Thursday, March 22, 2012

No Wingin' It With An AC72 Wing


Artemis Racing skipper and helmsman called in today from Valencia, Spain to chat on America’s Cup Race Management’s weekly media call. He’s had his hands full this past week, managing Artemis Racing’s inaugural sail with an AC72 wing - a first for any of the AC34 teams - on the team’s training boat, an ORMA 60-foot trimaran. The 40 (131 feet) meter high wing is the result of more than 35,000 man hours, it’s predominantly carbon fiber, measures 260 square meters and weighs just over a tonne. So far, the team’s had about eight hours sailing the wing.

After listening to Terry for half an hour, one may like to suggest that perhaps this will all be too much for the non-sailing fan, too sophisticated perhaps? It's definitely insanely expensive. But, if nothing else, as promised, it’ll be impressive...

What’s it like having a wing that size?
TH: We’ve had an AC72 wing on a trimaran and it’s unbelievably impressive from start from finish. From watching the shore team execute getting the wing in the boat to getting the boat off the mooring to going out sailing. The whole thing is on a magnitude of something I don’t think anybody really thought all the way through when the thing was being written. It’s going to be exciting times ahead of us. All the teams are in for an eye opening experience. It’s been awesome to be out sailing with an element of the AC72 and to be the first ones doing it.

Does it really feel that intimidating?
TH: Yes it does, without question. We sea trialed our trimaran about ten days ago in about 20 knots of breeze and had the thing in the high 30s boat speed wise with just soft sails. We went out on the first day with the wing in relatively calm conditions and it gives you - for the lack of better words - it gives you the shits. But when you look at the thing, it’s like, “Oh man!” But that’s the challenge of it, and I think, therein lays the opportunity for Artemis. For sure we have a lot of challenges ahead of us and that’s one we all have to face.

You’ve launched the wing earlier than you can launch the boat - is that indication that Artemis feels the wing is where the advantage will lay?
TH: There are certain limitations within the rules, correct we have to adhere to. We’re just getting as much out of it as we possibly can. We have to overcome that we are a new team and operationally it’s a big challenge to get 100 people operating and functioning and doing all the things that you need to do to be an efficient team when the boat goes out on the water.

What the wing presented to us was not only the opportunity to do something full-scale but it was an opportunity to start working on the process of developing the team. Those two points alone will be worth a lot down the road when we get it to the 72. It also shows us where we’re exposed in areas - on the shore team, on the sailing team - certain aspects of the team.

Then, when you go out sailing with the thing, I can’t tell you with words how impressive it is. We’re slowly gaining confidence with the amount of load that we put the thing under. In 12-13 knots of breeze going twice that in boat speed with just the wing - it’s hard to add another 12 or 15 knots of windspeed to that and put yourself on SF Bay and imagine how it’s all going to go. But that’s an equal part of the process and when we took the decision to do this, this is where we felt it was going to pay off.

Where the advantages are, I’m not sure we know enough yet. Obviously understanding the wing and getting it to be as efficient but simplistic - you can probably make something very complicated but getting it through the race course could be another thing. Obviously the dagger board is going to be a big key to the performance of the boat because ultimately in the high speed bearaways, the dagger board will keep the bow up and out of the water. But looking at it from the design side, the wing was the obvious place to start for us.

The racecourse prescribed for the 72s? Having now been in the 45, what are your fears, what are you anticipating once you hit that start line?
TH: That’s a good question. It’ll be interesting to see how the teams gear their boat. When you look at the first reach across from somewhere underneath the Golden Gate, towards the Presidio and Crissy Field, that’s the first area of worry because depending on the angle that they set you, the boat’s very easily going to go 40 knots. When you watch how we race the 45s - you have a quick deploy and maybe 45 seconds to a boundary, having a boat that can handle that type of deploys that we do in the AC45s, there’s the next question mark that we continue to debate. Will we be able to deploy on this boat much in the same manner that we do on the 45?

While that’s happening, the boat is screaming along between 35 and 40 knots of boatspeed, there’s going to be plenty to digest. I’d say that the next challenge for the teams are the boats that jibe and speed build well out of each manouevre. Down the run there’s a lot of gain and loss in that.

Conversely, the boat that can get around the bottom mark efficiently with the boat handling element and settle into an upwind mode - because we have the restrictions of the boundaries - understanding the long tack out of the bottom and maximizing the amount of runway that you can give the boat and also trying to do the beat with less tacks. When you consider that the boat will go 20 knots upwind and in the tacks it’ll probably drop down to 6 or 7 knots, there’s a pretty big loss in performance so the team that figures out those problems will probably be the team that is successful.

Sounds like succeeding will be more about how teams operate on the course and not so much managing your competition like in mono hull racing?
TH: Yeah, that’s a pretty fair assessment. It’s interesting when look at some of the C-Class racing and stuff that those guys have done, it’s a different type of match race and the boat speed element is a much bigger part of it but how do you derive your boat speed? Through your boat handling, through the boat’s acceleration out of tacks and jibes - those are ways that you can be faster than your competition. Your competition, if you did a ten mile leg, might be four or five minutes quicker but they can never achieve that boat speed on this course, so I think the challenge that all the teams face - I know certainly we face - how do we maximize all the great talent of Juan and our design team but also keep it in a perspective that is reasonable because you run into a boundary every 90 seconds. I think it’ll be an experience that none of us have ever seen - just looking at the sheer size and the power that the wing on the trimaran has created.

Are you excited about this?
TH: Yes, I am - between being extremely nervous and really really excited because it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, it’s something I’ve personally have always wanted to do and wanted to be successful at. I want to keep playing until we win and this is one of those opportunities. Be it in version 5 mono hull or 72 multi hull, that goal hasn’t changed so I’m incredibly excited about it. But, I’m also incredibly respectful of the fact that what we’re doing it on and what’s in front of us as a team is huge. You have to curtail the nervous anxiety by making sure we’re training in the 45 and taking all the necessary steps that we can to get better as a team.

What are the team’s plans between now and the upcoming ACWS event in Naples?
TH: Get as many days in as we can and for as long as we can! The one thing that you gain quick appreciation for is, for every hour that we sail with the wing, there’s two or three that happen ashore. It’s early days so we’re being as methodical as we can be with the process that we’re using to get to understand the structural side of it and to understand the data collection side of it and really to be safe with it. It’s something not to take lightly. Unlike where you would structural test with the version 5 boat and probably that afternoon you’d be in some simulation doing racing whereas this thing is very much one day at a time.

What are the plans for July 1 putting the whole package together?
TH: Our focus is that we need to get as close as we can get to a July 1 deadline for our boat. The trimaran has been a great tool in that it allows us to test the systems of the boat so that they are reliable when we go into the 72. What you quickly realize is that the wing is a boat as much as the 72 is a boat. It requires a lot of manpower and if something fails, it’s catastrophic. If you have pieces of the puzzle that you don’t have to worry about when they’re on the 72 it’s one less thing that you have to structurally test when you go to the 72 sailing for the first time.

You can’t really underestimate the safety side of it when you watch/observe the wing going into the boat, the boat going off the mooring and going sailing. It has massive potential so just from a safety perspective if for no other reason that’s all we learned from it, it’s been a huge gain.

You’re sounding wary of the 72 - how do you think the lesser challengers with a whole lot less experience than yourselves, will fare?
TH: I don’t buy into that because if Team Energy shows up with the guy who just broke the Jules Verne Trophy - around the world - I’m going to take that as being pretty solid on a multi hull. The one thing I think regardless is that the 11 guys on the boat are a small piece of the puzzle. We have 100 people on our team and 100 people are flat out so each piece of the puzzle is equally as important and that’s the impressive thing about the challenge of the 34th America’s Cup. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and the two teams in the 33rd match would have had a snippet of that.

What will be the picture for spectators? Will they really be able to see/value the difference between a 72 and a 45?
TH: It’s hard to say that it wont be an order of ten times more impressive than what the 45s are. I can’t imagine that the TV coverage coming off the boats - from what we have seen - will probably blow people away. Talking about the number of competitors etc., I look back on the 32nd America’s Cup and that was a great event for sailors because it was close racing and the guy who understood racing could really follow that. What’s in front of us when we get to the Cup in 2013 I think the guy who understands sailing will be able to follow it and go, “Jesus, look at that! Unbelievable!” And, the guy who doesn’t understand sailing will say the same thing for different reasons. That alone will make the match and this Cup more impressive to the novice and being able to show the telemetry - 45 knots - that’s going to be impressive.

Where will you launch your 72?
TH: Spain - from a logistical perspective that’s where the designer is, the builder is, that’s where we’ve been operating out of for the last few months. It makes sense to do it here in a somewhat focused and controlled environment. We’ve had some good honest debate as to whether we should throw ourselves straight into the deep end but based on what we’ve learned these past few weeks I’d say it’d be a risky proposition to try to do it on SF Bay straight away.

Will you do all your (permitted) 30 days sail training with the 72 in Valencia?
TH: I don’t think we’ll do 30, but it’s a little premature to commit, as so much is dependent upon the success of the structure of the 72. I think if we have a good success rate there we’ll try to get everything into SF Bay sooner than later. My hope is that whatever it is, late or early in 2012, when we put the boat in the water in SF Bay, we need to be ready to go sailing the boat around the race course.

What part of the World Series experience will be most valuable to the 72?
TH: Number 1 for us has been to upscale our sailors. We did that because we felt that the ability to take in information and make the right decision while going along at 25-30 knots, is a pretty key factor to this racing. The best thing that’s happened to us is that we’ve taken a lot of knocks on the chin in the 45 - bad boat handling or not performing to the level we expect of ourselves. We’ve shown to ourselves what we need to do to get better. Then when we get onto the 72, we can execute those things a lot better. Our competition is really good and rock solid through these events yet you saw Russell get off the Oracle boat and a really good multi hull sailor get on board - one of the best in the world - he struggled to get a good finish at the last regatta. It highlighted to us that each person on the boat is critical to the ultimate success of the boat so from a team perspective, the team will be as good as the weakest person. It’s a much different approach to what you’re used to in a mono hull. That’s probably the most exciting thing about it - between the 45 and the trimaran it provides a much different perspective to what you need to do.

Seems like trimming the 45 was seat-of-the-pants in terms of how you set up the wing, the camber, the twist etc. How much more scientific do you expect it to be trimming the 72?
TH: I think what we’re inevitably after is setting something up that has the simplicity of the 45 wing with all the power and info of the design team behind it so that it meets the function in the simplistic manner of the 45 but it needs to come from a different parameter of complexity - it needs to perform differently.

You were saying 2-3 hours of maintenance for each hour on water. The Oracle guys were saying more like 50-100 hours per 1 hour of sailing. Do you think that number will go up or down as you guys get more familiar with this boat?
TH: It needs to come down but in the early days, it is what it is. Part of that is applying a bit of common sense and walking before you run because we’re experiencing something we haven’t experienced before. It feels prudent to take it slower. As we get more confident there’ll be a balance but with the time that we have and because it is so limited we have to be very careful to make sure that every ‘i’ is dotted because you can’t have any gear failures on the water.

Relative to a two-element wing on a 45, with the three-element wing you can get more power. Can you also depower it more effectively?
TH: Yeah - when you depower you control the elements - to a certain degree you can add stability to the boat by going the wrong way. These are all things that we have to learn going forward.

* Specific dimensions on page 30 of the AC72 class rule: http://noticeboard.americascup.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/AC72-Class-Rule-V1.1.pdf

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