A pause in proceedings for the AC World Series sees the big teams go back to training aboard their potent development boats where speeds have taken a 10 knot hike over the AC45fs. Matthew Sheahan gets in to see Oracle and Ainslie’s latest machines
“We think this is the most powerful AC boat that will be built for this Cup cycle”, said Land Rover BAR crew member David ‘Freddie’ Carr as he pointed to the team’s latest America’s Cup development boat.
Having been to enough Cup launchings and press trips over the years I was skeptical, they all say that, I thought. But Carr had good reason to mean what he said.
He was referring to the team’s second and latest development boat, their Turbo 2 or ‘T2’ as she is commonly known.
Inside the giant team base on Camber Quay in Portsmouth, their new boat was in deed in view, but only just, conveniently partially obscured by several containers. There was no mistaking the team’s excitement at announcing their latest step, but there was also a hint of a nagging unease at letting anyone see their latest creation.
And who can blame them. This is unchartered territory where the potential benefits are measured in multiples rather than fractions of a knot.
Fortunately for me there were other vantage points from which the boat could be viewed revealing a design that is broadly in keeping with the other big guns in the Cup that have Turbo development boats, Artemis Racing and Oracle Team USA.
Like the others, BAR’s T2 is a 45ft wingmasted foiling cat based on the same hull design of the AC45fs, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Under the rules, teams can build as many development boats as they like so long as the bottom 1/3 of their hulls are the same as the AC45s. Elsewhere, they are completely different and nothing like they have designed and built before. They are wider for a start, giving them far more righting moment than the AC45s and therefore more power.
When it comes to the British T2, she’s said to be 2m wider than a normal AC45f and the team believes that’s a metre or so wider than any of the other teams’ boats – hence Carr’s claim.
“When we started our campaign the Cup was going to be sailed in 62ft boats,” he continued. “As a result our designers started drawing a test boat with that size in mind, but then the rules changed to further reduce the size of the actual Cup boats for 2017. Now they will be a shade under 50ft, but we have stuck with our original design.”
The result is a boat that is immensely powerful for her length.
All of which seemed perfectly plausible until I thought back to what I had been told at the Oracle base when I asked how their development boat compared to an AC45f.
“The boat is 3m taller and 3m wider,” said Grant Simmer, Oracle Team USA’s Chief Operation Officer.
Given that beam is directly proportional to righting moment perhaps it is not surprising that there will be discrepancies in teams’ claims. After all, why let the opposition know what your power output is on your development boat?
But whatever the actual numbers, one thing that all agree on is how much more powerful the next generation of boats are.
“We’ve sailed her around ten times now and every time we’ve been out we’ve scared ourselves silly,” said Carr with a smile. “During our initial trials, when we were doing structural tests and therefore taking things easy, we were doing 32knots in 12 knots of wind.
“Now that the structure has been signed off we can start to open her up a bit, but we’ve set an upper wind limit of 18knots at present.”
Clearly the new boats will be weapons. So what did their main helmsman Ben Ainslie think of the new machine?
“It’s a massive step up, hugely physical and great training tool for the future,” he said. “When you’re in control, which you have to be, it’s more stable and less twitchy than a 45f and the control systems are more developed to achieve that. We are doing around 30 knots upwind and 40 downwind so we’re talking of about 10knots faster than the AC45fs.”
Back in the monohull days, increases in boat speed of a fraction of a knot were a cause for celebration. To take a 10knot hike in boat speed aboard the same length boat is a massive step forward. But such increases don’t come without risk.
“When things do go wrong in these boats its more critical,” continued Ainslie. “They’ve got more power, but they still have the same volume in the bow. So if you stuff the bows in there’s not much buoyancy to stop you going all the way over. You have to be that much more careful that you don’t wipe out. The risk factor has definitely gone up a notch or two. But we’re only just getting into it and I’d say that the Oracle Guys have had more experience so far.”
As it happens I had a sneaky look inside Oracle Team USA’s base in Bermuda a few weeks back and they are indeed a bit further down the line. For starters they have set up camp at the Cup venue and have two development boats and have already started two boat training in Bermuda’s Great Sound.
The first thing that grabs your attention when looking at either team’s boats close up is the work that has gone into reducing the aerodynamic drag. These are sleek machines on deck. Both fore and aft beams have wing like fairings around them which houses the hydraulic pipework and electronic cabling.
Back in Portsmouth at Land Rover BAR, some of the hatches were open to allow the shore team to work on systems. Deep in the carbon hollows of the internal structure you can see banks of red yellow and green LEDs winking away like a space ship on standby. Underneath the boat, a green laser beam fires forward along the centreline of one of the hulls as a team of engineers check the alignment of the underwater foils.
This is precision engineering.
There is no smell of styrene or epoxy, no screech of airline driven power tools and no clouting of hammers and rivet guns, this no typical boatyard, its more like an operating theatre. Quiet, calm and with a series of light humms in the background, you almost expect dry ice to billow through the gap in the shed doors as they open.
But there’s an even more fundamental difference between the T2 and any Cup predecessor. Aboard the AC45fs the crew haul ropes and hike. Aboard Oracle’s T2 there are just two ropes on the whole boat, a jib halyard and a wing sheet. And they’re thinking of ditching the jib halyard too. Aboard Land Rover BAR’s boat they’ve already done it. Raising the jib means sending someone aloft with the head to clip it on before the luff is tensioned by a hydraulic ram at the tack.
As a result there is barely a rope, block or jammer to be seen and there’s definitely no hiking. Instead, both cockpits play host to a network of bright stainless hydraulic piping and flat screen key pads set close to each work station making the hulls look more like a McDonalds’ kitchen than a race boat.
The T2s are driven entirely by manually pumped hydraulics, accumulators are not allowed. If you want hydraulic pressure you have to pump it, by hand. Of the six crew, four spend their time grinding the two pedestals at a furious rate that requires them to be working constantly at around 80% of their maximum heart rate for 30 minutes. As they do so they are switching pumps on and off using either foot pedal controls in the cockpit sole, or tapping the control pads.
“During a tack or a gybe, all four foils [two daggerboards and two rudders] will be adjusted, that’s a lot to ask of four grinders, but also a lot of hydraulic oil that needs to be pumped around the circuit,” says Grant Simmer, Oracle Team USA’s Chief Operation Officer. “A crew’s output is about 400W and we’re using all of that most of the time to drive these boats.”
Of the remaining two crew, one is the helmsman, the other the wing trimmer.
“We call him the wing easer,” jokes Carr of Paul Campbell-James. “We’re the ones who have to pull it in, he just lets it go.”
While everyone plays a part in keeping these potent beasts flying the relationship between the helmsman and the wing trimmer is critical. As always, time on the water is what counts when it comes to building the working relationship between both this pair and the rest of the crew.
In addition, there is no form guide to follow for these innovative new boats. So when the learning curve is as steep at it now is and with the winter weather throwing spanners into the works, there is simply not enough time to learn. So Land Rover BAR set about creating their own extra time by building a sophisticated full size moving simulator for the helmsman and wing trimmer.
Riding high on a series of hydraulically actuated legs, the full size cockpit moves just as an aircraft or F1 simulator might. But instead of a giant screen, the helmsman and trimmer wear virtual reality headsets to place them in the virtual world where they can see the entire boat.
“We can change any element of the boat or its appendages in just a few minutes,” explained James Roach who is in charge of the team’s analysis and simulation.
“As well as providing a way of the guys getting greater familiarity with the boat we can achieve much faster design loops by being able to test new details and configurations without having to go afloat. And on a breezy day the guys can come in here and sail.”
While clearly proud of a facility that the team believes is unique in the Cup world, Carr admits that he doesn’t use the simulator.
“I get very sick on this,” he says. “So I tend to come in and watch.
“It’s been particularly good for our newer helmsmen like Leigh McMillan and Giles Scott who can use it to get up to speed with this new style of sailing. Giles is pretty scary though, he sails it like a Finn!”
So while the helmsmen and wing trimmers practice on the simulator, the human power houses train in the gym next door each burning around 45-55,000 calories a week according to Ben Williams, Head of strength and training.
Whichever way you turn in Ainslie’s base and indeed that of Oracle’s, it’s clear to see that creating more power is at the heart of everything they are doing at present.