Back in 2012, when the AC72 catamaran was launched for the ill-fated 2013 San Francisco America's Cup challenge, there was pretty much a collective gasp when Aotearoa was launched in front of a big Auckland crowd.
The 72-foot catamaran looked like some sort of dangerous double-bladed knife, designed to blast through a race course faster than a gastric bug at a hot dog eating competition. It was a new age, a new take on multihull sailing – a yacht not intended to foil which had been persuaded to foil, standing up on its daggerboards to introduce the new meaning of the word "flying" to sailing.
Before its unveiling, there were varied expectations of Te Aihe - the AC75 New Zealand boat that will contest the 36th America's Cup in Auckland in 2021.
Some thought it might look a bit too old school…you know, monohull. Rhymes with dull. Most though it might be too over the top, a bit like the artists' impressions and digital mock-ups which are all we've had to go on until today's launch. One impression, showing the signature twin canted foils, made the boat look like it was one of those lizards found in the desert which have to lift one leg at a time from the hot rocks of its habitat to avoid cooking itself.
Not a bit of it. Te Aihe's lines, seen from below as it rocked gently in the crane's cables, gave off the form and the same slight sense of menace as a shark. Those massive foil arms protruded from an aerodynamic hull, reminiscent of a shark's sleek design, with the foils like oversized pectoral fins.
Fitting maybe – the name Te Aihe is based on the Maori proverb: "Mā te Aihe e tuitui ai i te ngaru moana, mā te Rangatira e tuitui ai i te tangata" which means "As the dolphin sows through the seas, so does a leader sew people together".
So dolphin, not shark…but you get the drift.
Either way, Te Aihe is an impressive-looking piece of kit. It's a tad under 21m (75 feet) long, the mast is 26.5m tall (if you laid three London buses, nose to tail, on top of each other, you'd still not be at the top). Emirates Team NZ boss Grant Dalton has already predicted this thing will rattle its 6.5 tonnes round the last America's Cup course (Bermuda) six minutes faster than the AC50 catamarans did when ETNZ won back the Auld Mug.
Six minutes? Hang on just a pitch-poling moment. That's serious grunt. With apologies to most of the rest of the world who are better mathematicians than me, the AC50s were even faster than the AC72s, covering the Bermuda course in about 25 minutes, averaging about 25 knots upwind (yes, quick…) and about 30-31 knots downwind.
So, unless Dalton is cranking up the mind games already, that means we are looking at a foiling monohull which can cover the Bermuda course in 18-19 minutes, possibly representing an average increase in speed to about 30 knots upwind and 40 knots downwind.
We saw a bit of 40 knots in Bermuda through the AC50 catamarans and there was always talk of 50 knots. But monohulls going that fast?
"Time will tell," grinned the 2017 skipper from the successful Bermuda challenge, Glenn Ashby. "We really need to get out there now and validate some of the tools we have built in. Time will tell if we have shaped it really well or whether we have to pull back a bit."
Everything so far has been developed entirely on simulator so the maiden sail will be the first of many test runs.
"The power this boat can create is phenomenal," said Ashby. "We have seen some pretty impressive numbers on the simulators. It's a bit like a truck with an 18-speed gearbox; you have to crunch through the gears very quickly; the grinders will be working very hard."
"On the face of it, it looks normal-ish," Dalton has said previously about the AC75. "But once it starts to roll, once it starts to get up on the foils, it won't look like a boat, it will look like an aircraft."
That's the striking thing about this boat. It represents the next stage of foiling. The multihulled AC50s went faster than the bigger AC72s partly because they were able to foil for longer.
So the America's Cup yachts have gone from the solid old monohulls seen in Valencia in 2007 to the AC72s – which weren't supposed to foil but, thanks to ETNZ, did. Not only could they foil, they could do so upwind. Not only could they foil upwind, they could foil round marks.
In Bermuda, the AC50s foiled most of the time – the winners doing so because they were able to keep the boat aloft and stable for longer periods without touching the water.
Te Aihe seems set to take this a big step further, with the electronically controlled foil cant system that we laymen don't yet understand and which operates the 4m composite arms and wings. We could be looking at a yacht that foils for the entire race, without the hull getting wet.
Not sure that it's sailing, exactly, but it's bloody interesting.
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