This edition of the America's Cup sees teams racing at speeds of up to 50 knots in an incredibly intense environment. So what goes into the kit bag of a sailor at the very top end of the sport?
Right down to the helmets the sailors wear and their choice of rash vest, hundreds of hours of R&D lie behind the garments on display.
America’s Cup rules stipulate between 3kg and 5kg of gear per team member, which has to include everything from water bottles to goggles, personal flotation devices to gloves. Little wonder, then, that there has been an intensive effort by the clothing brands that work with each team to develop new materials and new ways of building garments.
“No ‘off-the-shelf’ sailing kit exists for the extremities of America’s Cup racing, so the athletes’ technical gear needed to be custom made,” says Henri-Lloyd’s Sarah Alexander. Those garments are now being put to the test, and the most successful elements will find their way through to the commercial lines available to us mere mortals. Here’s a look at what might be heading for your locker.
In gearing up for the Cup, all the teams made use of cutting edge electronics to monitor heart rate and performance during training sessions, logging progress. For instance, INEOS Team UK crewmembers wore Garmin HRM Pro heartrate monitors connected to Fenix 6 GPS watches and Edge bike computers.
“There were no special tweaks made for the team,” says Garmin’s Erika Dulay. “But they do use certain features more than others (training load, sleep etc). From this they were able to collect data and show progression from the beginning of their training throughout.”
The crew on American Magic wore specially commissioned Garmin Marq Captain watches, with sailing features including ‘tack assist’ and wind direction analysis, and fitness tracking that includes a specific profile for sail grinding.
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INEOS Team UK
All eyes were on Ben Ainslie’s INEOS Team UK after the team confounded pundits ahead of the Prada Cup. They may have ultimately failed to win the Prada Cup but the team threw a great many resources at their impressive effort alongside partners like Henri-Lloyd on the clothing side. They have developed the Aero-Foil line, which they describe as the lightest, most agile sailing kit they’ve ever made.
The range includes a neoprene pant and long john, a hybrid pant, long- and short-sleeved rash vests and the warmup jacket.
Features include varying thicknesses of neoprene to balance protection and mobility. So, there is a 3mm panel in front of the knee and over the hips, which are constantly working, with thinner 2mm neoprene behind the knee and in the body. There is no lining or hem to arm and leg holes, to eliminate a few more grams of weight, while the arm holes are oversized to make it easier to pull the garment on and off when wet.
There are seams, but they are positioned with great precision to avoid chafing. And instead of heavy stitching, they use glue and tape for closure. A silicone coating is printed to the inner cuff for grip and anti-abrasion material is printed onto the knee and seat.
Although air temperatures in Auckland are pretty balmy, there is a real risk of cooling down after the intensity of a race is over. “We are sailing in 25°C plus of heat in a black trench with no airflow, so for us to have kit that we can be close to max heart rate in, be comfortable in, be super sweaty in, and the kit not be an annoyance is fantastic,” says grinder David ‘Freddie’ Carr.
“Then as soon as we finish the racing and we’re calming down on the tow back in, when the wind chill is quite high, to chuck on all the relevant kit [such as our Henri-Lloyd warm up jacket] to keep you primed and warm and ready to hit the dock in good shape is equally as important.”
Limited numbers of the AC line are available, but Henri-Lloyd is awaiting final feedback from the team to see which features to bring forward into new collections. “Many of the Aero-Foil items will be standard kit going forward,” says the firm’s Sarah Alexander.
The British team wears Smith helmets and goggles from the motorcycle range. The Squad MTB goggles have Chromapop lens technology, which resists fogging and enhances natural contrast and colour.
Emirates Team New Zealand – America’s Cup Defender
Swedish outfit, Sail Racing International, is the official supplier to the kiwi team. It produces two grand prix collections called 50KTS and Reference, developed with Oracle Team USA during the last America’s Cup.
The Emirates Team New Zealand gear is heavily based on that – all in black, naturally enough. “We have made some tweaks to the garments that ETNZ is using while racing to make the team more flexible, faster and waterproof,” says Erik Martinsson, crew centre manager at Sail Racing.
“On the neoprene pant, for example, we have excluded some shin guards to make it a little bit lighter, and made the waist on the back a little bit higher.”
The short and long-sleeved rash vests are in super-stretchy layered construction of nylon, elastane and durable water-repellent treatment. Astonishingly, this imparts waterproofing similar to that of a top-line foul weather jacket (20,000WP), and breathability that goes far beyond the norm.
A mesh panel at the back permits extra stretch and there are Rashguard panels on the arms and sides.
The long john is in thin 2mm neoprene, while there is stretchy GORE-Tex fabric for the warm-up jackets. “When you come to rashguards and bottom halves, we still have some neoprene but we have also applied some super-stretch fabric instead,” says Henric Vikestam, head of design and production. “Neoprene is a rubber sponge, so not so functional.”
Some of the ETNZ garments are available online, but the more specialised gear that has been modified for the America’s Cup is only available for the team. “These items are usually based on gear we have in our collections, but small adjustments are made to fit even better for purpose of these fantastic AC75s!” says Vikestam.
The Kiwi team also wear helmets designed by Aldo Drudi, a legend in the motorcycling world who elevated Valentino Rossi’s headgear to a piece of art.
Helly Hansen is the clothing brand behind the US team’s clothing. Terry Hutchinson and his crew may have gone home empty handed, but they also devoted huge attention to the technical gear worn in the boat.
“Every fabric, seam, panel and zipper makes a difference in enabling crews to execute their responsibilities to perfection on deck in such a fast-paced environment,” says Paul Stoneham, CEO of Helly Hansen.
Helly Hansen has translated the extreme requirements of its America’s Cup garments into a slightly more commercial offering under the HP Foil Pro moniker, available through its online shop. The range currently extends to a jacket (830g), a smock top (630g) and a pair of shorts. A softshell jacket will also be launched this spring, built of 4-way stretch fabric that gives great freedom of movement.
Based on feedback from the American Magic team during training, the smock top was designed with low-profile zippers on the front kangaroo pocket and front zipper, hiding a mesh ventilation system. The close-to-body fit reduces drag and improves freedom of movement. All the garments use three-ply Helly Tech for waterproofing and extreme breathability, plus sonic-welded seams to keep weight down and improve aerodynamics.
The jackets also incorporate latex neckline and cuffs for comfort. “We are honoured to work closely with the American Magic team as we continue to evolve our designs to perform at the highest level of professional sailing,” said Øyvind Vedvik, category managing director of sailing at Helly Hansen.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
The Italian team took a unique approach by signing up Australia’s Woolmark company to develop technical garments made with natural merino wool.
Among the properties of its very fine fibres are superb breathability, good wicking away of moisture and excellent thermoregulation – all key traits in technical sailing clothing. “We tested the garments on support tenders in rough conditions at 50 knots, by fire-hosing someone for 30 minutes to test waterproofing,” says Luna Rossa’s design and development manager Shannon Falcone, also a crewmember and veteran Cup sailor.
“Our Merino wool garments passed these tests and more. I want guys on the team to wear this, not because they have to contractually, but because it’s the best gear they’ve ever worn.”
The wardrobe includes a waterproof jacket, a soft-shell jacket, a polo shirt, a wet jacket, a blouson, a T-shirt and a wetsuit and base-layers – all made from varying proportions of Merino wool alongside some synthetic fibres.
There’s also an impressive sustainability message to the tie-up between Luna Rossa and Woolmark. “Choosing a fibre like wool, that is both natural and biodegradable, is closely tied to our goal of minimising ocean pollution, an issue to which our team is very sensitive,” says Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena.
Personal Floatation Devices in the America’s Cup
There’s no off-the-shelf option when it comes to the mandatory personal flotation device that each Cup crewmember has to wear.
Light weight is obviously key, and it must include comms equipment, an oxygen cylinder and snorkel for emergency breathing, and a safety knife. It should also allow the sailors to move as freely as possible, and be highly breathable.
Spinlock supplies INEOS Team UK’s PFD and has used innovative materials to maximise breathability, while getting the overall weight down to about 600g. INEOS Team UK trimmer Nick Hutton says the PFD is based on work done with Spinlock during the previous America’s Cup. “For this next iteration, we have retained all the ‘likes’ of the previous model and developed them for our new AC75 PFD.
“Every detail needs to be taken into consideration when developing our kit and we need to go into a training session or race knowing we have done everything we can to ensure the crew are wearing the best safety equipment while also being comfortable and able to perform to their optimum.”
ETNZ and Luna Rossa have both opted for the Sea-Guard PFD designed by Dainese, best known for its motorbike and skiing protection. Consequently, the garment looks somewhat different, with much more visible spinal protection than the Spinlock vest. It weighs a little more at 700g, and includes a water bladder at the top of the back.
Again, breathability is the key. “Once you’ve got it on, you almost don’t feel you have it on,” says Dainese CEO Cristiano Silei.
While ETNZ has opted for a proprietary Dainese technical fabric for the vest, Luna Rossa uses a fabric incorporating precious platinum from another supplier. It also carries the spinal protection right down to the coccyx. Shannon Falcone of Luna Rossa adds: “I think we couldn’t have expected anything better. It is the ideal combination of practicality, wearability and safety.”
Some of the gear worn by America’s Cup crews is outside any sponsorship deal, and selected by each individual simply because they like it!
This is the case for footwear, for example, where most sailors wear the shoes they know and love.
Dynamic Aussie clothing manufacturer Zhik says it has worked with lots of America’s Cup sailors on a non-branded basis, ‘due to other clothing sponsorship commitments’.
It has used the experience to hone its products, and now offers a broad range of protective garments, including its P2 personal flotation device, H1 helmet and Kollition impact suits.
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