Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz
Emirates Team New Zealand have made another counter-cyclic move in an America's Cup campaign, with the roll-out of a development yacht on Wednesday afternoon.
The existence of the yacht has been a closely guarded affair, similar to its reveal of cyclors on its America's Cup-winning AC50 almost three years ago in February 2017.
At the start of the 2021 America's Cup cycle, three of the Challengers launched prototype foiling monohulls well ahead of their first AC75.
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"As a team, we decided that a test boat was indeed a key necessity but believed it needed to have as much design input as our first AC75 to give it meaningful ongoing development possibilities," explained Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton.
"We wanted to concentrate 100 per cent on getting that first boat right," added design chief Dan Bernasconi. "We thought there would be more value for us in having a '1.5' - halfway between (the AC75's) Boat 1 and Boat 2. This boat is a stepping stone to what we want to do next time," he added.
Team New Zealand opted not to build a prototype, at that juncture, instead relying on its various simulators to predict the performance of AC75 design options.
Under the Protocol which governs the 36th America's Cup, the teams are limited to building only two AC75 hulls. Subsequent alterations to the hull shape are restricted to just 12.5 per cent of the surface area.
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The America's Cup teams are also prohibited from using a "surrogate" yacht longer than 12 metres (38ft) "which is capable of producing meaningful design or performance information" relevant to an AC75 design process.
The rule is one of several designed to control spending opportunities afforded by the mega-budgets, of which the British team's tops $220million.
INEOS Team UK was first to launch a 28ft converted production boat for use as a prototype. It carried just two crew (team boss Sir Ben Ainslie claimed their prototype was designed to be extreme) to give the crew the most challenging sail possible. They may have gone too far with that approach, as images of spectacular capsizes and spin-outs became a frequent sight in cyberspace.
American Magic, helmed by ETNZ America's Cup skipper Dean Barker, took a more conservative line. The New York Yacht Club team took a production hull and converted it for foiling and to resemble a half-scale AC75 as closely as possible.
"The hull itself is a McConachy 38. But that is where it stops", Hutchinson said. "Our danger is that we actually produce the fastest 38-footer in the world and not the fastest AC75," he added.
Luna Rossa also launched a prototype, much later than the other two teams, and it sailed for only a few months.
All three teams opted to use their prototypes as sacrificial boats. "It allows us the opportunity to make mistakes without punishing us with Boat 1 and Boat 2," Hutchinson explained soon after the launch.
Despite the lack of time in an AC75, Team New Zealand did not seem to require more than a few days of familiarisation time before taking their AC75, Te Aihe out for a training session in 20-25kts winds.
After sailing Te Aihe for four-and-a-half months, Team New Zealand have decommissioned her ahead of being shipped to Cagliari and Portsmouth for the first two America's Cup World Series regattas in late April and early June.
Aside from a hard chined hull, their development boat Te Kāhu had few surprises - exhibiting the same design features and foiling system as their AC75. The Defenders have opted to replicate an AC75 as closely as possible within the permitted 12-metre/38ft overall length constraint imposed by the Protocol governing the 2021 America's Cup.
Te Kāhu will sail with 3-5 crew, working in smaller versions of the trenches used on the AC75. A steering wheel is located at the back end of each crew-trench. It is not clear if the boat will carry a big Code Zero headsail. A bowsprit was not fitted for the launch.
The style of the wings on Te Kāhu is the same as on the team's AC75 which is an outlier compared to the Challengers' AC75 designs which all feature thinner wings but with a centre ballast bulb or fuselage.
"There has been a lot of work gone into the design and build of this boat internally, which is amazing really as it has all taken place between the design and build of our first AC75 and the ongoing work on our next AC75 race boat," said Dalton.
Te Kāhu will partially plug a gaping hole in the Kiwi sailing schedule where they lose 60 days transiting to Cagliari. There's more time-out while the AC75 is transported to Portsmouth. The campaign will also lose several weeks as Te Aihe is shipped back to New Zealand and re-assembled.
As well as sailing Te Kāhu on the Waitemata, several key members of the sailing team will have Olympic duties, dovetailed with Te Aihe's racing in Europe and the launch of the team's second AC75 - the boat likely to defend the America's Cup, in September.
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are expected to be given the opportunity to defend their Olympic title in the 49er skiff at Tokyo. Next step is the defence of their world chapionship crown in Geelong next month, followed by build-up regattas ahead of Tokyo.
Two members of Team New Zealand, Josh Junior and Andy Maloney, are contesting the Olympic nomination in the singlehanded Finn class. Junior is the current world champion. However, Maloney has an excellent competition record in the class, and the Yachting New Zealand selectors may leave a decision until mid-May and make a decision based on form in the 2020 world championships set down for Palma, Spain.
Conjoint America's Cup and Olympic programs follow a similar pathway that led to Team New Zealand's 2017 America's Cup win in Bermuda.
Richard Gladwell is the NZ Editor of Sail-World.com/nz , and a leading NZ-based international sailing photo-journalist. A former NZ representative sailor, he has covered major international sailing events including the America's Cup, Olympics and Volvo Ocean Race for the past 30 years.