There’s a transitional feel in the air in both Barcelona and Cagliari as the America’s Cup teams begin to shift their focus away from development and into pure racecraft with a big emphasis on two-boat testing and a premium on developing the battle-hardened match-race skills that are going to be tested to the limit when the action starts in the late summer of 2024.
For Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, a rather tantalising prospect of lining the AC40 up against the team’s LEQ12 prototype lays in store for early next week with the team today bringing out the AC40 for a shakedown sail. The last time the team sailed the boat was at the Preliminary Regatta in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where the young helms (Gradoni and Tita) proved to be the story of the regatta and won plaudits from around the world for their sensational trip to the final.
Today it was again Marco Gradoni on the wheel alternating with Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni whilst the established Flight Control team (Tesei, Bissaro and Molineris) also got their eye in, on the younger sister of the Italian fleet. Boat-on-boat action begins on Monday, and it will be a very interesting race-testing period.
For Alinghi Red Bull Racing, it was race-practice at full volume onboard the team’s AC75 with a super-early launch and the team towing out into a chilly but sunny Barcelona morning at 9am sharp. The morning breeze was certainly in with a solid 15-19 knots and a lumpy metre high swell that was off-axis and coming in from behind on the transom upwind which in any boat is a head-scratcher. The team welcomed onboard a new signing in the Power Group, Franco Noti, the former 800m and 1500m runner whilst their other signing, Paul Jacquot, the Olympic Men’s Four rowing representative for Switzerland at Tokyo 2020, remained in the Chase Boat.
Clearly the missive from the Swiss coaches is now to get as much time-on-distance practice as possible with the relative speeds to the new AC75 being similar so the team loaded up a start-line and a short course and hit the stopwatches. The recon team noted some impressive starting deltas before a problem was incurred, presumably around the usually reliable new mainsheet system, and the day was called off around midday. Previously some dynamic bear-aways and round-ups were noted but the team will be eyeing some two-boat race scenario testing in the coming weeks in their AC40s.
Speaking afterwards, Bryan Mettraux, one of the Swiss team’s most enigmatic Flight Controllers and a real stalwart first-pick sailor, gave a brief summary of the day saying: “The goal was to take the early breeze in Barcelona so we woke up early this morning and the goal was to work a bit on the pre-start and also in straight line doing some testing on the flight system…it was quite demanding especially with the waves not aligned with the wind so yeah we had to play with it, specially it was tough on starboard upwind with the swell coming from behind it’s always challenging.”
Overall, the Swiss looked sharp and getting increasingly comfortable with the demands of the AC75. Manoeuvre foil-to-foil ratios were again high and the co-ordination between Arnaud Psarofaghis and Maxime Bachelin continues to look solid. Despite the break-down, a good end to a fine first week back on the water after the holiday season.
As Alinghi Red Bull Racing docked-in, NYYC American Magic docked-out and into a much more variable breeze that required a number of jib changes to keep the power on. Lucas Calabrese came onboard for the absent Tom Slingsby and with Paul Goodison skippering the boat, the two looked very much at ease upwind and through the tacks but the recon team noted some loose gybes downwind and a feeling that the correct sail combination was yet to be found.
A few total touchdowns wrecked the foil-to-foil gybe percentages (55%) and it was an area that the team struggled on all afternoon. Upwind Patriot looked solid with smooth flight and a 92% foil-to-foil ratio so there will be plenty to debrief over the weekend. In all, it was a long afternoon with the sailors clocking up some four and a half hours on the water – sore legs for the cyclors tonight.
In a fascinating interview afterwards, Tyson Lamond, the Chief Operating Officer, gave a brilliant insight into where the team are at and the immediate future. Talking about where the team is in the overall schedule, Tyson commented:“We’ve been really fortunate so far during this Cup, we’ve had a pretty good run with everything, obviously last Cup was really tough with Covid and we haven’t had anything like that so far so I’d say so far we’re on our plan. Now obviously we’re pushing Patriot and sailing a lot longer than we’d originally talked about but we feel for our team and all the development we’re doing on board Patriot it is very important and ultimately the whole goal is to make sure that we have our Boat3 in as good a shape as possible when we launch it and using Patriot out there sailing every single day at the moment is certainly going to help us with that to get a boat on the water that we can sail well within the first few weeks.”
Looking ahead to the new boat, Tyson dangled the carrot of what the design of the new boat will look like – something that every America’s Cup watcher is eager to find out, saying: “We’re very fortunate with Brandon Linton who runs our build facility (Portsmouth, Rhode Island) and everybody that knows him in the industry knows he runs a very tight ship and those guys are on schedule and the boat’s looking amazing. As somebody that just loves the America’s Cup and the sport of sailing and growing up in it, I’m really intrigued to see everybody’s new boats. When I look at ours every time it excites me, and I know all the other teams have good people so from the sailing point of view I think it’s a really exciting time for our sport when all the new boats arrive here. Obviously, it’s a big thing and we’re all looking at each other, obviously we hope ours is a little bit better but really exciting and we can’t wait to have the boat here.”
When asked who he fears amongst the team’s competitors for the 37th America’s Cup, Tyson gave the consummate diplomat’s answer but with a real ring of sincere truth about it as he said: “I’m worried about all of them because I don’t think we can write anyone off, but it’s really interesting how everyone set up their programmes for AC37 and obviously the Defender is clean and they do everything well, we know that when we say well we can beat them and we’re very confident with that around here and certainly not having a good regatta in Jeddah I think is really good for us because we hold ourselves to higher accountability from that and we had a really good debrief and review after that regatta. The Challengers they are all strong – Luna Rossa everybody looks at the programme and it’s very clean, INEOS have an amazing amount of resources and you know they’re going to be a big mountain to climb, and Alinghi (Red Bull Racing) let’s look at the tradition of Alinghi, you know they’re such a respected sailing team so I don’t think there is a weak team and ultimately we’ve got to make sure that we perform every day otherwise someone will beat us.”
Dockside, the American team’s AC40’s could be seen being prepped ahead of next week’s two-boat racing schedule. The only other team out today was INEOS Britannia who took the chance to take the team’s new AC40 ‘Sienna’ out for a commissioning sail.
All action in Barcelona and Cagliari. Next week promises to be a cracker. (Magnus Wheatley)
On-Water Recon Report – Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: The Italians rolled out their AC40 in pure one-design mode for a shakedown at 10:00am, scheduling dock-out for 11:15. Once on the water, the main was hoisted with the J4 while Chase1 laid out marks right away. The team spent the day practicing laps and prestart drills swapping sailors on the pods. The boat looked well in control and ready to engage in some two-boat testing beginning from Monday. [Michele Melis AC Recon].
On-Water Recon Report – Alinghi Red Bull Racing: Alinghi Red Bull Racing commenced their day with an early rollout of the AC75 at 07:00. After crane-in at 07:30, the team undertook routine systems checks, with particular attention to the canting system, as both boards were lifted many times.
The M2-2R mainsail and J3-3L jib were prepared on deck before a 09:00 dock-out. Notably, Franco Noti debuted as a cyclor on board, with another new cyclor, Paul Jacquot, on the chase boat.
Stint 1 (09:45 – 09:55)
The day started with a quick downwind warm-up, including two fully foiling gybes.
Stint 2 (10:00 – 10:20, 15-19kn 320° @ 09:55)
The team sailed long stretches, initially heading towards the coast, pausing briefly before turning downwind, then practicing bear-aways and round-ups.
Stint 3 (10:35 – 10:55, 13-16kn 290° @ 10:25, 14-17kn 290° @ 10:35)
Further long stretches were sailed, as well as more practice of round-ups and bear-aways.
Stint 4 (11:00 – 11:20, 14-18kn 305° @ 11:05)
Focus shifted to pre-start practice, with the team practicing starboard entries into the pre-start box, along with time and distance management to the start. An inflatable mark was used as the starboard entry, while the Catalyst Chase boat acted as pin end. Two starts were attempted, 5 seconds late for the first start and 3 seconds late for the second. A one-tack-upwind and one-gybe-downwind were sailed after each start.
Stint 5 (11:35 – 11:40, 14-18kn 310° @ 11:35)
More pre-start practice was to be undertaken, but the session was cut short after a few minutes sailing. Hydraulics engineers were observed jumping on board, with one below deck in the transom. Crew were gathered at the mainsail clew, indicating a potential issue with the mainsheet system, though specifics were not confirmed in the post sailing interview with Bryan Mettraux.
The yacht was towed back to base as the wind diminished and turned West. The team spent three and a half hours on the water with 75 minutes of sailing time. A total of 17 manoeuvres were observed, 82% of which were fully foiling.
On-Water Recon Report – NYYC American Magic: NYYC American Magic made the most of relatively flat water and a variable breeze to round off the week with a productive Friday afternoon sailing session aboard their second generation AC75 Patriot.
After rolling the boat out of the shed at 1020 it was rigged and launched by 1048 and the team left the dock at 1231. Patriot was towed out of the harbour on foils at 1238 and headed offshore a couple of miles before stopping to hoist the MN7 mainsail and the J2-4 headsail. The breeze at this stage was around 7 knots from 290 degrees with a flat surface sea state on top of a long slow 0.3-metre swell.
The first foiling session began at 1308 and lasted 20 minutes before a stop to change to the J1.5 headsail. After five minutes of upwind sailing Patriot bore away downwind but fell off the foils on the first gybe attempt. After self-starting a 20-minute session followed with three foiling tacks, one foiling gybe, and three touchdown gybes.
After a change to the J2-5 Patriot began to look very much at home sailing fast and stable upwind on the flat sea and in the new breeze which had kicked in at around 10 knots. Downwind though the crew appeared to still be struggling with their gybing technique with several touchdown gybes during the 20-minute session which saw the breeze ease back to 7-9 knots.
After a 20minute session that saw the crew sail a long leeward / windward run a stop was made to change to the J1-6 (which had noticeable [and audible] leach vibration at the very top). The breeze at this point was ranging from 9 knots down to five knots and becoming shifty and inconsistent. Another 20-minute session saw an improvement in the foiling gybe rate with four of the five being carried out on foils.
The final session of the day was sailed in around 8 knots of breeze and saw a series of windward/leeward laps and finished with a series of two-board manoeuvring.
Time was called at 1630 with the boat arriving back on the dock at 1655. No sailing is scheduled over the weekend so the next possible sailing day for the team is Monday January 15.