America's Cup racing is set to get airborne.
The long-hinted-at possibility that the new AC72 wing-sailed catamarans will have hydrofoiling capabilities was confirmed yesterday, with Team New Zealand offering media an on-water demonstration of their high-flying cat.
Up until now, Emirates Team New Zealand had been trying to play down the capabilities of their new boat. But the cat was let out of the bag, so to speak, when a sailing enthusiast snapped pictures of the team training on the Waitemata Harbour last week, which appeared to show the boat foil-borne.
The pictures, which were published on Boating New Zealand's Facebook page, created a storm of discussion in the sailing community with some pundits claiming the images had been Photoshopped. But Team New Zealand yesterday took journalists out on the water for a close-up look at the giant catamaran in action, revealing the hydrofoiling abilities.
Reaching speeds in the high 30 knots, the catamaran literally flew around the Waitemata, getting airborne for up to 10 seconds at a time. The foils work to reduce draught and increase speed, lifting both hulls of a catamaran out of the water.
Team boss Grant Dalton was happy with just the fifth day of sailing the boat. There were pluses and minuses with getting the boat up on the foils, the downside being the cat was not that easy to control.
"We are ticking things off the list and only today we have broken free and have started racing manoeuvres which is quite a big step."
Skipper Dean Barker said he was pleased with the gains on the water but warned they still had a long way to go to develop an America's Cup-winning boat.
They have just 30 sail days to squeeze data out of their AC72 before building starts on their second cat, which will be used in next year's America's Cup in San Francisco.
The decision facing the designers is whether the foils are worth it. While it looks spectacular and in the right conditions can give the team a huge advantage, there will be a tradeoff between upwind speed and downwind speed.
The Kiwi syndicate appear to have a significant jump on their rivals, including Cup defenders Oracle, who have suffered a major setback after their first day of on-water testing last week was cut short by a daggerboard failure in the starboard hull. The repairs have meant further delays to their official media launch, which has now been postponed twice.