Be in no doubt that the race for the 37th America’s Cup is very much on with a full complement of Barcelona-based teams setting sail early on a chilly Tuesday morning to catch a weather window whilst out. In Cagliari, the Italians were back in action for their first sail of 2024. It was a thrilling day of sailing across the board with all the teams getting well and truly back into the swing of all things AC – and at full throttle.
For INEOS Britannia it was a two-boat raceday and testing session with Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott taking the wheels of their battle-hardened AC40 ‘Athena’ whilst Ben Cornish and Dylan Fletcher-Scott took control of the team’s latest AC40 ‘Sienna.’ A short mainsail trimming breakdown on Athena called for outside assistance but otherwise it was a strong four-hour session on the water after a dock-out at 8.30am into a four degree air temperature combined with an offset wave pattern of just under a metre and 11-16 knots of angry winter breeze.
The on-water recon, led by Argentinian Olympic Coach Sebastian Peri Brusa, noted that the newer boat looked more on point today saying: “Generally speaking, AC40(b) seemed more stable and consistent than AC40(a), specially on the tacks, gybes and when bearing away and heading up, while dealing with an uncomfortable off-axis north-easterly sea state.” Sir Ben Ainslie, helm on Athena, spoke afterwards about the day saying: “It was our first day out two-boating with the AC40s, good conditions, a little bit of groundswell out there but you know we had a few a few little technical issues with the boat but other than that we were able to get some good time out there and start getting a feel for the two boat sessions and what specifically we’re looking to learn out of that.”
And when posed with the suggestion that ‘Sienna’ looked quicker all round, Ben confirmed as such saying: “It was a pretty confused sea out there so I think that for both boats it was just getting to grips with the conditions which was the main thing, we were trying a few different set-ups, yeah I think probably you’re right that today ‘Sienna’ was going slightly better on average and a number of different reasons for that I imagine, so would be good for us to go away and try and figure out what those were.”
Much more to come from these two boat sessions but INEOS Britannia are looking good on the water with crisp manoeuvres and seemingly much more confidence in the AC40s. Ben wouldn’t be drawn on whether T6, the team’s LEQ12 test platform, would make another appearance saying: “A little bit of an unknown on that, depends how things play out with some decisions that we’re going to make in the not too distant future regards to the race boat and where we go with that so we may or may not take T6 out again.”
Meanwhile over in Cagliari it was back to business for the hard-charging Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team who put on another demonstration day of high speed, up-range foiling on a near-perfect day for sailing with 15-18 knots of breeze and an almost flat sea-state. In those conditions, the Italians are just sensational to watch and as soon as they threw in a short course, the helming rotation of Gradoni/Bruni/Spithill just lit up the LEQ12 and give it everything they’ve got. A small modification was noted by the recon team, thus: ‘the port foil arm/arm stock has clearly been modified with additional volume on leading edge.’
Impressive sailing over a three-and-a-half-hour session that Team Coach Jacopo Plazzi described as: “It was our first day in 2024, we wanted to start well, and it was actually a very good day out on the water. We started with a bit of testing and then we went straight away around marks. We’re planning to do a lot of racing stuff in the next period before closing the LEQ programme and this is a bit of a start, it’s been a while, we did a lot of testing in the last month so it’s been a while that we don’t practise this stuff and was good, bit windy, was nice.” Ominous form from the Italians who are really eyeing the new raceboat now and itching to get racing.
Back in Barcelona, another early riser was NYYC American Magic who docked-out just before 9am and put in a solid four-hour session looking way more stable initially than yesterday. The familiar bow-down pitch was enacted, and the team throttled around, nailing their manoeuvres and bedding-in those crucial systems that will be transferred almost lock-stock onto the new boat currently in build in the USA. The only fly in the ointment was a series of gybes on the way back to base in a dying breeze that yielded a number of splashdowns and was picked up on by the on-water recon team.
When asked, Michael Menninger, one of the most honest and hard-working Flight Controllers in this Cup cycle, gave a good insight into how the team are approaching Patriot saying: “I think we have to put our hands up as sailors to it a little bit I mean we’ll definitely debrief those manoeuvres probably tomorrow and see what we were doing wrong but Patriot is tough to sail when the breeze drops…whenever there’s moments where the hull is touching the water you know this hull has a hard time of maintaining that boat speed and being able to pop back up on the foils so a lot of times we’ll touchdown very briefly and then the boat kind of gets sucked in the water and we have to do a full re-build again which is tough on the cyclors but it’s something we’re battling through.”
Asked if he felt it was an advantage to have Patriot in Barcelona over a dedicated LEQ12 or the AC40, Michael responded: “You’d think so, I mean I think the internal systems of these boats are very different than AC40s. I mean maybe some of the other teams on the LEQ12s are a little bit more similar inside but certainly the size of all the cylinders and the pressure needed to move those will be more similar on Patriot versus our new boat so I think as a team we’re learning a lot about the systems and hopefully when we launch the new boat later this year we will be in a good place to be sailing her well from the get go.”
Alinghi Red Bull Racing also put in a big four-hour-plus session on Tuesday, bringing ‘BoatZero,’ the team’s AC75, back into commission with no maintenance issues and a thoroughly rewarding session for the young Swiss team. Keen to push into the off-axis north-easterly swell, the team opted for a long one-tack stint punching into the waves with the Flight Controllers really concentrating on pitch control and ride height as helmsmen Maxime Bachelin and Arnaud Psarofaghis drove hard. It was a solid session that Maxime described afterwards saying: “We were more working on the behaviour of the boat because it was long time without facing the waves and we used this opportunity to do a longer port facing the waves.”
Summing up the day overall Maxime added: “It was very nice to have a break for the team, we came back very happy and motivated for this year, the year for the America’s Cup and we are all focused for that and yeah we had as well very good condition out there, waves again, facing the waves on port and I think was a very nice day out there, bit cold I would say, but yeah it was nice…For sure the power group will be tired tonight and this is sometimes our goal, they like to be tired, so it’s quite fun to be there and the boat was working pretty well, we didn’t need to stop for any maintenance issues so it was a very good day.”
Orient Express Racing Team were also out on the water today in their one-design AC40 ahead of an expected switch to LEQ12 mode in the coming weeks with the team eyeing foil development to complement the build work well underway of their new AC75 up at the Multiplast Yard in Vannes in the Morbihan Region. Plenty of action going on with the French team who will come into the recon programme as soon as they step their AC40 out of one-design mode. Exciting times ahead. (Magnus Wheatley)
On-Water Recon Report – Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: The Italian team rolled out their LEQ12 at 8:45, stepped the mast and craned in by 9:00. On the appendage configuration, the port foil arm/arm stock has clearly been modified with additional volume on leading edge.
After running the usual FCS, flap, rudder rake checks, the sailors proceeded with the sail control checks. M2-1 was placed on the deck before dock-out while at the base Chase3 and the AC40 were being unloaded from trucks. Six sailors boarded the LEQ12 and rotated in the passenger seats during the session. At 10:00 the yacht was towed out to fully hoist M2-1 paired with the J4-1.
The team initially conducted straight line testing mostly downwind before marks were laid out by Chase2. The breeze was measured at 335TWA with 13-15 knots as the LEQ12 was towed up on port tack for a short upwind stint before bearing away heading to the windward gate. There, the yacht practiced a pre-start drill, killing time around the leeward gate followed by two upwind and two downwind legs before stopping again. At this stage, personnel on chase1 gathered footage on the pressure side of the starboard wing for a speculative issue. Nothing major as the yacht was towed up again at 11:45 on port tack before bearing away, executing a series of gybes and sailing on two boards downwind for a short while before heading back to the leeward gate for a quick two boards round up. Two legs followed before the yacht seemed to have some troubles while exiting a tack from starboard to port leading to a significant splash.
The breeze had increased to 17-18kn from 330 TWA. Shore crew proceeded with some checks below deck and with a green light the yacht was quickly towed back on foils and a time-on-distance drill followed with additional two laps including a series of quick tacks.
After a short debrief for additional planned training manoeuvres, the yacht was towed up on starboard tack this time and the last two laps around the marks followed. At 12:40 Chase2 started recovering the marks providing the LEQ12 still the virtual targets for some last roundings.
Once again, the boat looked fast & controlled in higher range breeze around the marks where the team seemed to focus especially on clean execution of all kinds of mark manoeuvres. The team docked in at 13:20 with approx. 130 minutes foiling time, approx. 24 tacks and 18 gybes. [Michele Melis AC Recon].
On-Water Recon Report – INEOS Britannia: INEOS Britannia craned to the water their AC40(b) ‘Sienna’ at 6:30am, that apparently was left rigged and ready the previous evening. At 7:00 am the older AC40(a) ‘Athena’ got rolled out and half an hour later it was craned to the water after stepping the mast. Both boats in full one-design configuration. Nothing in particular could be noticed, other than some works on the foil hatches of AC40(a).
The team docked out at 8:30, as planned. One-design mainsails were hoisted at 8:45 and one-design J2s followed at 8:50, on both boats, just before coming out of the harbour.
Those were the only sails used during the session.
Today´s training had two parts. The first one consisted of doing some short upwind-downwind laps, at the AC race area, doing three to four tacks and gybes per leg. Generally speaking, AC40(b) seemed more stable and consistent than AC40(a), specially on the tacks, gybes and when bearing away and heading up, while dealing with an uncomfortable off-axis north-easterly sea state.
After three upwind – downwind legs, at 10:10am AC40(a) stopped and stayed heading into the wind for approximately 40 minutes with one of the team´s chase boats alongside. During this period of time, it seemed to have issues on one of the mainsail control systems. Two sailors could be identified working on the lower front part of the mainsail, while the starboard side trimmer stayed in the cockpit trying different things on the controllers.
Nevertheless, at 10:50am the training continued but with the focus on sailing in a straight-line, speed testing in between both boats, sailing longer distances. Two long downwind-upwind legs were executed in which AC40(b) was slightly faster, both upwind and downwind, performing a better VMG than AC40(a).
However, the offshore medium-winds conditions that prevailed during the day, combined with a tricky off-axis disorganized north-easterly swell, made the speed tests not highly reliable.
At 12:22pm both boats entered the port. Sails were lowered at 12:30, both boats docked at 12:45 and AC40(a) was the first of the two to be craned out of the water at 13:15 indicating the end of the day. Sebastian Peri Brusa – Recon on INEOS Britannia
On-Water Recon Report – NYYC American Magic: NYYC American Magic called for a pre-dawn roll-out this morning to try to take advantage of a westerly morning breeze which was forecast to fade away sharply around midday. The team’s second generation AC75 Patriot emerged from the shed at 0655 – at which time the air temperature was just three degrees above freezing – and the bundled-up shore crew had the boat rigged and launched by 0720 in plenty of time for an 0855 dock-out. Following the same routine as yesterday (Tuesday January 8) the boat was towed out of the harbour on foils and headed offshore to a rigging point around five miles from the harbour entrance and adjacent to the Barcelona airport.
With the offshore wind blowing from the west at a solid 10 knots the crew opted for the J2-5 headsail and the MN9 mainsail which were hoisted by 0930. The first flight of the day lasted 15 minutes and saw the boat fall off the foils twice – once briefly three minutes after setting off and one at the end of the session with a touch down gybe. A 15-minute break followed during which a member of the support crew came aboard with a tool bag. The second flight began at 1015 and – other than a brief touch down and take-off – lasted 45 minutes and included 13 foiling gybes and seven foiling tacks. With marginally less wind and a flatter sea state than the previous day the boat looked to be flying in a more stable mode and with its familiar characteristic bow down pitch. A 20-minute stop was made at 1100 to rotate the cyclors, change batteries, and swap to the J1.5-2 headsail as the breeze had backed off to around seven knots. A 50-minute session followed that saw the crew seemingly able to tack without issue but struggle to pull off foiling gybes downwind. Six foiling and one touch-down tacks were completed along with one foiling and seven touch down gybes. A 10-minute stop at 1207 was followed by the final session of the day as the American boat was towed-up and set off towards the harbour.
Although the breeze off the airport was fading quickly, the American Magic sailors found themselves sailing into a new 8-10 knot northerly breeze as they crossed the commercial anchor field off the entrance to Barcelona’s commercial port. Five touchdown tacks were completed along with three on foils before the team took advantage of the new breeze to engage in a series of two board manoeuvres including bear aways, round ups, as well as tacks and gybes. Time was called at 1255 with the boat arriving back at the dock at 1310.
No sailing is scheduled for tomorrow Wednesday January 10.
On-Water Recon Report – Alinghi Red Bull Racing: Alinghi Red Bull Racing rolled out Boat Zero at 09:00 for their first sailing day of 2024. Routine system checks were carried out, with no new equipment noted on deck. The M1-1R mainsail and a J1-2R jib were prepared on deck ahead of 11:30 dock-out. Joseph Ozanne and Yves Courvoisier from the simulation and R&D team observed from the chase catalyst.
Stint 1 (12:15 – 12:35, 7-9kn 10° @ 12:15, 9-12kn 40-50° @ 12:35)
The team began sailing in front of the W Hotel with a short upwind warmup. Two touchdown tacks were followed by a fully foiling tack, as the bouncing waves off the breakwater made for difficult sea state. The J1 jib was then swapped for the J3-1R as the wind started to increase.
Stint 2 (12:50 – 13:10, 12-15kn 30-40° @ 12:50)
The team sailed upwind towards Badalona, performing six tacks, followed by a downwind leg of four gybes. The yacht nose-dived when exiting a gybe, into the offset swell. After coming to a stop, the team debriefed while GoPros were changed. Elliot Pilcher (hydraulics engineer) was also on board to review systems.
Stint 3 (13:25 – 13:45, 10-13.5kn 40-50° @ 13:25)
Joseph Ozanne replaced Nico Charbonnier in the starboard guest seat. The team sailed a short upwind/downwind near the coast before setting offshore on a 4NM upwind stretch on port tack. After stopping, Joseph Ozanne was seen discussing with trimmers Yves Detrey and Nico Rolaz, as a battery change took place.
Stint 4 (14:00 – 14:15, 10-12kn 50° @ 13:55)
The yacht sailed back towards the coast towards the course, which was set in front of Badalona at 50°, 1NM in length. A cyclor exchange saw Nico Stahlberg replace Théry Schir, and Joseph Ozanne was replaced by Nico Charbonnier.
Stint 5 (14:25 – 14:50, 6-9kn 65° @ 14:25)
Near the land, the wind decreased. The team warmed up with a quick upwind/downwind before practicing around the course. After gybing into the pre-start box, the yacht lost flight but regained it soon after. The pre-start was restarted, but the yacht lost flight in the same way as the previous attempt, this time regaining flight sooner but touching down after the first tack post crossing the start line. The J3 jib was subsequently exchanged for the J2-2L due to the decreased wind.
Stint 6 (15:05 – 15:50, 6-8kn 55-65° @ 15:05, 8-10kn 50-60° @ 15:15)
A gybe into the pre-start box was followed by another temporary loss of flight. The pre-start was attempted again and this time the team started the race at speed, tacking immediately after crossing the line. Four tacks were performed to the windward mark, with manoeuvres becoming marginal towards the top of the course, forcing the team to pinch to the mark. After clearing the mark, a touch down gybe downwind prompted the team to abandon racecourse practice and sail downwind back to base.
Sails were dropped at 16:00 in the port to conclude the day. The team spent four and a half hours on the water, with 145 minutes of sailing time. A total of 38 manoeuvres were observed, with a 68% fully foiling rate, with gybes 30% better than tacks.