America's Cup: Loss puts NZ innovation in doubt

By Paul Lewis

Photo / Chris Cameron
Photo / Chris Cameron

If they'd won the America's Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand were understood to be looking into the development of a new, fast monohull yacht as part of their options for the next one.

It's a moot point now, of course, with Oracle's retention of the Cup - but with everyone, even Sir Russell Coutts, previously admitting that the AC72s were too expensive for challengers, it's interesting to see where some of sailing's top minds were thinking matters might go, post-AC72s.

French designer Guillaume Verdier, part of the crack Team NZ design team for the 34th America's Cup, was said to be working on a monohull design for a new class which could contain some of the elements from this regatta - foils and possibly even a wingsail.

ETNZ weren't necessarily opting for a monohull exclusively; they were exploring all options including smaller catamarans, particularly after the dramatic racing in the Cup match. But a monohull option which explores some of the exciting elements of the AC72 racing in San Francisco makes sense on several levels.

It's not as Gyro Gearloose as it sounds. Wingsails and foils have been tried on monohulls before, though the concept is still new and largely untested, certainly at America's Cup level. There's no suggestion Team NZ were necessarily going for foils and wingsails but the marriage of some 34th America's Cup technology and traditional boats was a possibility.

Monohulls would also have been the preferred choice of New Zealand's boat building industry, both in terms of helping to build the America's Cup yachts and the trickle-down effect of the Cup, where technology advances find their way into boatbuilding yards, boat development and the local economy.

Monohulls are also the vessel of choice of Luna Rossa - the Italian syndicate headed by Patrizio Bertelli, the billionaire at the head of Prada along with his wife Miuccia, and who is reportedly hungry for a return to the tradition, style and grace of the Cup, pre-AC72s.

The task ahead of Oracle now is a ticklish one - to get costs down to attract more competitors and keep some of the good elements of San Francisco. Many potential competitors dropped out in 2013 not just because of cost but also because getting up to speed with a hugely complicated and highly technological 72-foot catamaran was just too hard.

Now they are even worse off if Larry Ellison, Coutts & co go for the AC72s or something similar. Challengers could decide they are so far behind in the technology race and will never match Ellison anyway; they could opt out. Ellison needs some bait.

Verdier has been involved closely with the Open 60 yachts - a 60-ft single-or double-handed yacht capable of sailing round the globe - and which does just that in the Vendee Globe.

It is a carbon fibre, eight-tonne boat built for speed but whose light construction is still strong enough to withstand the battering they get in offshore and round-the-planet racing. They have a top speed of about 25 knots though there have been reports of 40 knots (probably surfing down ocean waves).

This also doesn't suggest that the next class of America's Cup yachts could be a kind of clone of the Open 60s. But Verdier has done a lot of design work on the Open 60s and there may be more than a nod towards features they do not have - the foils and wingsails which have helped make the 34th America's Cup match so engrossing.

Monohulls foiling is not an entirely alien concept. The Moth dinghies, used by Team NZ's Glenn Ashby to help with their foiling programme, do so. There is also the Mirabaud LX programme being developed in Geneva - a 33-foot carbon fibre yacht with foils and a wingsail.

True, this is lake sailing but the Mirabaud can foil in 8 knots downwind and 10 knots upwind and there is no doubt that foiling has been a large part of the spectacle of the Cup in San Francisco.

Also an exploratory concept is the vastly more radical Speed Dream monohull - still in prototype form (and not without its problems) but which was conceived as a monohull which could operate at multi-hull speeds.

It was conceived to have a canting keel and bulb which acts like a kind of windward hull on a catamaran and a lifting foil which extends to leeward. The plan is to build a 100-foot boat but so far only a 27-foot prototype has been tested - and that ended up on its side in one run.

Still, the thinking is already there and who knows what Oracle will come up for the next one - whether it has one, two or three hulls, it will likely be another absorbing concept.

- Herald on Sunday

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