Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz
Emirates Team New Zealand have quickly picked up where they left off with their AC75, when their test boat, Te Kāhu (the hawk) was up and foiling less than five minutes after cast-off from the chase boat.
Launched last Wednesday, work on commissioning the 12-metre long test boat, was suspended until Friday, when the boat was worked on all afternoon before finally being hauled from the water at 8 pm.
Yesterday the half-scale AC75 was put through a foiling trial before leaving, mid-afternoon, for its first sailing trial accompanied by two chase boats.
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After hoisting the sails, Te Kāhu cast off just before 5pm, and five minutes later lifted onto the foils under its foil-generated power.
Like a toddler taking their first steps, Te Kāhu did a short foiling burst - just clear of the water - before doing a soft landing. It then repeated the cycle more confidently for several times before settling into a regular foiling cycle, punctuated by the occasional splashdown.
"The test boat is going to be a massive part of our campaign for the next little while," explained helmsman Peter Burling as Te Kāhu left the team marina in the Viaduct Harbour.
"It's going to be able to keep our skills up, but it is also great for the campaign that we can develop systems and gear on a smaller, cheaper scale."
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Te Kāhu looked like small stealth-bomber as it made a series of runs across the wind into the Hauraki Gulf. The all-black visage offers a no-contrasting background, making it difficult for opposing team spies to build an impression of changes made. Of particular interest are changes to foil wing-shape in which the Kiwi team are an outlier compared to the approach taken by the other three AS75's currently sailing.
Most of the changes are expected to be below decks in software and systems. The only logo on the boat is that of the Motor Neurone Disease foundation which is the team's official charity for the 2021 America's Cup campaign.
A drone video of the training session which lasted over an hour in a 12-15kt SW breeze shows the foiling monohull performing as though she had been sailing for several weeks, rather than minutes.
There was the occasional regulation splashdown - which is just as spectacular in the test boat as in the AC75 - except on a smaller scale. There is little perceptible arresting of Te Kāhu's speed in the incidents.
The difference between Te Aihe and Te Kāhu is that that the latter doesn't bury its bow in a splashdown. Whether this is a result of a different hull design or a new onboard system will become known in the coming days.
Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton was well-pleased with the first session describing it as "a good hit-out".
The plan with the test boat is to start the next major phase of development and testing for the America's Cup Defence in just over 13 months.
Known for its lateral thinking - the team was the first to introduce foiling to the AC72 wingsailed catamarans used in the 2013 America's Cup, and cyclors for the 2017 Cup in Bermuda - anything similar for 2021 will first be seen on Te Kāhu.
The half-scale test boat will allow ideas to be tested on the water and for the best of those to be taken over to the AC75 and maybe tested aboard Te Aihe when it races against the other teams in the first America's Cup World Series in Cagliari, Sardinia at the end of April. A second racing test-window opens a month later in Portsmouth UK for the second ACWS event in June.
The initial phase in Auckland is expected to be geared around developing base performance data from the test boat, which can be then be compared with the data gathered from the past four-and-a-half months of AC75 sailing. Te Kāhu's data will be used to evaluate new options and directions in the design and simulation process for designers and the sailing crew.
In Cagliari, the Italian challenger Luna Rossa is recovering from a dismasting on Sunday, believed to be the result of a forestay chainplate failure. Fortunately for the Italians, the 26.5-metre spar, along with the double-skinned mainsail went over the side as a unit and was retrieved intact.
While the Italian team are putting a brave and positive face on the incident, it will be a setback for the team's work up to the first ACWS regatta to be sailed in their home waters.
Still blowing around the arbitration panel is the vexed issue of wind limits and match conditions for the America's Cup and its preliminaries. The matter is not expected to be resolved by mediation, and the three-person panel will make a binding decision by the end of March.
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.