Team New Zealand will build a test boat as well as launch their first racing yacht and sign up the rest of their crew in what will be a hugely influential year towards defending the America’s Cup in 2021.
Midway through the four-year cycle, the holders are comfortable with their progress though realise the importance of making some big moves in 2019.
The primary focus is the anticipated mid-year launch of their first version of the radical 75-foot foiling monohulls being introduced to the America’s Cup. It will be the product of a nine-month build.
But with that boat set to spend long periods off the water and out of the country travelling to world series events over the next two years, Emirates Team New Zealand have looked at other ways to maximise their design improvements for their second race boat, the one that will actually be used in the America;s Cup match in March 2021.
That boat will be built next year and chief operations office Kevin Shoebridge revealed to Stuff they would be building a smaller scale test boat this year to provide a development platform.
Challengers INEOS Team UK and American Magic of the New York Yacht Club already have half-scale test boats in the water.
The Kiwis believe using the simulator to provide the basis of their first boat design and then working their second boat off an advanced test craft can help give them a development edge, especially as they work from their own purpose-built boat yard on Auckland’s North Shore.
“This is a big year, one of the biggest for your learnings really,” Shoebridge emphasised as the Cup buildup intensifies.
“A lot of what you have learnt in 2019 on that first boat will go directly into your race boat. You often find in these things, a lot of the decisions that are made two years out are the decisions that will either win you or lose you the Cup so we think this year is hugely important with the direction that we head.
“That’s everything really, not just the boat but the people that we have, how the organisation runs … that sort of stuff is going to be hugely important this year.”
Team New Zealand see their first boat as the campaign workhorse.
“You will do a lot of your training in it, you’ll do a lot of your (world series) racing in it and the teams will try to leave one up their sleeve with the development of the race boat for the Prada Cup challenger trials and the America’s Cup.”
How to squeeze the most out of the time and travel constraints to set up the ultimate Cup boat has been the puzzle and the Kiwis see the test boat as providing a key to finding those answers.
“We are kind of keeping our powder dry with that (second) one and that’s one of the great things about having your own yard, you have the flexibility to move that (build and launch) date,” Shoebridge said.
“That’s where having a smaller test boat will come into it’s own, working away on tweaks in New Zealand gained from information off the first racing boat.
“Its nice to be able to continue your development in the downtime … having the flexibility to do it at smaller scale is helpful.”
There’s also the rather large human element to sailing the monster boats which are a step into the unknown given their revolutionary design.
The 50-foot catamarans of Bermuda 2017 had six sailors on them. The new monohulls require 11 and are going to be labour intensive as they return more of the traditional sailing skills to the sport’s showpiece event.
Team New Zealand have already signed up the core of their team, eight sailors based around stars like Glenn Ashby, Peter Burling, Blair Tuke, Josh Junior and Andy Maloney.
Shoebridge envisages a sailing squad of about 15 or 16 and finding the remaining people is one of the year’s big task. A lot of that will be determined by the platform they are sailing on and the Kiwis feel they don’t need to rush on the personnel.
“We have been careful not to jump too quickly because we are not 100 per cent sure what the requirements of the new boat are,” Shoebridge said.
“We want to be very specific about picking the right people for the right roles once we figure out what the roles are on that boat.”
Team New Zealand are proud of what they have already achieved since winning back the Auld Mug just over 18 months ago.
They have set up the new design and protocol, confirmed the venue and helped start the development of Auckland’s Viaduct Basin for the development of the bases. Team New Zealand having already shifted into their impressive new headquarters. They’ve established their exclusive boat yard and all the time their revered design team have been beetling away on coming up with a winning formula.
“From where we were last year, still sort of basking in the win, to getting infrastructure talks under way and getting the team together … now we are fully functioning. There are 90 people in the team and there is a lot happening,” Shoebridge said.
“We feel as though we are in a really good space as a team. You are always trying to improve the team and step things up a bit from last time and I think we’ve been pretty fortunate with the group that we have been able to put together.”
Complicating this year will be the need for Burling and Tuke (49er class) and Junior and Maloney (Finn class) to step up their Olympic programmes as they eye Tokyo 2020.
“There will always be a bit of juggling there between the guys and that has always been programmed in,” Shoebridge said, pointing out that Ashby and veteran Ray Davies would be able to cover off the key roles in testing and development.
They were happy to have their sailors involved in various forms of high-performance yachting that included a monopoly of the recent A-Class world catamaran championships won by Ashby.
“We see that as all really good value and really relevant to the style of boat that we are going to be sailing in the future.”
In terms of pushing the boundaries for this Cup cycle, Shoebridge felt the British and American success with their test boats was comforting in that they had proven the radical design.
“We always knew it would work but it’s nice to see that proof of concept and some of the really positive feedback we have had from those teams about sailing the boat.”
He felt taking that design to full scale with this year’s launching of the first race boats was “going to be quite phenomenal”. The opening race of the world series would come in Italy in October and promises to be spectacular because of the scale and speed of the craft that are tipped to exceed the performance of the foiling cats of the last two editions.
“I know as the design process has gone on over the last year it is becoming more exciting for us with what that boat could achieve.”
That excitement was drawing in more challengers. Six have been confirmed and Shoebridge felt that number could still swell.
“The whole idea was to try to encourage new teams and get more people involved in the Cup. It (the response) has been pretty staggering”.
He believed even the late-comers could be competitive in a regatta that is a step into the unknown this time round.
“Absolutely. In a lot of ways it’s an advantage having a new class because you are not playing catchup for the last campaign. It’s starting from an even playing field.”
The only hiccup so far has been a problem with the foil-arm design needed to take the massive loads, a one-design element to be used by all the teams. That was the responsibility of the challenger of record Luna Rossa but has now been overseen by the Kiwis who believe they have found the answer.
Shoebridge brushed those gremlins off as a consequence of the high-tech scenario they were operating in.
“We have all had foil issues in the past, we had foil issues in the last America’s Cup because you are building to some pretty tricky margins,” he said.
“But the good thing was it was caught during the testing period. It didn’t quite meet expectations so it was a matter of a rethink, a redesign and a reschedule. That is all under way, all the teams have been involved in that. We have lost a bit of time which is a bit of a concern but hopefully the schedule won’t slip to get the foil arms to the teams.”
The America’s Cup headquarters continues to make rapid progress on and off the water. Demolition and development has started and new infrastructure will start appearing.
Shoebridge anticipated the first flat sites for the challenging syndicates to build their bases on could be ready by August.
Tucked alongside Team New Zealand’s big permanent facility they will be a signal that Auckland 2021 is indeed a reality.