Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

America's Cup rivals unlikely to be able to replicate Team New Zealand's pedal powered system

Team New Zealand bosses believe the chances of their rivals being able to successfully replicate the Kiwi syndicate's radical "pedalstal" grinding innovation ahead of this year's America's Cup are remote.

Emirates Team New Zealand this afternoon officially launched their sleek new 50-ft race boat that they hope will propel them to reclaim the Auld Mug in Bermuda this year. The launch, held at Team NZ's homely Beaumont Street base in Auckland was more ceremonial than revealing.

The cat was let out of the bag, so to speak, when Team NZ took the boat out for a spin on the Waitemata earlier this week and eagle-eyed observers spotted the unconventional grinding set-up, in which the handles had been replaced by cycles.

The surprise innovation set the America's Cup world in a spin, and remained the key talking point at today's launch.

While the sight of a peloton on the water is a novelty for sailing fans, the Team NZ crew have had quite a lot of time to get used to the idea. Operations manager Kevin Shoebridge said the innovation has been nearly three years in the development.

The Kiwi syndicate deliberately kept the innovation under wraps and fit out their test boats with traditional grinding platforms in order to ensure their rivals, whose spies are ever-present in Auckland, were not given the opportunity to mimic Team NZ's set-up.

Cartoon by Rod Emmerson
Cartoon by Rod Emmerson

"We've actually been working on this a couple of years now and done a huge amount of work behind the scenes to make sure the system was viable. We'd all thought about it in the early days, but to actually turn it into a real working system took a hell of a lot of work to really see the true benefit," said Shoebridge.

"We didn't want to launch our first boat with it on, even though it was well in the pipeline by then. We've been developing most of it within a closed-off space within a tent."
With yesterday marking 100 days to the opening race of the America's Cup qualifiers,

Shoebridge doubts even their most moneyed opponent, defender Oracle Team USA, will be able to replicate the system.

"Although it looks like just straight-forward bike seat and pedals, it's actually a very complicated system to turn that into hydraulic power. Knowing how long it has taken us to develop it into a real usable system, there's not a lot of time left [for another team to develop it]."

The cycle grinding system may be the most evident new development on the catamaran, which has been christened New Zealand Aotearoa, but skipper Glenn Ashby insists it is not the most significant. The real magic, Ashby said, lies in the sophisticated control systems that ensure stable and continuous flight around the race course.

"Although the cycling has taken a fair bit of the attention, it's really just another way of powering the boat. There's a lot of other things that have to come together for it all to work."

The 50-page design guidelines for the America's Cup Class (ACC) catamarans required certain elements of the boat be one-design, including the hulls, beams, central pod and wing shape. That meant the design effort was focused on the control systems and daggerboards, where the rules allow more flexibility.

The end result is what Team NZ chief executive Grant Dalton has described as the most innovative and powerful technology seen in the America's Cup.

"The boats in San Francisco look like they are absolutely from the dark ages. The range of boats that are going in the water now from both the challengers and the defender are the most technologically advanced boats that have ever been launched," he said.

The emphasis of the campaign now moves from inside the confines of the boat shed to the open water of the Hauraki Gulf, led by Ashby. The team will do a month of intensive training in Auckland before suspending the test programme and packing up the boat for Bermuda, where they will have another six weeks of training before racing starts on May 27.

- NZ Herald

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