ACWS Day 3
19 Dec, 2020
Kiwis up...Brits down & American Magic top challenger
By now you’ll most likely know that the Kiwis won the America’s Cup World Series and that the Brits had a shocker. You may also know that the final race of the day was another that couldn’t have been scripted better, even if it was one of the weirdest match races I’ve ever seen. In the head to head between the Kiwis and the Italians, if the home boys won the title and trophy would be theirs. If the Italians won, then three of the four teams, (you can guess which), would be locked in an unbreakable tie-breaker and the winner would be pulled out of a hat at the press conference. I’m not joking, that was the plan. Personally, I think it would have been more fun to play paper, scissors, rock or perhaps an arm wrestle. But, as you know, it didn’t come to that. You’ll also have seen that the Americans are pretty quick and when boats are quick, they start to look pretty. And on this score I don’t mind admitting that I’ve been swayed this week. American Magic are capable of taking it to the Defenders and nearly did so again today. The calculated move to concede their narrow lead and dip the Kiwis to get to the right hand side of the course was part of the Barker and Co. plan, we could hear it on the crew comms. But a poor tack and falling off the foils wasn’t and it cost them dearly. But nevertheless, on points American Magic are clearly the quickest of the Challengers. Plus, they’re the only ones to have beaten the Kiwis. Furthermore, Terry Hutchinson’s team have demonstrated this over a reasonably wide range of conditions despite some apparent self-doubt about their speed in light conditions. Luna Rossa are pretty good to, able to slot in and mix things up. The choice of two helmsmen, (no one has dared ask who is the pilot and who is co-pilot yet) looks like a smart one, especially in tight situations that require a rapid response. Given how fast these things travel, running across the back and performing a precarious handing over seems rather out of date. You will also have seen the toe curling, agonising performance of INEOS Team UK when the breeze dropped. With a forecast that barely got into double digits, today was always likely to be tough for the Brits and their reluctant flying machine. This was never going to be a surprise. But here’s a thing. I bet you didn’t know that of all four boats out today, the Brits had the highest top speed, 43.3knots and the Americans the lowest at just(!!) 37.5knots. And if you’re interested, Luna Rossa hit 41.2 and the Kiwis 42.6. So how come the fastest boat on the day could also be the slowest? Weird eh? Except, if you’d been following the numbers it wasn’t. And what’s more I think it provides a few indications as to where the problem areas are. During the racing when Britannia was up on her foils she was quick, quick enough to take on her opponents in straight line speed. For instance, in the race against Luna Rossa they were matching the Italians for speed up the first beat, around 30 knots, on pretty much every tack yet still losing out. The problem seemed to be through the tacks where the British speed dropped to 20 knots each time. The Italians’ dipped to just 25. It was a similar story downhill where Britannia’s gybes looked a bit more draggy and required more in the way of steering through them to keep the beast on the boil. It is true to say however that the team has made big steps forward and improved their technique, but it is taking its toll. Yesterday they were sailing for around six hours, I’m guessing today was little different. You may think that’s no different to what you and I get up to at a regatta or a championships, but for the grinders on these boats it’s like being in the gym on the cross-trainer at full chat for a day. No thanks. And then there’s the issue of climbing onto the foils. To my basic and inexpert thinking there are two key ingredients, the efficiency of the foils in providing sufficient lift to raise the boat and the power to drive the boat fast enough to achieve it - Foils and sail plan. Interestingly, in this evening’s press conference, when it came to addressing what the problem could be Ben said, “Clearly the hulls have got something to do with it, the foils, the rig, the systems. There’s probably five or six key areas that you’ve got to nail and get right to get the best out of these boats and we’re obviously lacking in a couple of those areas.” What we’re wondering down here is what else the Brits have in the useful box that can help address the flight problem. Rumour has it that they, (and the Americans), have used all of their foil allocation, (a total of 6 sets across both boats) and that the Kiwis and the Italians still have a set apiece to go. If that is the case, then their next approach could be modifying the foils, the rules allow them to me changed by up to 20%. In a very unscientific way, the lack of flight looks like more than a 20% problem but I’m simply guessing and I hope I’m wrong. So perhaps boosting the sail plan is more realistic. The chatter is that the Kiwis have far greater control over their mainsail particularly at the top where they can power it up more effectively than others. There’s also talk that they bend their rig more to control the power output. I have no idea how true that is but it’s an interesting thought if it is. One thing’s for sure though, we have just one day left to see the Kiwis in action. Our next chance will be the Cup itself – I’m going to miss them. I’ll sign off with a comment from foiling superstar Nathan Outteridge who I have the pleasure of sitting next to each day in our TV production office. A comment that had me spinning round in my chair to check that he meant what he said. “The trouble with these boats is that they are underpowered.” I’ve dropped off the, “in the light”, suffix to his sentence for journalistic effect and to be fair it was part of a broader debate on a slightly different topic. But ever the one for a catchy quote it made me laugh and today I kept thinking about it, especially when the boats were doing 40 knots in around 12 knots of breeze, where today at least and in this narrow field, INEOS Team UK was king of the hill. Night night.