“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward.” The famous quote by Leonardo Da Vinci contains a riddle within an enigma that could well be apt for the America’s Cup. My inbox mirrors the darker (and the more enlightened) parts of the internet with philosophies regarding the secret code of the AC75s. I’ll be honest. I’m as lost as you are. Do you know your Merc foils from your T-sections and your Y blades? How about your actuators from your interchangeable tips or your foil arm fairings from your gaiters? It’s a whole new lexicon but give bored, highly intelligent armchair sailors a Christmas break from the racing and the internet breaks with theories, philosophies and cracker-barrel comment. Great isn’t it?
What we do know is that the teams didn’t have as much fun as we did over Christmas. Most were out there training, running through their moves. Bear-aways being seen as crucial. Downwind VMG being the highest prize of all. Pictures from the Huaraki Gulf showed Prada in pretty much the same trim and foil combo as before, blasting around at warp speed. Time in the boat being the crucial message. Ineos issued pictures of their boatbuilders hard at work. American Magic kept quiet and under the radar as is their style. Same too Team New Zealand.
So have the internet admirals got this wrong? Are the foils a smokescreen for the real work going on with the teams? It’s pretty well documented that Ineos and Magic have shot their bullets already and have used up their allowance of six foils. And it’s assumed that Prada and the Kiwis have one set left. It’s also known that only small mods can be made to existing foils. So apart from cutting up the boat and rolling the dice that way, what can the teams realistically do in the next couple of weeks that can actually add significant pace? Has the foil debate run its course?
To answer this question I emailed a yacht designer friend, and a bit like Da Vinci, he pointed skywards. Now this guy was part of a design team of a Cup winning boat and is no fool – he quite rightly said that he would shoot me if I published his name for fear of work drying up dramatically. Fair play. Let’s call him ‘Leonardo.’ What Leonardo maintains is this: “A stable platform is required with minimum wing adjustment around the racecourse. Once the stability of flight is achieved, it’s then all about the camber control and the speed of trim of the wing and the jib. It was noticeable that ETNZ was smoother and displayed more co-ordination than the others. Controls were faster and the crew looked more comfortable moding through the conditions. If the Challengers want to compete they need to throw everything at their systems.”
I can’t really argue with that. But what a boring Cup cycle it makes. I fully expect the Ineos boat to come out of the shed on the 15th January looking exactly the same as before – just with a guy doing a wind dance on the bow. When it hits the line, the commentators will 100% be using the line: “it’s a different boat.” And I fully expect it to get around the racecourse, win a race or two and when all’s said and done, hopefully do well enough to get another £120m out the sponsors. Quite how it will go from the ‘lamest of lame ducks’ (who said that?) to rocket ship will all be down to a 500% increase in the systems efficiency.
Likewise with Magic and Prada, they will be firing at warp speed with huge upgrades to their control systems. Unfortunately, we the public, won’t be marvelling at a winged keel or a hula or debating the dilet in the hulls come January 15th. All the development will be skyward and only Nathan Outeridge will be able to explain it. The Foil Cant System debacle will hopefully be put to bed and we might get some decent racing – remember that? And the America’s Cup could well come down to those that have put the hours in on the water.
In that regard, my money’s still on Magic to win the Prada Cup. My guess is they cracked their own Da Vinci Code quite a while ago and have got Patriot on a development path that will be hard for the other two Challengers to get near. And if it comes down to time on the water, then they’ve done the hard yards and it’s fine tuning now. Quite how they will step-change to challenge the Kiwis is another matter altogether but a battle-hardened Barker and Hutchinson might just push them close. Like the foil debate, it’s a fascinating conundrum. The Cup is on. Love it.
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