T3 takes an in­side look at the For­mula One-level tech that pro­pelled one of this year’s Amer­ica’s Cup con­tenders to fly over boil­ing sea wa­ter


The Amer­ica’s Cup was started in 1851 by Great Bri­tain, mak­ing it the old­est tro­phy in in­ter­na­tional sport. Great Bri­tain’s team BAR – run by a for­mer McLaren F1 boss and skip­pered by Olympic gold medal­list Sir Ben Ainslie – teamed up with Land Rover to cre­ate a cup boat that has more in com­mon with the pin­na­cle of mo­tor­sport than you’d ex­pect from a sea-go­ing ves­sel. It’s so fast it can fly, thanks to hy­dro­foils, and has so much aero­dy­namic power it can boil the wa­ter where it cuts through the sea. T3 vis­ited the team be­fore it com­peted, and we got some de­tails on just how hu­mans can take to the air us­ing wind power alone ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion in Ber­muda at the 35th Amer­ica’s Cup.


One of the main rea­sons the Amer­ica’s Cup is of­ten called the For­mula One of the seas is be­cause of how heav­ily it re­lies on the de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing ad­vances of the teams to cre­ate the fastest boat.

The event is held once every four years, and only the fi­nal race fea­tures the per­son­alised boats built by each team. Up un­til that point a col­lec­tion of races, dubbed The Amer­ica’s Cup World Se­ries, is held around the world on iden­ti­cal AC45F boats to which the teams are only al­lowed to make mi­nor ad­just­ments. These races let the teams col­lect points which help them earn a head-start in the fi­nal event, where there is only one win­ner.

Since the boats are pow­ered by the wind alone, it’s down to their crews of skilled sailors to work in per­fect syn­ergy with the craft to let them skip along the wa­ter at speeds of up to 96km/h.

The teams that com­peted this year were Great Bri­tain as BAR, Amer­ica as Or­a­cle, France as Groupama, Swe­den as Artemis, New Zealand as Emi­rates, and Ja­pan as SoftBank. Be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion started, team BAR was lead­ing on points col­lected from win­ning races in the World Se­ries, mean­ing it took bonus points for­ward into the Amer­ica’s Cup Qual­i­fiers. That also meant it started out with a lead in the fi­nal race. This year’s com­pe­ti­tion was be­ing de­fended by the United States, who were gun­ning for three con­sec­u­tive wins.

How­ever, on 26 June, Team New Zealand bested the de­fend­ers in the fi­nal to win the cup – but only af­ter pitch­ing their boat nose-first into the drink dur­ing a fran­tic start against Team BAR in a semi-fi­nal. Ainslie’s crew fin­ished the com­pe­ti­tion third over­all.


The Amer­ica’s Cup race boats are called ACC, for Amer­ica’s Cup Class. These are all 15 me­tres in length and each fit into the same ba­sic de­sign rule – look­ing badass isn’t writ­ten in there, but they all def­i­nitely fit the bill. These ACC wa­ter-fliers have a lot of ad­vances over the com­par­a­tively ba­sic AC45F boats used in the World Se­ries build-up races.

The fi­nal ACC boat is still wind- and hu­man-pow­ered alone, with no en­gine power at all. In­stead, these boats use ac­tu­a­tors. So, in the more ba­sic World Se­ries AC45F boats, sailors run about the twin-hull cata­ma­ran ad­just­ing ropes and wind­ing them in and out man­u­ally. On the ACC boats, how­ever, the sailors can sit in­side the hull and work at what are called grinder sta­tions – think cy­cling but with your hands. These ac­cu­mu­late hy­draulic power in the ac­tu­a­tors at around 1,200 watts, which can then be spent on mov­ing the ropes at the touch of a but­ton when needed. The re­sult is not only more ef­fi­cient con­trols for faster ma­noeu­vres, but also bet­ter aero­dy­nam­ics with ev­ery­one mostly tucked in­side the boat.

The boat cut­ting through the air with max­i­mum aero­dy­namic ef­fi­ciency is one of the most im­por­tant ways to gain speed and the main rea­son the Amer­ica’s Cup is as much a test of skill as its is of de­sign prow­ess. That’s why Sir Ben

Ainslie’s team, BAR, teamed up with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) to ben­e­fit from the car com­pany’s years of aero­dy­namic ex­pe­ri­ence. Headed by for­mer McLaren For­mula One team boss Martin Whit­marsh, team BAR is on the bleed­ing edge of wind-pow­ered rac­ing. We weren’t al­lowed to write about all of the boat’s de­tails in case other teams stole them. This wasn’t out of para­noia: op­po­nents send spy boats with tele­photo lenses to the wa­ters out­side the team’s de­sign cen­tre, try­ing to catch a glimpse of what’s be­ing built.

JLR de­vel­oped in­dus­try-first aero­dy­namic test­ing that has en­hanced the wing­sail de­sign. Bear in mind this sail is the size of a Boe­ing 747 pas­sen­ger plane wing at 23.5 me­tres – so keep­ing

it aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fi­cient is mas­sively im­por­tant. When that mighty wing is tak­ing the wind and us­ing it, the boat can move at up to three times the speed of the wind hit­ting it. This is what helps the boat lift out of the wa­ter to hy­dro­foil – that and the ad­vanced ‘dag­ger­board’ de­sign. This was in­flu­enced by the light­weight car man­u­fac­tur­ing world, and uses car­bon fi­bre to of­fer a light build that’s strong enough to sup­port the boat’s en­tire 2,400kg of weight – which is more than a Land Rover Dis­cov­ery – on a sin­gle board. This is so fast and un­der so much pres­sure it’s claimed that the sea wa­ter ac­tu­ally boils as it passes over the edges at high speed.

Data is also a big part of the boat, with a whop­ping 16GB of in­for­ma­tion col­lected from the boat’s 190 sen­sors af­ter every sail­ing ses­sion. Even the crew of six sailors are wired up with heart-rate mon­i­tors, which feed back into a ded­i­cated strength and con­di­tion­ing soft­ware plat­form. This can then de­ter­mine the sailor’s train­ing stress score, re­cov­ery time, how much time they have spent in dif­fer­ent heart-rate zones, what out­put they can achieve when push­ing, re­cov­ery times, calo­ries con­sumed, dis­tance cov­ered, power pro­duced and plenty of other vari­ables.

When it comes to sail­ing, the ef­fi­ciency of the boat’s path in re­la­tion to the wind is mas­sively im­por­tant. The most di­rect line be­tween marker points isn’t al­ways the best, as a longer dis­tance might catch stronger winds and ac­tu­ally end up be­ing faster. To help make these key tac­ti­cal de­ci­sions, the BAR boat is equipped with an E Ink low-power dis­play that works in all con­di­tions. Thanks to be­ing E Ink, it’s clear in all lights, with­out the po­lar­i­sa­tion is­sues of LCD. It’s also flex­i­ble, so can be mounted to the aero­dy­namic sur­faces of the boat.

This tac­ti­cal screen dis­plays the boat’s po­si­tion on the race course rel­a­tive to the marks and bound­aries. It also of­fers pre­dic­tive in­for­ma­tion on time, dis­tance and sail­ing an­gles re­quired to the bound­aries, as well as the num­ber of ma­noeu­vres re­quired to com­plete any given leg of the course. It even pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on how the boat’s per­for­mance com­pares to com­puter mod­els and the best past per­for­mances in sim­i­lar con­di­tions. All that should help make the skip­per’s de­ci­sions about what path to take a bet­ter in­formed one.

BAR team leader Sir Ben Ainslie said: “We had to build not just the boat but the de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing team, the fa­cil­i­ties and the pro­cesses to get to this point to­day.”

De­spite bow­ing out of the com­pe­ti­tion early, the mes­sage from Sir Ben Ainslie was clear when asked about the team’s in­ten­tion for the next Amer­ica’s Cup: “We will be back next time and we will be stronger.”

The sailors are put through a train­ing regime that builds mus­cle while also in­creas­ing their bod­ies’ aer­o­bic ef­fi­ciency

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