COMMENT by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz
Emirates Team New Zealand and their supporters will be greatly assured with the sight of their first AC75, Te Aihe, sitting outside the team base in Halsey Street.
After a tumultuous four months, all the team's assets and people are back in Auckland.
"We're keeping our heads down and making up for lost time," explains sailing team member Glenn Ashby. "The intensity across the board has certainly stepped up a notch having got back from the lockdown, and looking at the number of days left in the campaign, maximising every day is critical to success."
For the first time since early February, when Te Aihe was shipped to Italy by way of Singapore, the Kiwis seem to be in control – as much as that word can ever be used in the context of an America's Cup campaign.
Relative to the challenger teams, Team New Zealand appear to be in good shape, and from here on, the rich should get richer.
"Te Aihe will sail again, the team are working through the specifics of the schedule now we have her back in Auckland," Ashby said.
It will be the first time since the 2007 America's Cup in Valencia that Team New Zealand will have had two America's Cup Class boats in racing trim.
"There are some new modifications and components that were all ready to go once Te Aihe hit the water in Cagliari, so it is important to get out and test with all of these mods and components," Ashby added.
As New Zealand heads into winter, their land-based simulator means ETNZ are not weather constrained. If the wind is not co-operating, then it is more time on the simulator - where all the innovation and serious learning gets done.
Ahead lies what should be a reasonably straight and level run-up for the Kiwis to the first Cup event in mid-December. Unlike the challengers, Team New Zealand doesn't have to travel to other regattas, while their base is built and fully operational and there's no boat commissioning issues - save for reassembling Te Aihe, finishing the team's second AC75 and race boat, and then putting it into sea trials.
While the team won't talk specifics, it would seem that the development program will continue with the test boat Te Kāhu being used for evaluating design ideas which show promise on the land-based design/testing facilities, before being promoted onto the AC75, to be assessed full-scale and under race conditions.
Now on his fourth America's Cup campaign, Ashby is impressed with Te Kāhu. "It is an exceptional little boat. But it isn't all about out and out performance - like the AC75 needs to be to win a race. Te Kāhu is a test platform that serves a specific purpose across a range of different design elements," he added.
As with the last two America's Cup programs, parts from the first ACC boat will be transferred across to the second and race boat, for reasons of cost, but also reliability. The plug and play of some components mean that the uplifted part has been thoroughly tested in the first boat and should work just as well in the second.
That's another pointer to Team New Zealand's intention not to race the two AC75's against each other – even when they are permitted to do so by the rules.
The first AC75 Te Aihe will always be kept in near racing trim as an insurance policy against a structural failure or racing incident in the race boat.
The latest sailing video released by the team shows Te Kāhu sailing fast and smoothly in the Hauraki Gulf, using new foil arm wings and other features that have been under development over the past couple of months. They are expected to be trialled full size on Te Aihe when it is re-launched.
Watching Te Kāhu train on the America's Cup courses, its performance is similar to the video. Given that the half-size AC75 is in testing mode, you'd expect to see a few rough edges. It is proving to be an impressive addition to the program.
From mid-January 2020, through to the start of the 36th Match for the America's Cup on March 6, 2021, Team New Zealand has and will always have a boat to sail – either one of two AC75's or the test boat – an option none of the Challengers enjoy. With time now being the currency of the America's Cup, an uninterrupted 15-month run could be a significant advantage for the defenders.
For the Challengers, it is all ahead of them.
New York Yacht Club's team American Magic now have their AC75 Defiant en route to New Zealand. Their second AC75 and likely race boat is under construction in Portsmouth, RI. It will be flown to New Zealand, arriving in early September.
Executive Director Terry Hutchinson says Defiant is expected to be sailing in the third week of July in Auckland.
High on American Magic's to-do list is the construction of the team's base facilities which are still on the flat tarmac on Wynyard Point alongside the INEOS Team UK building. So far American Magic's base consists of a short line of Portacom buildings from where the prefabricated base will be assembled.
Excellent progress is being made on the construction of the British team's base - which has the roof on and is being closed in, ready for fit-out.
INEOS Team UK are expected to launch their second AC75 in the UK, and then fly both boats to New Zealand in August/September.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli continues to sail from their base in Cagliari, Sardinia. However, they have had issues with a dismasting and in a second incident suffered structural damage to their bow after a bobstay failed.
The Italians will be the last to arrive in New Zealand - around the end of September and expect to be sailing in mid-October.