The chase boats from 2007 just could not keep up …
The America’s Cup has changed and the philosophers at Emirates Team New Zealand have been musing about what’s different. Remarkably they found a lot that’s exactly the same.
Here’s their list, by no means complete and in no particular order.
Some changes are obvious. For a start Dean Barker and the boys are heading into the 34th America’s Cup charging around on catamarans. That’s definitely different.
And the chase boat workhorses from the monohull era can’t keep up with the yacht in any sort of breeze. The new chase boat can, but it’s a catamaran too.
The sailors have to be more agile and have greater stamina to meet the physical demands of the cat. The risk of injury is greater so they wear crash helmets and life jackets and carry personal oxygen bottles and a knife to cut through the trampoline should that be necessary.
Whenever the AC72 sails, a diver and a paramedic are close by on a chase boat (the one that can keep up).
The big cat has reached 40 knots in a 20 knot breeze. An IACC V5 monohull was lucky to get to 15 knots in that.
The cats accelerate very fast and they decelerate in a tack or gybe with equal rapidity. So match racing the cats is not the same.
The wingsail has rung in changes in the sail loft where there are fewer soft sails to build and maintain.
Launching a monohull took someone to drive the travel-lift and 5-6 others; 35 people are required to launch and retrieve the big cat.
We always thought the design and engineering of the monohulls was complex. It was. It was cutting edge in its day but nothing compared with the complexity of design, engineering and build for the cats.
So the design office has changed, too. The team now has more designers than sailing crew: 12-13 v 30 plus. And the sailors share office space with the designers so there’s a free-flowing exchange of ideas throughout the process.
It’s not the same at the builder’s yard and spar maker. Components were built all over Auckland and beyond for final assembly at the team’s base. The days of a virtually complete yacht and rig being delivered to the base have gone.
We knew how to make the monohulls bulletproof. Reliability was a byword at Emirates Team New Zealand. Damage was rare and relatively easy to repair.
The big cat is strong and functional when it’s doing what it’s designed to do. Even so, loads are immense and breakages can and will occur. And we know that with structure and systems as complex as the AC72 damage could take a long time to fix.
The regattas are different too. The racing is close inshore so that people don’t need to be on a boat to watch. Some races last only 12-13 minutes; the longest only 50.
What’s the same
Cats or monohulls, the America’s Cup is still all about yacht racing. A skilled, well-trained, confident crew will always have an edge.
The America’s Cup has always been about design and technology – a slow boat has never won the America’s Cup.
It’s about reliability. Breakages on the race course can cost races.
So in the search for reliability an exhaustive testing programme is undertaken. Long days on the water are back. No change there.
Meetings are back too. Meetings to plan the day, debrief meetings at the end of sailing. Design and sailing team group meetings to dissect and digest the mountain of data collected.
A day on the water produces a long job list – problems to be solved, improvements to be made, gear to be repaired or replaced. That’s familiar. So too is the belief that there are never enough hours in the day, enough days in the week.
And, no surprise here, sailors and the designers, engineers, system and boat builders who accompany the AC72 on the water need to be fed. No complaints there. Take a bow Harry.