Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Surfing Masterclass in Barcelona for the 37th America’s Cup Teams

This week in Barcelona, it’s been a degree course in wave sailing for the teams of the 37th America’s Cup and one thing’s for sure: The bigger the boat, the better the ride. Today was an exercise in long-form wave riding with a breeze that built through the afternoon before what’s thought to be inclement weather ahead of the weekend.

On that assumption, all the AC teams were docking out pretty much in unison to catch the build early enough to make their sessions worthwhile. One thing to note before we start talking about AC75 and AC40’s was the French Youth & Women’s Team out and absolutely flying in their Persico 69Fs, staying resolutely inshore but putting in some very impressive miles, flying asymmetric kites and having a ball. Great to see. That next generation is coming through fast.


Speaking of next generations, Alinghi Red Bull Racing were out in their AC75 ‘BoatZero’ and sailing intelligently with a clear goal to keep the rudder immersed through the long-form swells. A near-miss capsize on a rudder ventilation when on starboard with the legacy American Magic foil immersed was a reminder of just how hard the AC75 can bite when control is lost but at the La Barceloneta foiling casino, the Swiss won big, saved the capsize and sailed on. 

One thing we can definitely say about the Swiss is that their confidence is building. Tacks and gybes were committed and co-ordinated with Arnaud Psarofaghis and Maxime Bachelin transitioning well and steering ever-improving speed angles. Bryan Mettraux and Yves Detrey were flying smart with the stern noticeably immersed upwind and the bow out to stop ‘BoatZero’ from its tendence, especially on starboard tack, to dig in and this was all round a super-positive three-hour session. Bryan Mettraux gave a nod to the hard-working Power Group of Alinghi Red Bull Racing when he summed the day up, saying: “I think we were really happy with what we did on the water today so it’s why we didn’t push much longer on the water – also we are using quite a lot of our cyclors so it’s good to give them a rest!” 


Having started on the J3, the Swiss quickly switched down to the J4 – a sail they look very comfortable on – and through the gybes downwind it was very much safety first, with double board gybes as we see all the teams doing when the breeze gets up. Speaking about the day, Bryan said: “It’s always the big deal with those conditions trying to keep the rudder inside the water, we had a few ventilations on the rudder but nothing bad and it’s part of the learning how to keep the boat low without touching the water…what’s difficult doing the gybe is to keep the boat low in the water and especially finding the right timing with the wave so we worked quite a lot on that today and it’s going in the right direction.”


And talking through the near-miss capsize, Bryan was honest when he said: “Yeah so we had I think a ventilation on the rudder, it’s hard to say now, we have to look the footage and the data and I think what happened was sailing a bit too high with not enough margin with the rudder immersion and lost it… when you lose the rudder, the boat is pretty much out of control so really just to think to ease the sails and make ready for the landing and try to save it if it’s possible.” Great sailing from the Swiss – again.

Ugo Fonollá / America’s Cup

Docking-out at the same time as the Swiss, and launching sails in the relative safety of the Port Vell harbour entrance, was Emirates Team New Zealand who are noted strong-runners in the breeze and were keen to keep “pushing on” into this vital period of when the America’s Cup Match will be sailed in 2024.

Ugo Fonollá / America’s Cup

Like a muscle-car in conditions that the angular ‘Te Rehutai’ looked created for, the Kiwis put on another masterclass of sail trim and ride height whilst being super co-ordinated with the helming team of Pete Burling and Nathan Outteridge. What we see with the helms when the breeze and swell is up is a real accuracy in their driving that is arguably far more pronounced than with other helming duos.

Ugo Fonollá / America’s Cup

The AC75 looks almost twitchy with the helms really working it through the waves whilst the trim team work relentlessly to keep max acceptable power on. The mainsail traveller and jib trim are highly precise, producing big breaks all the way up the luff of the mainsail skins and even as the breeze got up to around the 18-knot mark, the windward heel was induced on desperately low induced flight. It’s a treat to watch the Kiwis in action and the power delivery to keep the level of trim on is something quite extraordinary – and a 100% foil-to-foil record over 26 gybes and 22 tacks is something out of the very top drawer.

Ugo Fonollá / America’s Cup

Speaking afterwards, Pete Burling summed the day up saying: “It was really nice conditions out there today, obviously everyone saw the same in the forecast probably with a nice building breeze and we were pretty happy not seeing the top end of it and just going out and having a nice session in the waves that were kind of coming from both directions in the build of the breeze. So, it was a nice day and nice to trial few things and keep pushing forward.”

These are valuable days for the one confirmed syndicate that will be racing in October and as Pete put it: “I think the Cup’s at a really interesting time, it’s right at the end of summer and you know just the first few systems are starting to push across the top of Spain but I don’t think anyone will be out of there the end of this week with a huge swell coming, it was quite interesting to just get comfortable in those kind of upper end swell conditions but yeah there’s definitely a chance it could be plenty of waves.”

The team have a two day break now whilst the predicted heavy conditions in Barcelona blow through but for Emirates Team New Zealand the “push” continues as Pete confirmed: “We’ve got a couple of mods through this little period off and then yeah one more little push through to the end and now. It’s really, I suppose, just getting to know the venue and how it changes this late in the summer or into the next season. We’re really loving getting to spend some time on our AC75 over the Cup period and it has been invaluable.”

Job Vermeulen / America’s Cup

For NYYC American Magic, the swells made it a tough day to be foil evaluating in the team’s two AC40’s but this hardest-driving of teams pushed on through sub-prime test conditions where the premium was on steering. Terry Hutchinson, President of Sailing operations has been keen in recent interviews to measure the tone of the team that many think are favourites for the Challenger spot this time next year. Talking about the testing programme, Terry opined: “I think we’re chipping through the list, I do. I think you see a day like today and it reminds you really how hard this is and we’re doing it at a smaller scale and so when we saw Alinghi Red Bull Racing or Emirates Team New Zealand sail by on the bigger platform, it’s a heavier platform, it’s a more stable platform, you know it’s a good reminder of what we’re testing on right now but also where we’re going, and how what might be really hard in the AC40 might not be so hard in the AC75 and so with that lens you have to continue to trust the experience of the sailors and the designers to see which ones you pick and choose from.” 

Job Vermeulen / America’s Cup

And talking about the foil evaluation, Terry added: “The beauty of a day like today is it’s very, very, challenging and so we all face the struggle of you’re never going to make a slow foil fast and yet a foil that can perform well enough in different conditions that keeps the boat out of the water, as we saw today, all of our family of foils each one has its little strength and weakness and yet all it takes is a boat to fall out of the sky once and the race is over and so you work very, very, hard on making the subtle little changes that we’re working on to improve.” 

Job Vermeulen / America’s Cup

With an outstanding team across the board and arguably the strongest helming squad in this cycle, Terry puts great store on their abilities but also the co-ordination with the trim team and when asked about the adjustments that can be made, he offered: “I think the true challenge to maintain a steady platform starts with the helmsman sailing around putting the boat in a good spot in the waves. It’s easy for one of these boats to sail through the waves and so managing the helmsman, managing how they sail through the right waves, trimmers setting the sails up so they’re balanced enough and from a foil perspective you know keeping the platform in a spot that it’s never too far wrong, because all three of those things locked-in will keep the boat going in a straight line pretty nicely… when you look across the fleet you see all the teams have similar areas and similar concepts of foils and so really the subtleties is the difference in how the foils perform across the range.”

Job Vermeulen / America’s Cup

Elsewhere, INEOS Britannia and Orient Express Racing Team, sailing their AC40s in One-Design mode, were caught in the background of the recon team videos and photos again putting in a solid shift ahead of the next Preliminary Regatta in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, at the end of November. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli did not sail and it is believed that the team will be sailing their LEQ12 in Cagliari for the rest of the week. (Magnus Wheatley) 

On-Water Recon Unit Report – Alinghi Red Bull Racing: Alinghi Red Bull Racing had a three-hour sailing session with increasing puffy winds and tricky sea state conditions. The team rolled out their AC75 at 8:50h. The yacht was craned in, and the usual pre-sailing checks were carried out.

The team docked-out at 11:00h, hoisting the M2-2R mainsail and J3-1 headsail inside the port and was towed out by 11:23h. The wind conditions outside were 9knts from 240º with the sky partially covered and 0.8-1m waves from the SE.

‘Boat Zero’ started sailing downwind by the port entrance and rapidly reached the 40knot speed barrier. Near Badalona, with an increasing and puffy breeze from 9 to 12 knots 230º at 12:08h, the team did one touch-down tack upwind and following they pulled a tow line and substituted the J3-1 with a J4-1.

At 12:40h, right after taking-off, they had a close call with a capsize as they lost the rudder control. Going through a big wave, the rudder came out of the water and the boat started listing to port, but they managed to recover the situation after a few seconds of tension.

Two technicians went onboard and checked the systems in order to continue with the training session, apparently the boat did not suffer any damage. At 12:50h, with puffs of 18 knots, they did three laps upwind-downwind between Barcelona and Badalona. After 30′, they stopped for a cyclor swap and a quick chat with the chase boat members.

At 13:37h, having both foils down during the downwind, they were trying to maintain the boat’s ride height low and searching for the right timing to gybe and avoid ventilations. The last upwind of the session commenced at 14:07h, and ended right in front of the harbour entrance, where they lowered the sails and towed the yacht back to the base, docking in by 14:40h.

The team covered a total of 50 nautical miles over three hours on the water, 105 min were spent sailing with 46 manoeuvres performed, 87% fully foiling. Elia Miquel- ARBR Recon Unit.

On-Water Recon Unit Report – Emirates Team New Zealand: Emirates Team New Zealand went hunting for big waves for their third consecutive sailing day this week. With the forecast calling for the breeze to build to over 20 knots by the afternoon the New Zealand team rolled out at 0930 this morning and – despite a delay during the rigging process – had their AC75 in the water by 1015 in good time for an on-time dock out at 1100.

After hoisting sails – M2-3 mainsail and J4-6 headsail – in the Port Vell basin, the Kiwi yacht sailed out of the harbour at 1130 and was quickly up on foils in 15-16 knots of breeze from 200 degrees. After less than a minute of upwind sailing on starboard, the boat made a sharp bear away to begin a 10-minute downwind run with three foiling gybes. At the end of this run the boat rounded up to begin a 13-minute upwind session with four foiling tacks. This windward leeward lap was repeated two more times before a stop at 1220 to rotate the cyclors and (we think) change batteries. This stop lasted 20 minutes before the boat was airborne again, sailing upwind for five minutes before bearing away for a very long (13-minute) downwind run with eight foiling gybes. This was followed by a final upwind leg back to the harbour with 10 foiling tacks along the way.

The boat sailed into the harbour at 1315 where sails were dropped by 1330 ahead of a 1340 dock-in. No sailing is scheduled for the next two days (Thursday 19 and Friday 20 of October) but the team expects to sail both days over the weekend.

On-Water Recon Unit Report – NYYC American Magic: NYYC AM rolled out ‘Magic’ at 09.45 and America at 10:25. Both AC40s on LEQ12 mode. ‘Magic’ with the same foils’ configuration to the past two weeks, with foil wing and flap #1 on the port side and #4 on the starboard side. ‘America’ with new reported modifications on the starboard side wing and flap #3; and with reported modifications on the port side wing #2. (Bear in mind that, since last weekend, the foils on America were switched, sitting at the moment on the opposite tack to the one indicated by their names on the component declaration form.)

‘Magic’ was craned to the water at 10:17, and then America followed at 10:56. Both boats docked out at 12:00, as planned. One-Design mainsails were selected for both boats, which were hoisted at 12:15 while coming out from the port. Once out, One-Design J3s were hoisted at 12:25.

Today´s training consisted of virtual races, using virtual marks and boundaries. However, due to a 0.77-meter swell combined with a 15-17 knots SSW breeze measured at sea level, it was very challenging for both boats to be able to follow the plan of the day and to stay consistently foiling. Both boats ventilated and nose-dived in many opportunities while racing.

In total five one-lap upwind-downwind virtual races were carried out, making 5 to 6 tacks on the upwind and 4 to 5 gybes on the downwind, doing rabbit starts. On all legs, at least one of the two boats ventilated and nose-dived, coming to a full stop and being forced to re take-off, losing contention to the other boat for the rest of the race. Generally speaking, ‘Magic’ was more consistent, nose-diving on less occasions and finishing most of the races ahead.

In these conditions in which stability is what makes the difference, ‘Magic’ seemed better fitted for manoeuvring, especially for bearing away, tacking, gybing and when sailing in a straight-line for more than two minutes. ‘America’ seemed to have more difficulties to stay under control, splashing down in many more situations.

The session had three breaks in between races. The first one from 13:20 until 13:35, the second one from 13:45 till 14:05 and the last one from 14:30 till 14:40. At 14:45 the team did one more upwind and downwind before heading back to the base.

Both boats entered the port at 14:55, sails were lowered at 15:05 and docked at 15:10.

Magic was craned out at 15:42 and then America followed at 16:05.

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