Team New Zealand are firmly in chase mode in the development race for the next America's Cup, but skipper Glenn Ashby believes they will fast make up ground on their rivals.
The Kiwi syndicate this morning launched the first of their America's Cup test boats from their new base in Silo Park on the Auckland Waterfront, kicking off their summer sailing programme.
It marks the first time Emirates Team New Zealand have sailed in Auckland since before they shipped out San Francisco in March 2013 for the 34th America's Cup and an important step in their build-up for the next event in Bermuda 2017.
The modified AC45 catamaran launched today is not the same boat that will be sailed in Bermuda, but the innovations trialled on this boat, and a second AC45 currently under construction, will form the basis of the final design.
Team NZ's key rivals for the 2017 regatta are already well advanced in their testing and development programme. America's Cup holders Oracle Team USA are preparing to launch their third AC45 and, with no limit on the number of test boats, are expected to build as many as five.
Oracle have given one of their trial boats to Dean Barker's Team Japan, who are based in Bermuda along with Oracle and Swedish challenge Artemis.
Ashby said while Team NZ are starting a fair way behind the eightball in terms of their testing programme, the team's design programme has not stopped since returning from the San Francisco three years ago.
"It would have been nice to have been on the water a little bit earlier for sure, but what we've been working on in the background we're pretty comfortable with where we're at with the development side of things. The tools that we have been working on over the last couple of years on the things we can work on off the water have put us in pretty good shape," said Ashby.
"We're just pleased to get on the water and validate some of the tools and the bits and pieces we've been working on in the office."
The modified AC45 catamaran launched today has been loaned to Team NZ by Italian syndicate Luna Rossa, who pulled out of the 2017 event following a dispute over late changes to the design rules.
Former Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena, who has since joined the Kiwi syndicate in a management role said he had mixed emotions about seeing the boat back in action.
"It's going to take a little bit of time to digest what happened, but I'm happy to see the boat back in the water with a Kiwi flag. There has been a lot of work put into this boat ... I hope it will be a boost for the team," said Sirena.
With several former Luna Rossa designers joining Team NZ alongside Sirena, the partnership between the two teams allows Italian syndicate to keep up with the developments in the America's Cup world. But Sirena said that was not the team's motivation for wanting to help out the Kiwis.
"There is no plan at the moment for Luna Rossa. The main reason for all of this is because there is almost 20 years of friendship between Luna Rossa and Team NZ, and it was a straight forward move for us to help these guys."
With the America's Cup class featuring several one-design elements including the hull and wingsail, the biggest area of development will be in the dagger foil and control systems.