Team New Zealand have taken a "step along the road to redemption" with the launch of their first custom-built test boat ahead of next year's America's Cup.
After conducting all their testing to date on a hand-me-down AC45 catamaran from Italian syndicate Luna Rossa, Emirates Team New Zealand today unveiled their newest test platform, which is said to be capable of reaching speeds beyond that of the 72-foot behemoths sailed in the last America's Cup in San Francisco.
The 45-foot catamaran is the accumulation of nearly two years of design work by 25 designers and has taken a team of boat builders more than 35,000 man hours to construct.
Having endured a near-catastrophic period of instability following the devastating 9-8 loss to Oracle at the 2013 America's Cup, Team NZ boss Grant Dalton said today's milestone is worthy of celebration.
"San Francisco never really leaves us ... this is a step along the road to redemption for us."
A significant step it may be, but it is also a belated one.
Team NZ are firmly in chase mode in the development race for the next America's Cup, with their key rivals well advanced in their testing programmes.
The rules allow each challenging team to build only one full-size 50ft America's Cup Class (ACC) boat. However, teams can build smaller "surrogate" boats up to 45ft for testing and development.
Defenders Oracle Team USA have launched three AC45 turbos, the most recent in October last year, allowing them to conduct two-boat testing in their second and third platforms. Their first prototype was sold to Dean Barker's Team Japan.
Land Rover BAR, headed by Ben Ainslie, has also launched a third boat, and Swedish challenger Artemis are running a two-boat test programme out of their Bermuda base.
Team NZ chief operating officer Kevin Shoebridge said while his team haven't had the hours on the water their rivals have had, they haven't skimped on the hours of research and development that has gone into the project.
"There's no question we're later than we want to be, but we've never been slow on the design side. We kicked that into gear immediately after San Francisco. We're never going to catch up that time we lost on the water, but it's about making smart decisions, and we think we've got the right people in the right place to make those decisions."
While Team NZ are firmly behind the eight ball, their rivals are still keeping a close eye on the developments at the Kiwi syndicate.
Former Team NZ design chief Nick Holroyd, who jumped ship to Team Japan last year following the departure of Barker and several other long-serving crew members, was spotted taking photos from a balcony overlooking the team's base as the boat was hoisted into the water.
For those without a degree in naval engineering, it would have been hard to spot any differences between the test boat and the one-design AC45 catamarans sailed in the America's Cup World Series circuit.
Shoebridge said that's because a lot of the development has happened in areas you can't see - specifically the control systems that operate the wing, daggerboards and rudders. The America's Cup class rules define much of the hull shape and structure, making these control systems the key technology battleground.
As it was in the last Cup cycle, foiling is where the speed advantages lie. What all teams are seeking is fast, stable and continuous flight.
Team NZ skipper Glenn Ashby believes the team's test boat is just as advanced, if not more so, than what their competitors have come up with and expects there will be prying eyes trained on them when they take the boat for its maiden sail in the coming weeks.
"The team have been quietly working away down here in Auckland away from where a lot of the action is focused in Bermuda," he said. "We expect the arrival of some inquisitive competitors with cameras and long lenses to begin showing up in the next few days subsequent to this launch."
Oracle Team USA
With a wealth of resource at their disposal, the Cup defenders have not surprisingly set the pace with their development. Oracle have been running a two-boat testing programme from their Bermuda base since October last year, using their second and third boats.
Artemis have been training in Bermuda since May last year, with the Swedish syndicate the first team to set up camp at the venue of the next America's Cup. They also became the first of the challengers to start training with two prototypes when they launched the second of their test boats in February. Running a two-boat programme allows both for comparison in design, and for valuable match-racing training.
Land Rover BAR
The British challenge, headed by Ben Ainslie, appears to be incredibly well-resourced. BAR unveiled a third 'turbo' design, code-named "T3", in April following six months of trials in their earlier version. T3 will sail from the team's base Portsmouth, with a full development and testing programme throughout the UK summer.
Softbank Team Japan
Dean Barker's Team Japan joined the America's Cup race in April last year, but have made up a lot of ground thanks to the assistance of Oracle. The defenders offloaded their first test boat to Team Japan, who have used the prototype to test out their own design ideas. Being based in Bermuda also gives the team the chance to get in regular sailing with Oracle and Artemis, and rumour has it that Team Japan has the fastest boat of the three.
Groupama Team France
As the last syndicate to throw their hat into the ring for the 35th America's Cup, officially announcing a challenge in June last year, Team France were firmly behind the eight ball from the outset. They are now the only syndicate who haven't launched a test boat and it looks like it will be a few more weeks yet before they are out on the water. The launch was originally scheduled for last week, but has now been delayed until next month.