America's Cup, 5 alive for a while in Barcelona


12/08/2023 - 05:46

It may well be a curious low jet stream this summer but for the last few weeks, Barcelona has served up some of the most stunning conditions for America’s Cup sailing with the afternoon thermal sea-breeze coming in almost on demand like the southerly ‘Ora’ at Lake Garda or the south-westerly ‘Doctor in Fremantle. Today was no different with a beautiful late morning breeze of 8-12 knots building to 16 knot gusts by late afternoon that saw NYYC American Magic, Alinghi Red Bull Racing and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli all venturing out of their bases in the Port Vell with their AC40s in various configuration. We had five boats on the water initially and Barcelona was five alive.

For the Americans it was an afternoon that promised so much. Having docked out at 1pm there was air of an almost heavyweight boxing match in the making with Tom Slingsby on the LEQ moded ‘America’ and Paul Goodison piloting the pure one-design AC40 ‘Magic’ and the opening exchanges as they lined up, bore all the hallmarks of a good day on the water. Flattish wave-forms atop a residual swell were meat-and-potatoes for the AC40s in flight but after the initial line-up back and forth, Magic ventilated and never recovered. The Chase Boat came alongside, and their day was over, leaving ‘America’ to shadow box for the rest of the afternoon.

It was anything but a wasted effort as Slingsby and Harry Melges threw America around a series of pre-starts with the customary board-down stalls and ‘S’ courses into the line to improve their time-on-distance whilst the Flight Control team rotated throughout the afternoon with some of the ‘Magic’ crew getting a ride. They were pushing so hard on the bear-aways at the windward mark that on one occasion they even snagged the buoy, briefly, no harm done. In the short glimpse of two-boat action that was seen, America was clearly faster when riding the immersed starboard foil over her one-design counterpart but there was a fascinating interview afterwards with Max Tringale, the Sail Designer of American Magic from the Newport North Sails loft.

Max is an alumni of the famed Marine Engineering course at Southampton University and worked for noted America’s Cup naval architect firm, Pedrick Yacht Design, before joining North Sails and talking about how the team measures sail performance elicited the following responses: “We kind of use the one-design sails as our baseline and as the sailors and design teams think of think of different things to test, we try and iterate between what we think is the right direction to go and kind of using the one design sales as our baseline and then seeing how we think the performances is between our sails and them… sometimes it comes down to how well the sail performs like through a range for a given windspeed or how well it can change gears. That sort of thing is a big one that we like to like to test you know between taking-off and once you're up and foiling is something we like to look at.”

Talking about sail shape and the full battening that we see on mainsail and jib in the AC40 and AC75, Max said: The theory’s all really similar it's just kind of pushed to an extreme at the edges of what we thought, what we think is normal, or what we knew in the past and pushing beyond a little bit some of those kind of design ideas…(with the battens) it's actually a pretty nice feature about these sails it makes our job actually a little easier to help control the shape and finding the shape of batten design and that sort of thing is another tool to help in our designs for sure.”

America foiled for nearly two hours today out of a total session of almost three-and-a-half hours but what was really impressive was a 100% foil-to-foil percentage over 35 gybes and 44 out of 45 (98%) foil-to-foil tacks. The Americans are really pushing ahead of that first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova i La Geltrú in just a few weeks’ time. One of the teams to watch for sure.

Buzzing the Americans at times through the day on the same stretch of water was Alinghi Red Bull Racing who also brought out their two AC40s in the hope of making the absolute most of the stunning conditions – a light relief to the all-on sailing on BoatZero yesterday.

However, it was a testing day with AC40-7, the one-design, having cunningham track issue and having to return to base almost immediately after launch to de-mast, fix, and re-rig. The superb Swiss shore team did the business, and in no time the one design AC40 was back out on the water.

Whilst the issue with the mast was being sorted shoreside, the fully tricked up LEQ12 moded AC40-4 featuring the return of the Tubercle-clad delta wing and the anhedral – the Swiss Army Knife of AC40s – was performing wonders down the America’s Cup course and really lighting the afterburners. This looked for all the world like an Arnaud Psarofaghis and Maxime Bachelin masterclass with Yves Detrey and Bryan Mettraux onboard but just as it started with a bang, it ended with one as a loose splash-down gybe and what looked like an issue with the jib halyard flaying in the wind up aloft, saw the team forced to slow down and reluctantly take a tow back to shore with the port foil arm raised. Sadly, an hydraulic issue curtailed the LEQ moded AC40s session.

Unabashed, Phil Robertson and Nicolas Charbonnier pressed on through the afternoon in the one design AC40 and went through a series of pre-starts and laps before a fast run back to port and a finish under the W-Hotel – one of the great landmarks of Barcelona. Speaking afterwards, Bryan Mettraux, a sailor that is growing in confidence in this America’s Cup cycle, commented on the day saying: “It was the plan to go out sailing with two boats today and they just had a small issue with the Cunningham track on the mast so they have to remove the mast to fix it but it was a quick fix so a good one…yeah we had a nice 15 minutes of sailing and then we had an issue with the system inside the boat so we couldn't sail the boat any longer properly so we stopped…it's a system issue with the hydraulics.”

Bryan also commented on the new mainsheet system that the Recon Team had spotted on BoatZero yesterday which looked to create a much more aerodynamic profile around the clew with the actuator being removed out of the area to lower down. This is an area where we will see huge development by all the teams in the coming months and Bryan offered: “We tested the new system on the 75, the goal is to make it ready for the next boat and yeah the goal is to try to have less space at the back between the two skins and improve a bit the aero and also, yeah, well we can use all the LCS to control the back of the sail.” (LCS = Leech Control System)

Also spotted yesterday was the boat manager dialling in what looked like an automated system between the mast rotation and the 3D jib sheeting arrangement. Bryan remained coy but confirmed that it’s early days as the team start finding the pre-sets on these controls and linking them together: “We started to use some logic to link different function between them but it's just the start, it's really the beginning.” And when pressed about what else they’ve lined, he offered: “A lot of things and much more to come.”

Intriguing. Whilst the sailors hone their technique on the water, there is so much going on behind the scenes in the design offices all around the world at the moment that we suspect we haven’t seen anything yet in terms of development. Plenty to come from what’s looking like being the closest America’s Cup in decades.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were the fifth AC40 out on the water today but as per the agreement with the teams, when training in an AC40 in one-design, there is no recon report or RIB following the team.


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