Yachting: Team NZ crack record in solo round

By Paul Lewis

Sailors coy on how much faster they can go after America's Cup catamaran beats 80km/h mark

Glenn Ashby, Emirates Team New Zealand's wing trimmer, grinned. Yes, they'd gone faster than that. Quite a few times. No, he couldn't say how much faster.

"But it was quite a bit quicker than we went today, that's for sure." There was a murmur of excitement around the America's Cup Park yesterday as Team New Zealand, in their solo sail (Artemis were again a no-show) cracked the 80km/h mark - the first time in the history of the America's Cup anyone has gone that fast.

"Oh, there's a few more knots left in the tank yet, no problem at all," said Ashby as media probed for more knowledge at a time when the teams are carefully guarding what secrets they have left. "The boats are getting faster and faster. Every month, we're getting quicker. If we had another six or eight months of development we'd probably get another 3 to 4 knots quicker. The feeling sailing downwind is surreal, covering ground that quickly."

For the record, ETNZ hit 44.15 knots, not quite 82km/h, achieved in winds of 18-20 knots - at the high end of the allowable scale for this racing. It broke their previous race record of 43 knots which is just under 80km/h or the 50 miles per hour mark - a measure more significant to non-metric Americans and some Brits.

It was another impressive sail, with the Kiwis pulling off several foiling gybes at good speeds - especially one round the leeward mark - and demonstrating their consistency with a manouevre which will be a key part of the racing .

However, it might have been an America's Cup record (even the giant trimaran vs giant catamaran deed of gift match between Oracle and Alinghi in 2010 didn't get much past 18 knots) but it is a long way from the world sailing speed record.

That used to be held by the French sailing hydrofoil L'Hydroptere which broke the record in 2009, sailing at 52.86 knots (or 98km/h). It was then smashed last year by the Vestas Sail Rocket, skippered by Australian Paul Larsen , which produced a stunning 65.45 knots (121km/h). At that pace, the Sail Rocket would attract a speeding ticket on Auckland's Southern Motorway.

However, it can only barely win description as a boat. It has a thin cylindrical body, big enough for only one man, and has an outrigger with a wing perched on top of the outrigger pod. It looks a bit like a land yacht (apart from the foils) and is built for one thing - straight line speed; tacking and gybing are, to say the least, limited.

As for upwind - forget it, though that was where the Kiwis impressed again yesterday, sailing at an average of 22 knots on the shorter, five-leg Cup course. At times Aotearoa seemed almost to be foiling upwind.

"It's a different lift action; with the foils we are always getting some lift anyway, just how much depends on the angle you are sailing at. It's always a balance between height and forward speed," said Ashby, who grinned again and gave a general answer when asked if the Kiwis would foil upwind when the nitty-gritty racing gets under way.

"It's a continual development programme," he said. "We are always learning and trying new things but that [foiling upwind] is a balancing act, for sure."

The Kiwi goal is probably not to try and lift the boat clear of the water upwind but to foil it enough to have the windward hull just kissing the water. That alone will make the boat highly competitive upwind.

Meanwhile, the long-range forecast for Monday (Sunday in San Francisco) is not promising. That is when Team New Zealand are due to take on Luna Rossa again in the second two-boat race.

The winds then could breach the new safety limits for the first time since the regatta started, meaning the race would have to be postponed to the following day.

Regatta director Iain Murray said: "We are watching Sunday and are quite concerned - but the wind limits are the wind limits and the currents are what they are. The planets are not wonderfully aligned right at this moment but we need to have a careful look at it and consider all parties."

Oracle had its two boats out yesterday, practising against each other before surrendering the course to Team NZ. Again, they looked very fast - exciting comment again about the likely clash in the America's Cup match.

Artemis are supposed to be launching their boat on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT) but presumably will not be ready to race when Team NZ is next scheduled to meet them on July 25.

In any case, Team NZ should already have wrapped up their berth in the Louis Vuitton final if they beat Luna Rossa on Monday. Artemis are aiming their comeback at August 7 - the start of the semifinal against Luna Rossa (if current form carries through), with the winner taking on ETNZ.

So the whole regatta could be sailed without Artemis or Team NZ ever facing each other.

- NZ Herald

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