COMMENT By Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz
It has been a stormy fortnight for the America's Cup ashore and afloat.
On the water Emirates Team New Zealand has been putting in the hours - testing and training with their recommissioned AC75, Te Aihe.
Their schedule has been dictated to a large extent by the weather, with Auckland turning on its usual winter mix of strong winds, or no wind, interspersed with the occasional fine, relatively warm day as an entrée for the coming summer of sailing.
Te Aihe's performance seems to have improved in the four months in transit between New Zealand and Italy and return.
Its penchant for doing spectacular splashdowns has all but disappeared from the repertoire. The only serious one in the many sessions caught on camera happened when crossing a ferry wake.
The difference seems to be that the crew are trimming Te Aihe a lot more accurately - flying low, with the boat being upright or heeled to windward, and often with the centreline bustle just centimetres clear of the water.
Helmsman Peter Burling is sailing Te Aihe with the same precision he sails the 49er. Speeds are believed to be close to the elusive 50kts "sound barrier" for foiling yachts.
The latest wing shapes, featuring a ballast bulb, first seen on the test boat, the 12-metre long Te Kāhu, have not yet made an appearance - but are assumed to be in manufacture. They may help reduce cavitation - the enemy of all foils - and allow that top speed to start with a five.
Te Kāhu seems to have done its job well, with the smaller boat being a lot more sensitive to handle and steer. The crew have taken those lessons across to the larger and more forgiving AC75.
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Team New Zealand is seeing the silver lining from the cloud of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic postponement. By rights three, maybe four, of the America's Cup sailing team would now be on Enoshima Bay doing their final preparations for the Olympic Regatta - which was set down to start in a fortnight.
The time demands of the Olympic programme would have punched a big hole in the America's Cup workup. Now you get the impression that the rich are getting richer.
Based on the build-up programme leading into the 2016 Olympics, an educated guess is a gain of three months at least - without a split America's Cup/Olympics focus.
The honing of racing skills gained from Olympic and other competition has to be replaced. But that is an issue for another day. In the Covid-19 era, all teams are currently in the same situation.
Outwardly, the sailing team seem to be isolated from the smoke and mirrors of the High Court and media brouhaha of the past 10 days. They head out to go training while the management team go through another round of legal and commercial meetings.
Most sailing sessions seem to be of around four hours, with the launch time and departure time being dictated by the weather forecast. The team seem to be surprisingly adept at picking when a fresh Auckland breeze will drop to allow a useful window for sailing. Or, more importantly, when it is due to increase so the test boat or AC75 can sail back to base ahead of the change.
At this time of the year, changes can hit very quickly with not so obvious wind squalls preceding rain showers.
The wind warning process was made a lot easier over the summer with the addition of many new anemometers measuring actual wind speed and direction dotted around the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. They can be displayed in real-time by systems such as Predictwind. As well as providing vital information for the Cup teams, they are an invaluable safety resource for boaties.
The daily sailing sessions consist of a mix of speed testing and racing practice, mixed with blasts of free sailing.
Speed testing is usually characterised by sailing across the wind and then returning at close to the reciprocal angle. That way the speed and other characteristics of a test foil, or sail, can be compared with the standard foil/sail by the design and performance engineers - watching from the chase boat or online from the team base.
In the first session of a major upgrade to the AC75 or test boat, the session is punctuated by sometimes lengthy breaks between runs as the chase boats gather around the yacht and adjustments are made.
As the session progresses, the adjustment period will typically reduce, until a couple of runs are done at the end, usually without a break, and a few more items are ticked off the test script, ready for the morrow.
Race practice is easy to spot with several yellow marks loaded into the back end of one of the chase boats, which sets them up depending on the exercise to be done that session.
In between the two session types are longer runs typical of sailing practice in the Olympic classes with the coaches and crew and maybe the designers calling the shots.
The spies, or reconnaissance teams as they are known in polite circles, are back in force now the Covid-19 lockdowns are over and "recreational" boating is allowed. American Magic was out this week in their chase boat carrying team signage. INEOS Team UK also has a team chase boat in Auckland, which was spotted pre-lockdown.
Luna Rossa is sticking with their chartered Protector - and are the most frequent visitor to the Kiwi test sessions.
Of the Challengers, the first to sail will be the New York Yacht Club's American Magic. Their base is under construction, and Defiant, their first AC75, is expected to move inside the boatshed this weekend - and then recommissioning will commence.