Reporting for Yachting World from Auckland NZ, Rebecca Hayter tracks the first AC45 and her crew as they sail for the first time
In just 8 to 10 knots of wind, the first AC45 skimmed to more than 20 knots on the Waitemata Harbour, Auckland on Monday, 17 January. Perhaps the speed was due to having just a sliver of wave-piercing hull in the water; perhaps it was her ultra-high tech-minus-one construction or even the hand of James Spithill on the helm – but for those who pushed forward the throttles to keep up, it was all about the wingsail.
Oh, the wingsail. It’s so darn gorgeous. As translucent as the wing of a butterfly and seemingly as delicate, with its 450-piece cartilage of carbon fibre, Nomex core and Kevlar, sheathed in Shrinkwrap. I know, you were expecting something more techy than Shrinkwrap.
But boy, does it boogie. The AC45, built by Core Builders at Warkworth, New Zealand, tacked down the Waitemata Harbour, with the nearly 3-metre daggerboards cutting dramatic profiles. Onboard with Spithill were Murray Jones , Matthew Mason, Joey Newton and Dirk de Ridder. After the first, slow tack, all manoeuvres showed the cat’s nimble tacks and rapid acceleration. It even sailed backwards, intentionally, with the wing well angled.
Spithill returned to dock clearly happy with the AC45 prototype. “It’s an awesome tool, and we had a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a big wing but it powers up quickly. It’s easy to sail, maneuverability is not a problem. We knew that straight off the bat.
“The wing is fantastic and so much quicker to depower than with a mainsheet. It gets up to speed quickly. I can’t wait to get out there again.
“The boat’s a bit of a handful. The America’s Cup needs to have things that test people and that’s how the America’s Cup should be. It was unbelievable first sail, in eight to 10 knots of breeze we were doing over 20 knots.”
One of the wingsails’ builders is its trimmer, Dirk de Ridder, who trimmed the wingsail on the BMWOracle Racing trimaran in Valencia.
“It’s not a sail so it looks different, and you’ve got to get your head around that,” he says. “Trimming it, the load is only twenty per cent of a soft sail so it feels wonderfully easy.”
But if this yacht is destined for the America’s Cup World Series, something is missing – noise. In stark contrast to the boom-box audio of IACC yachts, this cat was quiet as a feline. The wingsail doesn’t flap and crunch through the tack like soft sails – suddenly rendered obsolete in AC land; the sliver of the leeward hull licks through the water with more of a scratch than a wake; and the winches ease without the sound of gunfire. This is because a wingsail subjects the boat to much lighter loads because there is no need to stretch out the leech of the mainsail. With a wingsail, the load on the traveler of the AC45 is around 300kg and easily managed with top-handle manual winches. With a soft sail, the loads would be around 1500kg. On the 90ft trimaran in Valencia, the difference was even more dramatic: 20 tonnes under soft sails down to 1500kg under wingsail.
The cats will have gennakers and jibs, but no Code 0 sails.
BMWOracle Racing launched the AC45 with wingsail in place, with just one crane. Within seconds of releases her tow just outside the Viaduct Harbour, she was sailing – it bodes well for a slick operation when the AC45 gets active in the America’s Cup World Series in June this year.