Armed with knowledge from sailing their previous design, Sir Ben Ainslie and his team will take a radically re-tooled boat to the America’s Cup.
By the time you read this update, we will already have a much clearer vision of how the 36th America’s Cup will play out.
With a completely new concept and class of boat, there will be significant disparities between the teams. The Christmas Race, which runs from 17 to 21 December, will have given the teams and their supporters a good insight into those key performance differences. A poor early score card will be hard to come back from, although not impossible, but with only a few weeks between the Christmas Race and the start of the Challenger Selection Series, the teams will be desperate to fit in any possible upgrades to their boats. The clock is ticking.
Rewind to 17 October when we launched our race boat Britannia II, here at our new base in the Viaduct Basin in Auckland. As I’m sure those who have been following will have noticed, Britannia II is quite radically different from Britannia I.
There are a couple of key reasons for the significant changes in design strategy. Firstly, the time that our designers, led by Nick Holroyd, had to study the design rule and commit to the lines of Britannia I was relatively tight. We committed to an all-round design that would teach us as much as possible about this new concept of boat. When it came to designing Britannia II we incorporated that learning not just into the lines of the hull but into every area of the yacht, including deck layout and the onboard systems. With Britannia II we were under no illusions – to beat Team New Zealand on their home waters, a conservative approach, in the most technical of sporting challenges, was unlikely to cut it.
Britannia II was designed purely for optimum take-off and aero performance; we became confident in our assumption that the boat would mostly be flying rather than sailing in displacement mode, which is reflected in the radical hull shape. Our foil performance drastically improved with the launch of second- and third-generation foils (pictured right), as we developed a deeper understanding of boat behaviour and more advanced foil design tools.
Furthermore, we made important changes to our deck layout with one pedestal per grinder in fixed positions and unidirectional grinding (forward is faster). This increased our powerhouse efficiency and ultimately led to a lighter drive train solution. Overall, we felt sure we had been able to make important developments across the board.
With the Challenger Selection Series starting on January 15, we are now into the heat of competition. The series consists of four round robins (in which each contestant meets all other contestants in turn) between the three challengers, those being ourselves, American Magic and Luna Rossa. After those eight races the winner will go straight into the challenger finals and the bottom two teams into a repêchage. The repêchage winner (who failed to meet qualifying standards to continue to the next round by a small margin) then goes up to the challenger final and the winner of that goes onto the America’s Cup final itself.
The Kiwis, meanwhile, will have been fine-tuning their boat on the back of the Christmas Race, their only opportunity to check in with the Challengers. This extra time to prepare is a clear advantage to the America’s Cup holders but with that comes the knowledge that whichever team makes it through the Challenger series will be battle-hardened and up for the fight.
There is a great saying that “luck is preparation looking for an opportunity” and we very much subscribe to that philosophy. As a team we are doing absolutely everything in our preparations and are leaving no stone unturned. But the America’s Cup is the most fickle of competitions.
A team’s fate can be turned on its head in a moment, especially when the yachts are regularly reaching speeds of over 50 knots and where a wipeout could be catastrophic. The winner of this Cup will need a fast design and, as always in sport, they will need that little bit of luck, no matter how it comes.
It will be a fascinating Cup, and whichever team takes the ultimate victory, they will have well and truly earned it.