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America's Cup Update

America's Cup Update

Jack Griffin from Cup Experience has been keeping his ear close to the ground for us in the America's Cup world and brings us this update on the challenges facing the six teams as they prepare for the 35th edition of sailing's most famous event in Bermuda in 2017. 

As beautiful as Bermuda’s Great Sound undoubtedly is, it is the confined nature of the 2017 America’s Cup race area that is uppermost in the minds of the designers and sailors from the six competing teams.

Racing on such a restricted course means little or no margin for error. There will be a premium on getting up on foils quickly and staying up through gybes and tacks - both of which will require great design and great sailing. 

On light air days, sailing into a soft spot or a less than perfect execution of a manoeuvre will drop the boat off the foils at a cost of hundreds of metres against the fleet. Conversely, in stronger winds when boat speeds will be over 40 knots, foil design needs to contend with cavitation as part of the stability-versus-drag tradeoff.  

On the 15-metre long America’s Cup Class catamarans to be used in 2017, only four grinders will power all of the yachts control systems - the wings, the foils, the jib the rudder rake, etc. - meaning that the sailors’ stamina and the efficiency of the boat’s control system will be the major determinants of who wins and loses.

For the 35th America’s Cup, the design of the hulls, crossbeam and wing shape are already set for the new AC Class yachts, meaning the teams’ individual design choices will be mostly hidden from our view, inside the wing structure, in subtle foil shape differences and especially in the boats’ complex control systems.

None of these AC50s exist yet – under the rules they cannot be launched before 27 December this year – but even now we can be certain that these boats will be very high performance and insanely complex for the crews to sail. 

In the meantime, the teams are either building or already training on their development boats, all of which have different codenames like Sport, Turbo or T2. These experimental boats are test beds to try out the ideas and design concepts that may or may not make their way on to the teams’ AC50. 

Racing on such a restricted course means little or no margin for error. There will be a premium on getting up on foils quickly and staying up through gybes and tacks - both of which will require great design and great sailing. 

As well as the testing and development, the America’s Cup contenders are also fleet racing their foiling one-design AC45 yachts in the America’s Cup World Series. It’s easy to dismiss the ACWS as simply exhibition racing or some sort of friendly warm up competition, but in reality, it’s much more. In fact, points earned in this series could determine the outcome of both the challenger selection and the America’s Cup Match itself.

Bonus points earned in the AC World Series carry into the round robin phase of the challenger selection series and the standings at the end of the AC World Series will be used to break any round robin ties; possibly determining which challenger is eliminated and which team carries a bonus point into the AC Match. 

Let’s take a look at the state of play with each of the teams.

ORACLE TEAM USA

The defenders appear to be the furthest advanced with their development and as such will be very tough to beat. They set up their base in Bermuda last May, from where they have launched three experimental boats – the maximum allowed by the Protocol. At the end of 2015 they sold their first test boat on to SoftBank Team Japan and have been two-boat testing during the early part of this year.

From the very first days of test boat sailing, Jimmy Spithill’s men have been working on their crew playbook; rehearsing the onboard choreography that the team clearly had not mastered on their AC72 in the early races of the 34th America’s Cup Match in San Francisco in 2013. 
Their two boat testing programme in Bermuda and their foiling multihull experience from AC34, makes them the team to beat. No surprise there.

EMIRATES TEAM NEW ZEALAND

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke came into the team on the back of winning the 2013 Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in San Francisco. The pair won the 49er silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics since when they have yet to be beaten at a 49er regatta – an incredible three and a half year winning streak! In February this year they won their fourth 49er world championship are the odds on favorites for gold in Rio 2016. 

They also appear to have melded well with ETNZ veterans Glenn Ashby and Ray Davies on the Kiwi AC45. Burling took to steering the AC45 like a duck to water and at the end of 2015 ETNZ topped the AC World Series leaderboard. 

There is no disputing that Kiwis know how to race and on a level playing field like the ACWS they are a match for anyone. Off the water though, they appear to be behind in the design game. They won’t launch their development boat until at least March or April this year and in the meantime have to make do with sailing a modified AC45 obtained from their Italian friends at Luna Rossa.

As impressive as they are Burling and Tuke will surely still have a lot to learn when it working with a design team, plus the pair will be spending a lot of time on their Olympic campaign. All in all, it’s not the ideal scenario for ETNZ right now, but I’m betting Kiwi ingenuity, tenacity and sailing skill will make them contenders in the challenger selection series next year.

ARTEMIS RACING

Artemis launched their first experimental boat in San Francisco in February 2015, and like Oracle they immediately began honing their manoeuvres. Video from San Francisco showed them foiling upwind, foiling through tacks and practising bear-aways into foiling gybes. 

Now, with an impressive base at Morgan’s Point in Bermuda they have their second ‘Turbo’ test boat sailing there. They have been two-boat testing and learning about the conditions on Bermuda’s Great Sound as well as checking in with Oracle and SoftBank Team Japan to compare speeds. 

Olympic gold and silver medal winner Iain Percy leads a well resourced squad with deep talent reserves both in the sailing and design teams, as well as some solid funding from team owner Torbjörn Törnqvist. 

London 2012 49er gold medalists, Australia’s Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, have sacrificed much of their 49er training time to their Artemis duties, but will still be Burling and Tuke’s main rivals in Rio. The Kiwi versus Aussie 49er rivalry promises to be an interesting and entertaining story line for this Cup cycle. 

LAND ROVER BAR

Ben Ainslie’s impressive UK syndicate looks more like an experienced team than startup first-timer. There’s not much to be surprised about in that - Ainslie famously played a key role in OTUSA’s 2013 comeback and this is his fourth America’s Cup campaign.

Ainslie has assembled a highly experienced design team and shore crew. His CEO Martin Whitmarsh brings Formula 1 experience from his time as boss of McLaren and F1 design wizard Adrian Newey adds another dimension to the BAR creative thinking. The team has a very impressive permanent base in Portsmouth in the UK – a clear indication that Ainslie is thinking long term with this team and has plans to be in the Cup game for several cycles. 

The team’s stated goal is to #BringTheCupHome to Britain and a talented group of private backers and some savvy commercial sponsorship deals have given them the means to make a serious run at doing exactly that. 

Ainslie’s men lost a little time in their ‘T2’ test boat, when they damaged the wing in a December capsize, after having sailed it for just a few days. They were back on the water in January however despite having to brave the depths of the storm tossed UK winter.   

Expect them to be among the top challengers.

GROUPAMA TEAM FRANCE

The French team has an impressive senior executive structure. Team boss, Franck Cammas, a proven winner in multiple sailing disciplines, is backed up by fellow French sailing legends Michel Desjoyeaux and Olivier de Kersauson. Bruno Dubois recently joined as general manager, after a successful stint in the same role at Volvo Ocean Race syndicate Team Dongfeng. 

Cammas almost lost his right foot in a training accident in late November. This put an end to his Olympic hopes in the Nacra 17 catamaran, but he hopes to be back on the water in March. 

Despite having the smallest budget, this team is likely to bring a clever design to Bermuda. Cammas has twice dominated the C Class world championship – a.k.a. the Little America’s Cup – by creating a technically superior boat in a catamaran class known for design innovation. 
As a first-time team with limited means, they should be fighting to avoid elimination in the round robin phase. I won’t be shocked though if they make it through to the semi-finals. This team could just be the big surprise of the Cup.

SOFTBANK TEAM JAPAN

Japan returns to the America’s Cup after being absent since 2000. As in past challenges, they have strong western leadership and the mission to build a pool of Japanese sailors. CEO Dean Barker brought Jeremy Lomas and Derek Saward with him from ETNZ and they are joined by ex-Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper on their AC45 in the World Series. 

Team general manager and veteran AC campaigner Kazuhiko Sofuku (more commonly known as just ‘Fuku’) rounds out the AC45 team. The team held an intense recruitment camp in Japan in November and selected Olympic 470 sailor Yugo Yoshida and oarsman Yuki Kasatani. 

On the design front, they purchased OTUSA’s first development boat and have contracted with the defender syndicate for the design of their AC Class race boat. Former ETNZ head of design, Nick Holroyd, will oversee the development refinements to the design they receive from the US team.

SoftBank were the last team to join the fray in this Cup cycle and as such are still playing catch up. They need for everything to go right for them but they are not lacking in talent and if they avoid any pitfalls along the way could have a decent run in 2017.

[MAIN IMAGE BY RICARDO PINTO /AMERICA'S CUP]

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