There were no high fives just professional satisfaction today out in Palma as the INEOS Britannia Team took flight un-aided onboard the silver-liveried LEQ12 and very quickly, the multi gold-medallists Sir Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott, had her rocketing at 30 knots, offering up the very best Christmas present for all fans of the British team.
Stepping ashore, a relaxed Ainslie was full of praise for the whole team who have worked tirelessly to transform T6 from a data collection towing platform to a fully operational LEQ12 capable of flight, following the AC Rules Committee ruling that clarified towing masts and effectively outlawed them: “I’m sure there probably were a few little fist pumps going around. It’s a big step combining America’s Cup with Formula One and for a lot of those engineers to get their heads around what goes into a boat like this, getting systems operating and then getting it up to the point of flying. It’s a big step forward for the team but clearly a long way to go to get the boat fully operational.”
But INEOS Britannia, by taking flight, are very much at the races in this America’s Cup and with the considerable resources of Mercedes-AMG Applied Science behind them, any perceived gap will no doubt close up dramatically as the team works through the T6 nuances in the New Year. Ainslie was more than realistic about the task ahead, saying: “I think it’s easy to forget just how complex these boats are, the systems that are going into them, and we are clearly taking a different step with this boat. It’s taken a while to work through that, but we’ll get there.”
And the sailing programme is intense for the team now, as Ainslie confirmed: “The operational capability of the boat is not where it needs to be currently so we’re working through that. There’s a good squad on it and we’ll get there…before we start going into some other testing protocols and testing schedules that we’ve got all the way through to next summer. It’s a good step to get the boat foiling and then working through the testing schedule.”
Onboard today was Bleddyn Mon, one of the key sailor/designer cross-over team-members, as an additional person to the sailing works team of Ainslie, Scott, Iain Jensen and Luke Parkinson, keeping an eye on all the systems. Ainslie welcomed Mon’s input onboard saying: “It’s nice if we can take a fifth person onboard the boat to give feedback to the Technical Group and also keep an eye out, especially in these early days, with the boat…because we’re heads down sailing the boat and we potentially miss things…We’ve got a great sailing squad here so will start rotating those around a bit now that we’re up and running.”
INEOS Britannia are “unlikely” to sail tomorrow according to Ben, but he signed off by wishing British fans and: “everyone watching have a good Christmas and all the best for the New Year.”
On-Water Recon Unit Notes: Conditions in Palma, Mallorca for INEOS Britannia’s first proper day of sailing could not have been better today with sunny, warm, flat calm conditions early this morning as the British shore crew rigged and launched the boat and 8 – 12 knots of breeze and flat water in the afternoon when the five person crew of the team’s LEQ12, codenamed T6, sheeted on with purpose to quickly accelerate and lift her hull clear of the water for the first time without outside assistance.
The sun was only just up at 0808 this morning when the British shore team rolled T6 out of the shed while simultaneously hoisting the LEQ12 yacht’s Sothern Spars carbon mast skyward ready to be stepped. By 0910 the mast setup was complete and 10 minutes later the boat was in the water and teeming with technicians getting her ready for the day ahead.
Just before 1000 the sailors loaded the sails aboard and were in the process of connecting the double-skin mainsails – and blowing up the diagonal inflatable battens that help keep the square top sail standing proud – as the boat was side-towed off the dock at 1101.
The mainsail hoist was completed in the harbour before – with some encouragement from the local harbour pilot – T6 was towed out into Palma Bay ahead of a couple of large commercial ships heading for mainland Spain.
On board were helmsmen Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott, along with trimmers/flight controllers Iain Jensen and Luke Parkinson, and Bleddyn Mon in an additional oversight role.
After hoisting the jib and going through a few minutes of systems checks the crew powered T6 up and started to push through the moderate chop before accelerating to take off speed – around 18 knots – for the first time at 1216. Once airborne the speed built further to the mid-twenty knot range, before the run was brough to an end a few seconds after the British crew crossed the wake of a large commercial vessel.
Six further runs were completed with the crew looking more and more in control on each flight.
The most spectacular run was near the end of the day with the boat sailing downwind angles at speeds touching 35 knots. That run ended with the boat landing bow down carving up huge sheets of spray wither side. A final downwind run did take place with the top speed estimated to be just under 30 knots but at the end of that around four-minute session a delay of almost an hour followed before the jib and main were dropped and the boat was towed home in displacement mode.
Dock out: 1101 Dock-in: 1550
Helms: Sir Ben Ainslie / Giles Scott
Crew: Luke Parkinson / Iain Jensen / Bleddyn Mon (in oversight role)
M1-1 Mainsail: 3 hours
J1-1: 3 hours
Total Tacks: 4 – 4 touchdowns
(Note: All tacks were attempted in displacement mode)