Secret weapon inspires nerves
America’s Cup teams have always been influenced by the seduction of secret weapons.
The development of a new design feature that gives a team a competitive advantage is a natural tendency because, as the old adage states, the fastest yacht always wins.
Over the coming weeks, the teams will be making decisions about when to launch their second generation boats and when to reveal their key bits of “go faster kit”.
Expect American Magic to be the first to launch, followed by the British and Italians. Team New Zealand will probably wait a while longer.
There will be intense interest in the fundamentals of these new designs, but I’m not expecting any great surprises, with one exception — Team New Zealand.
The Americans’ new hull form will look similar to the ones Team NZ and Luna Rossa Prada Challenge have been sailing in their firstgeneration AC75 yachts. Expect the same when the British and Italians launch their new yachts.
The whispers I am getting suggest Team
NZ have a new boat that is a bit radical.
This is an exciting prospect, but also makes me a bit nervous.
There is both potential risk and reward in such an approach.
Get it right, and it could be a regattawinning move. Get it wrong, and you may have a hard- to- sail, erratic or unreliable boat. If it is a design that pushes the rules, it may also fall into a distracting controversy of a rules protest.
A key aspect of getting the best out of a new design and reducing these risks is testing time.
Team NZ have already been able to refine and optimise their first boat, Te Aihe, so that it is now 15 to 20 per cent faster than when it was first launched. This is the sort of optimisation that all four teams will be seeking as racing draws near. There is a long list of things to test and practice, which is why the decision on when to launch and begin on- water testing is such an important one.
The aim is to keep any secret weapon hidden from the competition until it is too late for them to copy it.
The tricky aspect for the teams is that any major new design feature takes some time to turn into reality. The process of concept to detailed design, engineering, build, fit- out and testing takes weeks to complete.
Because Covid- 19 has led to the cancellation of the first two America’s Cup World Series regattas in Europe, there has been no racing.
This has created more uncertainty regarding the teams and the relative speeds of their designs.
Assuming all teams choose their second- generation yachts as their racing machines, the first generation boats may never actually race one another because the rules prevent any organised practice racing.
So the America’s Cup World Series from December 17- 20 in Auckland looms as extremely important, particularly for Team NZ, as it is the only racing they get before the Cup in March.
The reality for all teams now is that time is rapidly running out to design, build, fit and test any significant new components.
Any team that finds themselves off the pace in the pre- Christmas regatta will have limited options available to become competitive.
● Professor Mark Orams is the Dean of the Graduate Research School at Auckland University of Technology and is a former member of Team New Zealand. He was also part of Sir Peter Blake’s winning Whitbread Around the World Yacht Race crew aboard Steinlager 2.