Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Strategizing for Success: Pre-Start Tactics in the America’s Cup

When we get to the business-end of the Louis Vuitton 37th America’s Cup, there will be a lot of chatter and opinions around pre-start tactics. Run and hide or engage? Hook, push or lead? Split tack or parallel off the line? Pin or Committee? Tack first or wait for the shift? These are the playbooks being developed and the truth is that for every team, in every race, it will be different. What Emirates Team New Zealand were practising today was valuable playbook time on a perfect Hauraki Gulf in the last embers of the antipodean summer months.

Sam Thom / America’s Cup

Pitting the tricked-up LEQ12 against its one-design cousin may well seem like putting a stallion against a mule but throw in the advantage of a bigger J1 jib on the AC40 and the differences get somewhat negated. The difference on the LEQ foils is, yes, noticeable on tight turns and in a straight line as we would expect, but for sheer horsepower at the lower end, a J1 versus a J2 is like playing a royal flush in poker if you know how and just when to use it.

Sam Thom / America’s Cup

What we saw today was Josh Junior and Leo Takahashi using their power advantage in some great pre-starting action with the game in town being getting the amidships line-up to leeward just right and then luffing the LEQ off its foils. Achieve that and it was game over for the ‘A-Team’ but the wiliest sailors on the planet in the form of Peter Burling and Nathan Outteridge clocked it and copped it early and their subsequent avoiding manoeuvres to not get pole-axed off their foils was a masterclass in ducking and diving and staying just on or off the hip to avoid infringement. Once the AC40 changed down to their J2, the advantage effectively ended with the LEQ able to dance around and speed-build at will. Interesting and valuable playbook time from the one team guaranteed to be at the sharp end of the Louis Vuitton 37th America’s Cup, come October 2024.

Sam Thom / America’s Cup

Speaking afterwards, Nathan Outteridge helm on the LEQ12 summed up the day saying: “It was a great session, we’ve been waiting for weather like this for a while, we’ve had the youth and women out sailing on the one-design boat and today we had like a nice 8 to 12 knot sea breeze come in bang on time for what we were looking to do and got a number of practise starts in…they went out a bit earlier than us to try and get a little bit of a warm up ahead of the racing so they started on the J1 because it was pretty light and I think when we started to go into the practise starts it was probably J2 conditions but still kind of on the crossover. Definitely a bigger jib makes the starting a little bit easier and dug them out of holes at times but as soon as it got a bit windier, they quickly switched to match on the J2.”

Sam Thom / America’s Cup

Nathan’s focus, like the rest of the team is squarely on the upcoming launch of the team’s AC75 and he gave an insight into the expected performance gains saying: “I think the biggest performance gain with the new boat will be the light air performance. The boats are lighter, the foils have a bit more span because of the rule so we’ll find out in a few weeks exactly how much faster it is in those conditions, but I think talking to most teams and you just look at the rule and a lighter boat and more span on the foils will help with the light air performance.”

Sam Thom / America’s Cup

Emirates Team New Zealand will be reuniting the sailing and power team when the new boat launch and it’s something that the sailors are looking forward to with Nathan saying: “Obviously it’s quite different when you go to the big boat with the extra people onboard, our cycling group’s been training hard ever since we stopped sailing Boat Two in October last year in Barcelona and it kind of feels that we’ve almost been two separate teams for the last few months. It’ll be good to get back onboard with everyone once again, obviously they’ve been working really hard in the gym, working on their fitness and getting ready for the few weeks we’ve got ahead sailing the big boat and they are ready to come back and join us on the on-water operations, it’s a pretty dark shed at times for them when they’re just in the hurt locker so hopefully we can get some great sailing in the coming weeks and they can enjoy the on water atmosphere as well.”

Sam Thom / America’s Cup

Solid afternoon session for Emirates Team New Zealand with the reconned LEQ12 spending some three-and-a-half hours on the water whilst the Youth & Women’s team were out for longer. Plenty more to come this week from the Kiwis. (Magnus Wheatley)

On-Water Recon Report – Emirates Team New Zealand: Day 74 of sailing in the Hauraki Gulf for ETNZ consisted of more two-boat testing for LEQ12. The AC40 OD departed from the dock around 1200 in very light north-easterly breeze with the plan to spend some additional time on the water before the “A-Team” joined for race simulation practice. LEQ12 left the dock at 1300 and hoisted the J2 and M2 mainsails just outside the harbour before proceeding to tow out towards Rangitoto Lighthouse to meet the AC40 OD.

Initially, the LEQ12 required a tow to get on the foils due to the conditions being very downrange. The AC40 OD was able to utilize its J1, enabling a smoother take-off at the lower end. Chase 1 dropped a windward-leeward course as the teams rolled into some race simulations, performing three rolling pre-starts before sailing around the course and taking a break for drinks.

During the first couple of rolling pre-starts in the downrange conditions, the AC40 held the upper hand and manoeuvred into advantageous positions. At one point, they hooked the LEQ12, luffing them head to wind and off the foils without losing their own foiling stance, subsequently executing a well-timed start while the LEQ12 struggled to regain flight without assistance.

After the short break, the wind increased, leading to a shift in power dynamics during the starting procedure, with LEQ12 proving dominant over the AC40. Although both teams had competitive starts, the AC40 consistently struggled to match LEQ12’s speed during manoeuvres and speed builds.

The teams continued practicing rolling pre-starts, engaging in tightly fought battles using various starting tactics. Today, the AC40 OD was sailed by Josh Junior, Leo Takahashi, Sam Meech, and Marcus Hansen.

After a short drinks break, the teams completed a few more starts and then sailed back up the harbour, dropping sails just outside the base and concluding the day’s session.

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