adjusts the rake of the rudder and the flaps underwater. "These flaps move like an aeroplane wing and help to fly the boat," said Barnes.

The hydro team of Peter Thomas, Scott Barnes, James Graham, and Ethan Jones is a tight group that has been working tirelessly for the past few years. They were recently joined by RNZAF Aircraft technician Michal Johnston, who is taking a year's leave from the Air Force to join the Emirates Team New Zealand hydro team.

"Everything that moves on the boat is through a hydraulic ram, and it's not unlike an aircraft hydraulic. There are different systems, but the physics are all the same. So, like an aircraft, all of the systems need to be looked after." said Johnston

"It's a busy but dynamic place to work, with long hours, but it's cool, and there's a big team. We are all working towards a goal, and we all help each other out."

So, according to Brush, what is the sign of a successful day for the Emirates Team New Zealand hydro team?

"Probably the biggest success is when the boat comes back from a day on the water, and we just do our checks, and everything's good because then you know that all the modifications you've been working on actually mean something, and you're progressing."

The final word goes to James Graham, a long-time stalwart of the Emirates Team New Zealand shore crew. "It's not always easy, and it's not always fun, but you appreciate what we have here. We've got a good group of people who work hard and aim for the same goal."

To nobody's surprise, that is winning the America's Cup in October this year.

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