A quick trip to the New York Yacht Club in Newport Rhode Island for a Cup update. As the sun set and the sky turned deep orange over Narragansett Bay, the New York Yacht Club in Newport Rhode Island made an impressive setting for the latest America’s Cup evening.
Hosted by the Challengers of Record and presented by Prada, the reception followed similar lines to the two previous Cup shows where the road to the 36th Americas Cup was laid out, first in Cowes last August and then in Monaco in November.
As you might expect of an event held at a club that has been at the heart of the America’s Cup since the birth of sailing’s most prestigious trophy, the great and the good from various eras were there.
Before the now familiar show kicked off with its impressive hologram presentations, there was plenty of chatter and pressing of flesh. And while the key players were still smiling in public it would appear that the pressure is building in the background, much as you would expect.
The current focus on the road to the America’s Cup is on the launch of the full sized boats, the AC75s. For the big teams at least, we know that they’re on the verge of being ready, but a firm date as to when they will slip into the water is still yet to come.
On stage much was made of this lack of dates, yet talking to American Magic’s boss Terry Hutchinson, August seems to be the most likely date when their full sized beast gets splashed.
“We should have the foils here in the U.S. in 10 days or so and then we'll get into fitting them into the boat and do some structural testing on the boat, then away we'll go,” he said.
And therein lies a clue as to why there has been difficulty in naming the date.
The task of building and supplying the one design foil arms for the entire fleet fell to the Challengers of Record, Luna Rossa. This has proved to be a harder task than was expected with the first arm failing its load test sending the designers back to the drawing board. This put a spanner in the works and a delay on the original timetable.
“This is a piece of equipment that you want to make sure is right,” Hutchinson told me. “We've been respectful of what Luna Rossa has taken on and what Persico [the foil builders] are doing for the fleet. It's one of those things. It’s a no-fail option and so you just want them to get it right. So from our perspective we're going to support the process to make sure that we're safe. It's frustrating, but we were out on the water three days this week and so we're chipping away at other things.”
Anyone who has followed the development of the boats so far won’t be surprised to hear this. The birth of such a technically ambitious design was always going to be difficult. The trouble is that the clock is running down leaving less and less time to get to grips with these radical beasts.
For those like American Magic, INEOS Team UK and more recently Luna Rossa who all have test boats there is always more to be learned by getting afloat, but for Stars and Stripes and indeed Emirates Team New Zealand who do not, you have to wonder whether these delays are starting to put more pressure on their campaigns.
Talking to Terry about how their programme has been going with the Mule reinforced that view as he was clearly more confident that his team had started to crack the code. “To date, we’ve made 71 test sails aboard the Mule and we’ve learned a lot,” he said. Did he feel more confident with the prospect of making the full size beast perform?
“We've had a couple exciting times you know, a couple of bearaways where the boat goes into the mid 40 knots. At a certain point you get over the speed of the boat and you start racing. It's a glorified dinghy and so just as you can capsize in your Laser, it's not that scary when you capsize here. You do a quick head count and hook up the bow tow and pull her into the wind and up she comes. If everything's in good working order, two minutes later you're off on the foil again.
“I would suspect in the bigger scale it's going to be a little bit more scary, primarily because you just have more people on the water and you know the boat's going to be a little heavier, so getting her to pop up is going to be trickier. But, you know I'd be remiss if I said we weren't getting used to it.”
So while the task ahead is still a big one, he seemed more comfortable with how things might work out on the AC75 than a year ago. So, had he been surprised by anything along the way?
“Yeah. The reliability of the boat. We haven't been slowed down by the boat breaking, it’s been incredibly reliable,” he said. “The guys that sailed the AC50 say that the Mule is a much more complicated boat than the AC 50, but the boat's more reliable and so in that regard I think everybody's surprised at how much we can actually go sailing.”
Later on in the presentation Emirates Team New Zealand’s COO Kevin Shoebridge made a joke of the fact that he was envious of American Magic’s experience, yet I suspect there was an element of truth in his jesting.
“We put all our resources into developing the 75,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work with our simulator since Bermuda,” he said.
Yet, while the Kiwis’ track record in Cup simulation is well known and impressive, it must surely be quite hard to simulate the kind of failures that could cause problems to a campaign. No one should underestimate how competitive they are going to be in the next Cup, but it’s also not difficult to imagine how, as American Magic and the Brits continue to fly around in test boats and now Luna Rossa is doing the same, Emirates Team New Zealand might be starting to have some pre-launch jitters as the clock counts down.
But what of the actual racing? In November last year we were told that the first event was going to be in Sardinia in September this year. That date proved to be too ambitious.
According to the Newport presentation the first America’s Cup World Series event will still be in Cagliari, Sardinia, but now it will be 23-26 April 2020.
Off stage there was a further hint that the pathway still isn’t that clear.
“We’re still standing by to be told where we're going after Sardinia,” said Hutchinson. “The protocol stipulates that they don't have to announce the rest of the regattas until the 30th of November. We don't control that side of it, so just tell us when we need to be there and that's when we'll go and we'll get into it.”
So while progress towards the new boats is getting closer, the tension is continuing to build. Next year’s circuit appears to be a way off being confirmed. Conversely, the prospect of seeing the big beasts in action is now starting to get pretty close.
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