Ben Ainslie explains his America’s Cup racing boat R1

2017-02-07By Sir Ben Ainslie

The rules governing the America’s Cup state that no one can launch their race boat more than 150 days before the first race of the Qualifiers on 26 May. So the earliest launch date was 27 December 2016, which is why, through early 2017, you will see plenty of coverage as the new boats hit the water.

There is always a trade-off between launching as early as possible, which the sailors prefer, and doing more design work and going into the water slightly later, which the designers prefer. It will be interesting to see how the other teams balance these options.

This is a good time to look at our first America’s Cup Class boat, or R1 as we call her, and how she differs from the AC45F boats that raced in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series.

Land Rover BAR's race boat R1 was launched in Bermuda earlier this week (February 6)

The first thing you need to know about the America’s Cup Class is that it has several “one design” elements: parts that are strictly controlled by the rules. These include the hulls, crossbeams and wings, leaving the rudders and daggerboards (the hydrofoils), and the internal systems that control the movement of the foils and the wings as the major areas for development.

R1’s basic statistics are that she is 15 metres long and 8.48 metres wide, with a wing 23.5 metres tall. Sailing weight is 2,400kg, with six crewmembers adding another 525kg. Compare that to the AC45F, which is 13.45 metres long, 6.9 metres wide, and with a wing height of 21.5 metres, a sailing weight of 1,650kg and uses only five crew weighing 437.5kg together.

Crew weight is closely monitored during America's Cup training

The most significant differences in terms of speed potential are the wing height — a bigger wing should be more powerful — and the width and crew numbers, since those determine the righting moment available to balance the wing and power the boat forward. In both cases R1 has a lot more grunt than the AC45F.

While R1 has a top speed potential of around 60mph I think we’re unlikely to see this in Bermuda. The short race track and generally lighter winds mean that the boats will be optimised for these conditions — you wouldn’t expect to see a Formula 1 car hit its top speed for the season at the Monaco Grand Prix. We should see the boats exceed three times wind speed, which is impressive enough.

The campaign has generated about 50,000 hours of design work, of which R1 is the final product, with another 35,000 hours of work on her construction. All the interesting technical work has gone into the daggerboards and internal control systems. I can’t say much about the daggerboard development yet, except that we’ve built a few, and will be building more between now and the start of the America’s Cup.

85,000 hours of design and construction have gone into R1

We’ve used 1,200 metres of electronic and electrical cabling and 130 metres of hydraulic pipes in her construction. Compare that to just 67 metres of rope on board and you will see how very different these are from the average sailing boat. It’s a technology game now, with 190 sensors on board, four video cameras and about 16GB of data delivered in a test session.

The last thing to remember is that these boats won’t race in the same configuration in the America’s Cup that they are launched with in early 2017. There is still plenty of time for development in foils and systems and we will be working hard and making changes right up to the last race.

We only have to look at the last America’s Cup in 2013 to see how crucial these final few months of development can be. The launch of R1 is the bell ringing for the final lap of this incredible 35th America’s Cup.