Wingmasts, multihulls, youth sailing, and a World Series, Matthew Sheahan reports on the sweeping changes for the next America’s Cup

The 34th America’s Cup will take place in 2013 and be held in 72 foot LOA catamarans with giant wingmasts, the first of which will be launched in early 2012.

From 2011 there will be an annual America’s Cup World Series that will also run in 2012 and 2013. In addition, a new class of one design 45 footers, the AC45, will be launched in June next year. There will also be an America’s Cup Youth Series.

At a press conference in Valencia BMW Oracle’s CEO Russell Coutts announced the plans for the 34th America’s Cup where he laid out the team’s vision for the next Cup cycle.

“Our aim is to transform the Cup, to make it fit for the future. We’re looking towards the Facebook generation, not the Flintstone generation,” he said in a reference to the plans to engage younger sailors with the Cup. “Youth sailing is crucial to the overall vision, there are too many 40-50 year olds racing in the Cup and previous events have been like watching a senior tour,” he said. “Crews in this event will need to be fitter, faster and leaner.”

In describing the ideas behind the big changes, Coutts explained how the cost of an America’s Cup had been, ‘way out of balance with the return that such a campaign can offer.’ To redress this imbalance he said that the media output would be revolutionised with racing coverage available on a host of platforms from TV to phones and iPads. He spoke of minimising delays to racing as boats were designed to race over a much greater wind speed range from 3 to 33 knots. Among other sweeping changes, boats would display large national flags, more reliable weather venues would be chosen and courses could be radically different from the norm with the potential for geostationary turning marks that also acted as spectator platforms.

Also at the heart of the new model, was the team’s goal to reduce costs for Challengers.

“We’re looking at campaign costs running from around 45-100 million Euros depending on what level teams pitch their campaigns at,” he told Yachting World.

News of the new AC72 class was widely expected by the Cup community, but the announcement of the AC45 class, and in particular the youth series, will have taken many by surprise.

The tooling for the new AC45 is currently being built in New Zealand, with the first boat due for launch and testing by interested parties in December this year after which teams will be able to buy boats either in a completed state or in kit form. According to Coutts, the fleet will be ready in June 2011 after which teams will race in a series of three events for which the venues have yet to be decided.

From there on, the major focus will shift towards the AC72 fleet which will race at six of the seven planned regattas for 2012. These boats will be built to a class rule that will be designed to keep the boats’ performance closely matched.

Although yet to be announced, the new race courses could also see big changes from the norm with a short first windward leg in order to minimise the advantage that the leading boat has in the early stages of the race. Reaching legs could also form a part of the new format.

“Anybody who has watched previous Cup races will know that in around 60-80 percent of cases, the boat that wins the start wins the race,” he continued. “Long reaching legs in a strong breeze are particularly challenging for multihulls, whereas in monohulls there’s rarely any place changing.”

Aside from the boats themselves, the organisation of the racing from the management to the format of the Challenger selection was also discussed. And while there are still many details that need to be resolved, Coutts and his co-speakers were at lengths to stress that specific details for the racing itself would be decided by the yet to be appointed regatta director and the Challengers themselves.

In 2007, shortly after Alinghi had won the 32nd America’s Cup, a new Protocol was released, a plan that was considered by many to be so one sided as to trigger one of the longest running disputes in the modern Cup. Coutts was keen to drive home his team’s belief that the Protocol for the 34th Cup was the ‘fairest Protocol in the history of the America’s Cup.’

Time will tell, as the Cup world trawls through the detail in the 41 page document. In the meantime, there will be plenty of head scratching in various corners of the sport. From Olympic sailors wondering whether they can juggle the demands of an Olympic campaign with those of a Cup programme, to the world’s top sail makers wondering whether their grand prix market is about to take a major turn away from soft sails.

It may be early days for the 34th America’s Cup, but the latest announcements provide plenty of food for thought.

So what will the new AC72 be like? Here’s the official word.

Crucial to the new boat is its ability to be raced hard in light and strong winds, a necessary development to do away with the frustrating delays of racing because of not enough wind or too much.

Fast to grab and retain the attention of a new audience, it also had to be technically stimulating to design and physically demanding for the crew to sail.

There will only be 11 crewmembers, six fewer than the heavy displacement ACC monohull it replaces.

“The AC72 class adds a new dimension to America’s Cup design and technology,” said Pete Melvin, a chief architect of the rule and champion multihulls sailor. “The SC72 will place exacting demands on the helmsman, crew and support team that the vast majority of us who call ourselves ‘weekend racers’ could never hope to develop.”

The new class of America’s Cup catamaran is a tightly defined “box rule.” Certain parameters have been set, such as overall length, beam, displacement and sail area. Other factors are limited to keep the competition close across all wind speeds.

So that no team would have an unfair advantage by creating the rule, US SAILING and Morrelli & Melvin Design & Engineering authored the rule.

“Near the beginning of the process we were requested to look at a catamaran instead of a trimaran because it’s easier to transport, assemble and disassemble,” Melvin said.

“The difference in performance characteristics is not significant, and a cat was judged less expensive to build. From there, the experience of two America’s Cups in which wingsails were used (1988 and 2010), coupled with the latest developments in wingsail technology, made it natural to morph the design rule into a catamaran with a wingsail,” said Melvin.

AC72 approximate dimensions:

LOA 22.0 meters (72 feet)
Beam 14.0 meters (46 feet)
Displacement 7,000 kilograms (15,500 pounds)
Wingsail area 300 square meters (3,229 square feet)

The catamaran will be able to fly a hull in 5 to 6 knots true windspeed. The target boatspeeds in winds under 10 knots were set at 1.2 times the true windspeed upwind and 1.6 times true windspeed downwind.
High speeds are derived from enormous power. The AC72 has a righting moment of approximately 60ton.meters. Determining the sail plan dimensions was difficult because the boat has to be powerful in light winds and not overpowered in stronger winds.

“It’s been challenging to have the cat fully powered-up and flying a hull in light winds, yet also be able to sail in 30 knots,” Melvin said. “We put a lot of effort into sizing the wingsail and the platform dimensions in order to sail in that full range.”

The height of the wingsail will be approximately 40 meters (130 feet) with a maximum chord length between 10 and 11 meters (32 and 36 feet).
Two options for de-powering are removable flaps on the upper leech or a removable mast tip. Both options would reduce sail and weight.

With such a wide boat, additional structure has been required to optimize the longitudinal stability of the AC72 to dampen flexing and to resist the high forestay loads.

A draft of the AC72 Rule has been completed and the final rule will be issued by September 30.

Other highlights of the new class:

Ease of assembly: The AC72 can be assembled in two days and disassembled in one to two days and disassembled in one to accommodate the shipping schedule for the America’s Cup World Series events.

Platform configuration: Either a conventional layout catamaran, one with cockpits and helmsman stations in both hulls, or teams will have an option of designing a central pod to centralize all the wing and sail handling controls.

Wingsail or soft sails: The AC72 class rule allows for wingsail and soft sail options to promote racing through a broad range of conditions.

Power source: Engines are banned but electrically driven valves to control the wingsail might be permitted.

Rudders and daggerboards: The rule limits a maximum of four underwater appendages, two rudders and two daggerboards. To reduce costs, standardised, one-design daggerboards are being considered.

Construction materials and methods: Limits on high-modulus carbon-fibre have been put in place for hull construction. The class rule outlines a minimum outside skin weight of 600 grams per square meter, similar to other racing boats of that size. Core materials may either be foam or honeycomb. High-modulus carbon will be allowed in the wingsail, to add stiffness and strength.

Onboard cameramen will be carried during racing.