Emirates Team New Zealand technical director Nick Holroyd with Grant Dalton at Cookson Boats where the AC72 build is in its final stages.
From the innermost recesses of Emirates Team New Zealand the truth about the design department …..
You learn a few things about yacht designers and engineers as a species when there are 30 or so of them under the same roof for many hours each day.
For a start they are patient, very patient. That’s the way it has to be because it takes time for their ideas to become a reality.
Next month the Emirates Team New Zealand design team will see their latest creation – an AC72 catamaran – sailing on Auckland harbour.
They started on the AC72 project towards the end of 2010. The process hasn’t stopped yet and won’t stop even when the yacht is in the water.
The AC72 replaces the IACC Version 5 yachts that raced in the 2007 America’s Cup. Emirates Team New Zealand knew a lot about IACC yachts.
Emirates Team New Zealand won both the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America’s Cup in an IACC yacht. Successfully defended it too. After 20 years the design team knew how to make them reliable.
The AC72 is totally new. Few components could be bought off the shelf, with the exception of winches and some deck fittings. Everything else was designed and engineered from scratch. That’s more than 1000 components in all.
Lesson No 2: designers are cautious. They will tell you that it’s difficult to engineer something that’s entirely new for every possible outcome. Translated that means a completely new component exposed to unexpected conditions might not be as efficient as it should be – or it could fail.
To avoid failures designers are very thorough – the third thing we learn about the species. They are rigorous in everything they do; the consequences of a serious failure on a 72ft catamaran racing at 30-plus knots are best not contemplated. Reliability is an Emirates Team New Zealand mantra of old.
The fourth thing to learn is that the design team encompasses a wide range of disciplines. There’s much more to designing a yacht than just drawing the lines of hull.
On the AC72, there’s the massive wing (mast and mainsail combined) as well as the “soft sails” jibs and gennakers. They all have to be designed.
The team has designers and engineers who specialise in hydraulic systems and those who develop complex electronic systems that monitor and measure every vital sign on board.
Some of them do computer modeling. Then there’s the composite structural designers/engineers who ensure that yacht and wing are up to the wear and tear expected from testing and racing.
Software engineers who write code from scratch sit side-by-side with computations fluid design experts who specialize in hydrodynamics and aerodynamics.
Race mechanics is an important part of the design process. With a strong sailing crew bias, they create the ergonomic environment that makes it possible to sail the craft efficiently.
The fifth lesson from the design office is that they are never fully satisfied. They like refining things, making them better, more robust, more functional, more reliable.
They reckon nothing is ever as good as it could be. And that’s probably true given unlimited time and money. Sadly for them, one of the truisms about sailing campaigns is that there is never enough time and never enough money….
The sixth thing to be learned is that the design office’s creative side is balanced by necessary pragmatism. Every project has its flowcharts and deadlines. Miss a deadline and a project can stall and component manufacturers and boat builders start looking for answers – and the component.
So the design team knows when its time is up and someone has to press the button and send the creation on its way.
The final lesson from the design office is that when a bunch of them are loitering around the Nespresso coffee machine outside the design team office they’re probably not talking about fishing, rugby or even yachting.
They’re involved in an impromptu meeting: tossing a few ideas around, looking at a problem from a different angle and indulging their passion for making everything better.