The new year will bring a flurry of activity in the America's Cup world with the six competing syndicates expected to launch their sleek new 50-ft race boats over the coming weeks.

Under the protocol that governs the next America's Cup, the earliest teams can launch their race boat is today. Given that date falls smack bang in the middle of the festive season when many marine suppliers will be shut down, it is likely we'll see most teams launch over the first couple of weeks of January.

Here's a guide to the next generation of America's Cup boats.

1. What's different from the last Cup boat?

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The most noticeable difference between the AC72 catamarans sailed in the 2013 event in San Francisco and the new America's Cup class (ACC) boats is the size. The 34th America's Cup was sailed in giant 72-ft wing-sail catamarans, whereas the next generation of Cup boat is just a shade under 50-ft - hence why they are sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as AC50s. But the key difference between the two generations of boats is in the elements that you can't see.

As part of sweeping cost cutting measures introduced for this edition of the Cup, many elements of the ACC including the hulls, the centre pod, wing and jib are all one-design. While the one-design elements have limited the scope for development in the ACC, there is still a heck of a lot of innovation that has taken place.

This innovation has in the main been concentrated on the hydraulics and control systems that operate the wing and rake in the daggerboards.

2. How fast will these boats go?

The top speed of the ACC are expected to be in the 45-50 knot range, or, to put that in more commonly understood metrics about 80-90 km/hr. That's about the same as what the AC72s hit in San Francisco.

However, Team New Zealand skipper Glenn Ashby estimates the ACC catamarans will get around the race course about 20 per cent quicker than the AC72. That's because the newer generation boats are capable of foiling upwind consistently, so the average speed around the race course will be much faster.

Emirates Team New Zealand Helmsman Peter Burling and Skipper Glenn Ashby. Photo / Hamish Hooper
Emirates Team New Zealand Helmsman Peter Burling and Skipper Glenn Ashby. Photo / Hamish Hooper

3. Upwind foiling has been described as the key battleground in this edition of the Cup, is it likely to play out that way?

Yes. Or to be more precise, the ability of teams to achieve fast, stable and continuous flight.

Heading into the 2013 event the big area development was downwind foiling, where, in certain conditions, the boats were able to fly up on foils. Team New Zealand set the pace with this development, and by the time the Cup rolled around, they were able to gybe whilst sill on foils - giving them a huge advantage over their rivals. Over the latter stages of the Cup, Oracle Team USA were able to match the slick maneouvring Kiwis and upped the ante by getting their boat foiling for decent stretches upwind.

Given Oracle had only just scratched the surface with upwind foiling, this has proven an area of major development in this Cup cycle. Not only are the teams able to foil consistently upwind, several syndicates are able to pull off a foiling tack, raising the possibility that the boats will be able to get around the race course without getting the hulls wet.

Emirates Team New Zealand testing boat one on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. Photo / Hamish Hooper
Emirates Team New Zealand testing boat one on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. Photo / Hamish Hooper

4. While it is theoretically possible, how realistic is it that teams will be able to complete "dry laps" in a race situation?

Ashby reckons it is entirely realistic.

He says "dry laps" can be achieved in anything from 8-17 knots of breeze - or about 80 per cent of the conditions they're expected to encounter in Bermuda. In light winds there won't be the power to achieve full displacement, while in anything more than 17 knots it becomes a lot trickier to handle the boats, and you may see the boats bucking and the hulls kiss down on the water.

But to successfully pull off maneouvres without the hulls touching down on the water requires perfect choreography of crew work.

"There's probably about 6-8 things that have to happen exactly right to be able to pull the [foil tack] maneouvre off well," says Ashby.

"The daggerboard rakes, the transferring the load in the wing at the right time, crew transfer, and also getting enough power to be able to get the daggerboards up and down.

It's really quite a finely choreographed dance step that has to happen accurately to be able to pull it off consistently."

"I think we'll find in the racing next year that everyone will be able to do it, but it's how consistently well you can do it under pressure with another boat breathing down your neck."

5. Which teams are leading the way in this regard?

Without seeing any of the data coming off the boats, we've only really got the America's Cup rumour mill to go on. As you would expect, defenders Oracle Team USA, are said to be setting the pace with their testing programme. If Oracle are fast, then that means Team Japan, led by former Team NZ skipper Dean Barker, are also fast. The Japanese syndicate, who were allowed to lodge a late challenge for the 35th America's Cup, were handed Oracle's design package.

In fact, it was Team Japan that were reportedly the first to master the foil tack in training, with Oracle following a few days later after seeing their testing buddies pull off the move.

Team New Zealand also quickly mastered the maneouvre, with some rumours suggesting it was actually the Kiwi syndicate that pulled it off first, but they wanted to keep the breakthrough to themselves.

Ben Ainslie's British syndicate, BAR, have been talked up as one of the favourites for next year's challenger series after taking out the America's Cup World Series event, which is sailed in one-design AC45 catamarans. However, yachting commentator Ken Read described the British boat's performance as "skittish".