Next Level

The photos have arrived of the new hydrogen-powered chase boats for AC37, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that George Lucas’s 1977 masterpiece was being re-shot and Darth Vader was waiting in the wings, perusing the detail and waiting for his seat-fitting. These things look insane. They wouldn’t look out of place on a film-set and goodness me, Team New Zealand’s base is starting to resemble the ultimate man cave. What’s emerging is the extraordinary. Geoff Senior, the boatbuilder’s boatbuilder is on fire. Battling brilliantly through Covid restrictions, the hydros are coming to fruition with the help of long-term sponsor Toyota who can clearly see the way marine transport is going. Amazing, breathtaking project. Visionary.

©Emirates Team New Zealand

But what’s even more interesting is to take a helicopter view of the statement that this kind of technology is saying and why it’s my firm belief that AC36 all round will look positively agricultural and amateur compared to what’s coming. Seeing the hydros in all their glory is just the taster of what the big boats are going to be like in AC37. All the teams are deep into the detail now and it’s there where the next America’s Cup will be won. The AC40’s will just be standard deviations of the mean vessel, Te Rehutai, but they may well be the stalking horses that test out increased stored power that could translate eventually to the 75’s in AC38.

©Emirates Team New Zealand

I’ve long contested that grinders and the patently ridiculous cyclors are ancillary to the modern Cup. Grinding when we can actually see sails being raised, tension being added to runners or sheets being trimmed is fine but grinding for oil pressure is akin to the most pointless task at a North Korean labour camp. The sailing world doesn’t like me saying that but come on, it’s next level stupid and is one of the great barriers to gender parity in the Cup. It will change when the stored power is fully worked out and it can’t come soon enough in my book.

©Studio Borlenghi

But the hydro project is fascinating. Auto foilers that hit top speeds of 50 knots and are nigh on silent as well as being eco-friendly are pretty cool. The price tag isn’t but this is the America’s Cup and nobody said it was cheap. Team New Zealand is pushing the boundary on this one without question but the questions I have are around just how practical these things will be. We’re used to seeing monster RIBs with a million horsepower strapped onto the stern, sidling up to the 75’s to deliver bacon butties to the ravenous grinders and Red Bull to Jimmy with spare jibs loaded down the centreline and usually a few of the bright ones logged into iPads to impart data observations to the afterguard. These hydros look fully enclosed to my eye, apart from the handy sunroof, and I doubt whether you’ll want carbon kissing carbon without a rubber buffer?

What do I know. Perhaps their intended use is to trail the boats and allow the boffins to crunch that data in slightly more comfortable surrounds for a day out on the water in the Costa del Sol? Let’s hope there’s air conditioning and yes, I wouldn’t say no to a ride in one but I still expect to see teams chomping the carbon credits with practical workboats to tow out and do the donkey work.

Practicality aside, it’s a project that’s moving the dial and I come back to my assertion that we ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of the technology that is being applied in this cycle. What will be coming out of Mercedes, Red Bull, Airbus, and the pens of Marcelo Botin and Dan Bernasconi will be off the scale. The sheer engineering and systems brilliance will be something to see. All the teams will be lining up the brightest minds with the longest development runway and quantum computing in real-time to find the gains. It’s a full on technology war and literally every centimetre of the boat will be crawled over for advantage.

©Emirates Team New Zealand

Hydrogen-powered boats are merely the tip of an enormous iceberg of technology, impressive in the stand alone but absolutely in context to the broader picture of this Cup cycle. When the first 75’s are launched it will be a moment like no other in Cup history. We’ll see things we’ve never seen and unpicking the detail will provide endless copy and limitless fascination. These boats will move the sailing dial and confirm the Cup as the apex of our sport. Yes there could, and should, be refinements but AC37 is the dawn of a new era in the competition, a new chapter that when viewed through the sharp lens of history will be a watershed.

I’m fascinated to see what the teams have in store and where their thinking is. The market for top design talent has been intense. The sailors are a commodity now, mere jockeys for the finest stallions to ever grace a racecourse. It will be the technology Cup and we’d better get used to it.

Hydro boats are just the start. Next level stuff.

6 thoughts on “Next Level

  1. So, who do you like for the US Sailor of the Year awards? Maybe not as exciting a field as the World candidates not too long ago, but it’s great to see Daniela Moroz nominated.


    1. I think Taylor Canfield has got a good case based on results in the match racing but Daniela is streets ahead. She’s a living legend and thoroughly deserves another (!) Rolex…


  2. “Grinding when we can actually see sails being raised, tension being added to runners or sheets being trimmed is fine but grinding for oil pressure is akin to the most pointless task at a North Korean labour camp.”

    Yep, and why even put the crew on board when they can control by remote control. Don’t forget Team NZ has a 5G image on their sails.

    And where is the beauty?


    1. As always, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Personally I think the AC75s (and their type) are beautiful. Perfect examples of form following function, and the more that form is refined to maximise efficiency through air and water the more beautiful they become.

      It’s rather futile comparing an AC75 with a J Class (generally gorgeous) or a 12 Metre (many of which are, by any measure, ugly boats). It isn’t a case of either/or, and why should any yacht style/class be entitled to be the benchmark of what constitutes an America’s Cup yacht, much less a ‘sailing yacht’ in general?

      As for grinding: absolutely, get rid of pumping oil, but yes for sail handling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, they miss Lexcen and Conner
        In 12-Metre nirvana
        All the rest is crazy
        No high-speeds, no multi
        Posting ‘bout the new school
        And they all said I’m uncool
        ‘Cause they’re still preoccupied
        With 19, 19, 1985.


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