Emirates Team New Zealand skipper, Glenn Ashby, was pleased to be heading out on the water for the start of the Kiwi team’s development program over 18months before the start of the 2017 America’s Cup.
But he was open about the amount of work the team had ahead of them, particularly in the next 12 months in the run-up to the launch 0f the team’s first and only AC50 in just over a year’s time.
Sail-World caught up with the world champion skipper just before the launch of the ex-Luna Rossa AC45 test yacht, which has been lent to Emirates Team NZ by the Italian team, after their withdrawal from the 35th America’ Cup.
Ashby was asked to make a comparison with the Luna Rossa boat, the first of any surrogate boats to be launched for the 2017 America’s Cup, and those of the other teams, notably Oracle Team USA which have launched their third AC45S, and would appear to be the most advanced of any of the six teams in the 35th America’s Cup.
‘The performance of this boat should be way in excess of the AC45F’s that we are sailing in the America’s Cup World Series. At times, it would be 50% better – at other times maybe less than that. Certainly it will be a boat that will step us in the direction of where we need to go with the race yacht, in about 12 month’s time.
‘We have got some advantage by being given this boat by Luna Rossa. We have to give it back at the end of the campaign, so we have to look after it and make sure it is in good shape.
‘Obviously, the on the water testing and development is a big part of the campaign, but the work we have been doing ashore before we got this AC45 is rolling on at the rate of knots. We are just pleased to be able to get on the water and validate some of those developments.’
‘The external skeleton of the boat is what Line Rossa used, but the internal systems, electronics and hydraulics have been changed quite a lot since the boat arrived in Auckland over three months ago.
Would have like to be sailing sooner
Responding to further questions about whether Team New Zealand are behind the other teams in terms of their development, Ashby conceded that ideally they would have liked to have been sailing before this time. He also confirmed that they had a second development boat under construction.
‘We would have liked to have been on the water before now, but we are very comfortable with there we are at with the development side. The tools we have been developing over the last couple of years, and the things that we can work on off the water have put us in good shape, and we are very comfortable with our situation.
‘We have our own development boat very much underway. A lot of the electronics and technology that we are using on this boat could potentially go across to the new boat. While we will get on the water with this first boat, hopefully further down the track, we will be on the water with a much more race-replica 50fter.
‘Ideally, we would have two additional test boats. It is a leapfrog process with the development. If we have to commit to our design and build by later next year for the race boat in early 2017, then we have a lot of work to do over the next 12 months.
‘But the guys are all on track for doing that. The testing and work-up side that we have been doing on the benches and workshops should just slot straight into those boats. We expect to keep developing right up to the actual start of the racing in the America’s Cup. It is the same as last time – you have to be continually developing. While we have to build the big items like wingsails and daggerboards some time ahead of the Cup, we will be developing electronics and control systems right to the end.
From ground level, the silver and black Luna Rossa AC45S looks to be a very simple platform – very much like the production foilers now on the market (except for the wingsail, of course). But looking into the boat from above there are several marked differences – even from the AC72 benchmark.
“All the teams work long and hard to build an advantage,” says Ashby. “While this boat has been in the water before there are a lot of things that haven’t been seen before. There also a lot of things that you can’t see. In the end, it is a development in technology. The boats we will see sailing at the next America’s Cup will make the AC72s look like dinosaurs. These will be far more advanced electronically and technology wise, and will be boats like we have never seen before. So it is exciting times.
“This boat will be a lot less physical than the others because there are a lot of push button type operations. The race boats will be extremely physical and managing that power requirement is a big job for the crews. It is very much a delicate balance with the guys providing the power and providing the designers with accurate feedback as to what systems they can design for the power that is available to be used.
‘It is a delicate balance between the design team and the sailing team as this project moves forward. Managing this design development is a huge part of it and something that Emirates Team NZ has been very strong in the past.
“This boat is more about developing the yacht rather than the sailing team.
Two dimension sailing program grows into three
Since the end of the last America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand has been running a two-pronged sailing program.
The America’s Cup World Series – which they lead by 10 points – from Defender Oracle Team USA, gives the team some experience in sailing foiling AC45’s, albeit one designs on short course racing.
The second dimension to the team’s sailing program has been competing on world circuits in other high-performance classes. The team has three current world titles amongst its sailing crew. Ashby is the current World A-class catamaran and is regarded as near-unbeatable in the foiling single-hander. Peter Burling is the current World Moth champion – another foiling single hander. Burling and Blair Tuke are the current world 49er champions. The other teams tend to quote former glories.
The edge that this international racing puts on the sailing crew is becoming evident in the America’s Cup World Series, obviously with their results, but less obviously with their ability to sail out of a tight spot and turn adversity into advantage.
With the launch of the development boat, the team will be adding a third dimension to their program.
“The sailing team side will continue to concentrate on the AC45F circuit racing, and hopefully continuing some great results there,” says Ashby looking at the “where to from here” question. “This AC45S is much more about having the interaction between the designers and engineers. Peter and Blair will be in and out a lot with their 49er program, and others will take their place as required on a day to day basis. At the end of the day, it is a full team effort that goes into designing the race yacht. This AC45S will be very much a key to getting that one underway.
Italians come aboard
About seven of the Luna Rossa team have joined Emirates Team New Zealand. Some are believed to be direct hires into the team, filling some of the gaps left when Softbank Team Japan formed taking some of the talent spilled when the New Zealand team was earlier forced to restructure due to financial constraint
“We’ve hired a few of their guys, as have some of the other teams,” explains Ashby. “We have got their equipment and some of their electronics guys have come over to Auckland to help put the boat back together again, who has been fantastic.
“Luna Rossa have previously put a huge amount of effort into their campaign. We have just been very, very fortunate that they have lent us this boat, and we will be looking after her.
“We have had a fantastic relationship with Luna Rossa in the past. They bought our design package last time around. It is all swings and roundabouts. Sometimes your old competitors can be you best friends.”
Three of the six America’s Cup teams have opted to set up in Bermuda and are training at the America’s Cup venue, 650nm out into the Atlantic Ocean, with all the pluses and minuses that choice brings. The other three are based in their home countries and are working up in a more traditional approach – which presents a different set of challenges.
Ashby reflected on the team’s progress to date, and particularly in comparison to the Bermuda-based and British based teams, who have followed a different program focus and are in many ways more advanced than the Kiwis.
“At the start of 2015 if we’d known that we would be leading the America’s Cup World Series and launching our first AC45S we would have said ‘Crikey that is pretty good’”, says Ashby. “And here we are leading the World Series after having not done a lot of sailing together. And we have just launched our first test boat. So to finish off the year in the way we have, it can only get better, and these are exciting times for us.
“The next 12 months are probably going to be the busiest that we have ever had as a team,” says in a reference to the fact that the team has to play catch-up in a couple of areas.
“The new sailing crew is settling in well, with the whole crew we have a good mix. It has been a tough 12 months. But the team has been working together and sailing together, and the team cohesively is in great shape and there is a good vibe. For us, the future is very, very bright which is very exciting.
Match racing school to start
Match racing is on the team’s “Must Learn” list ahead of the next America’s Cup and is an aspect exposed by the team’s focus on high-performance sailing to the exclusion of the two-boat racing side of the sport. The departure of former skipper Dean Barker also leaves a big hole in this regard. But several members of the Team New Zealand crew have match racing experience, and Barker’s long-time tactician, Ray Davies has good skills in this area.
“When we get to Bermuda we will be concentrating on match racing skills,” explains Ashby. “At present, it doesn’t matter how good your match racing skills are if you are on a slow boat. So we will be developing a fast boat before we start doing the match racing side of it. There are quite a lot of set plays with match racing, and we will be working hard o those. Ray Davies will be working with all the guys on that side of things. It is certainly something that is on the radar for us in the future.”
Outwardly, particularly looking at the AC45S on the hard stand the boat appears very basic. It is not until you look down into the boat that differences are apparent, and then form an impression of how the final boat could look.
“There’s been a huge amount of effort go into this boat in the three months that we have received the boat. We’ve been building and putting it back together again. It was largely just a skeleton when we got the from Italy. The amount of effort that has gone into it from the team has been absolutely huge. It is a real celebration today, for the team to have this boat in the water.
“It is hard to tell what the other teams are doing, we are certainly controlling what we can control with our team, and that is all you can do. Ultimately you are racing yourself, and we know exactly where we have to be in 12-18months time, and we are just working back there, doing the best we can.”
Batteries replace grinders
Like the other teams with their first boats, the Luna Rossa boat is battery powered to provide the pressure for the hydraulic systems. That energy source is prohibited for the 35th America’s Cup when only manual power is allowed. The more advanced teams have gone to a second grinding pedestal in their latest test boats – meaning that four of the six crew can be used to provide the hydraulic pressure necessary to adjust foiling and wingsail control systems
“This boat is largely battery powered, the same as several of the other team’s first test boats,” say Ashby. “What that allows you to do is measure very accurately your power usage, and it also allows you to stay on the water for a lot longer, rather than having grinders flogged out turning handles after a couple of hours.
“This means we can test-sail for five or six hours on the water at a time. We can also keep repeating certain tests with the same power usage rather than guys getting tired and having to swap people out. This boat will be very much a testing platform – able to be sailed by big guys and small guys, at the push of a button.
“We will go to a manually powered boat later in the program. There are a few things we can do on this boat using manual power further down the track. But we’re not sure when that transition will happen.
“This boat will be nowhere as aerodynamically advanced and as clean as the full Turbo-Boats are, but performance-wise will be close enough for our purposes at this stage.
On the back-foot?
Emirates Team New Zealand is in a different position on the starting grid in this America’s Cup. International efforts by the Defender and Challengers to clip the team’s wings have had some effect. Backed up by a hostile local media hell-bent on reaping a trophy scalp, the combined effect of the two forces came close to killing off the twice America’s Cup champions.
Previously the team has been at the forefront of development. In the 34th America’s Cup, they were first to launch an AC72, the first to develop foiling in the AC72, and the first to launch their second AC72.
In this Cup cycle, the only firsts Emirates Team New Zealand has achieved are on the race circuits.
“We are absolutely confident we can close the gap on them. We are here to get started with the on the water side of things – but what is going on in the design office is far more important than what we see here”, explains Ashby. “That program has been running for a long time and will continue to be rolling forward at a great rate of knots for the rest of the campaign.
“That is the key to having a fast boat – what is happening in the design office.
Ashby continues to deny they are behind the other teams in terms of development.
‘I don’t think so. While we haven’t been on the water itself, I am very happy with what we have been working in inside. But how would you know. I guess we will be tested ultimately at the end of the campaign. But the guys that we do have and the knowledge base that they are coming from is pretty solid. So I have every confidence that our guys will do a fantastic job.”
Where are the spies?
The rules around reconnaissance have changed markedly for this America’s Cup, as have constraints around design assistance and performance assistance between teams. There are no long lenses to be seen as Team New Zealand quietly launch their first AC45S.
But have the team been returning the favour and not been quite so aggressive on the other teams training in Bermuda?
“We have been and a look at the others when we were there for the ACWS,” says Ashby. “It was really interesting to see the other guys sailing on the water when we were in Bermuda.
“Seeing the flat water in Bermuda was quite interesting for us, plus having a look at the breeze and then venue itself. Hopefully, we will get over there next year with some Nacras or something similar, and do a training camp. Really for us, the focus is being here in New Zealand and being able to build, test and develop in New Zealand. That will be our main focus in New Zealand for the next little while.
Returning to the looming deadlines heading into the sharp end of the 35th America’s Cup, Ashby won’t be drawn on launch dates for their AC50 – which under the Cup rules can only be launched after January 1, 2017. That earliest launch date has been one that Team New Zealand has traditionally hit – depending on the nuances of the campaign and shipping schedules.
“I’m not 100% sure on whether we will launch the AC50 on the dot of January 1, 2017,” says Ashby a little defensively. ‘I think it will be at some stage early in the New Year of 2017.
“We do have a little bit of time, so strategically we may delay final design decisions for a week or month or more depending on what is going on at the time. It is too early to say at this stage what the best time for launching the race boat will be.
“We also don’t know, at this stage of the campaign, whether that boat will be launched in NZ or go straight to Bermuda.
“We need to sit down and have a good chat about that over the next few months,” he adds.
In the second part of this Series, we talk to former Luna Ross skipper Max Sirena, and Emirates team NZ helmsman, Peter Burling.