America's Cup: Nearing 50 Knots

With round two of practice racing in the books, Russell Coutts weighs with his assessment of the preliminary action.

Americas cup

America's Cup Class (ACC) boats practice racing in Bermuda

Artemis Racing dominated both rounds of practice racing on the Great Sound.ACEA 2017 / Photo Austin Wong

More America’s Cup Class (ACC) practice racing has been taking place on Bermuda’s Great Sound, now with all six America’s Cup teams taking part for the first time on the racecourse that will be used in the 35th America’s Cup.

Emirates Team New Zealand were the last team to arrive in the home of the 35th America’s Cup but quickly had their ACC boat re-commissioned and out on the crystal clear waters of Bermuda. Their first bout of unofficial practice racing with other America’s Cup teams was on Friday 28th April when they lined up against Artemis Racing and Groupama Team France with the Kiwis winning against the Swedes, albeit with Artemis Racing not engaging in the pre-start, and then failing to finish their first race against the French team but winning their second.

Notably, Artemis Racing continued their strong form, but over the four days of racing all six teams recorded victories.

Sir Russell Coutts, CEO of the America’s Cup, and the most successful sailor in America’s Cup history, had been watching the practice racing out on the water and gave this assessment, “This past week we’ve seen all six teams here for the America’s Cup out on the water. Definitely Artemis Racing are still the form team – if we were racing the America’s Cup today they’d have to be the favourite. The French have started to improve the control of their boat and we’ve seen some improvement from Land Rover BAR, and we’ve seen the introduction of some of the lightwind boards by some of the teams. “The revolution with this America’s Cup has been quite incredible but there’s still a long way to go with some of the teams in terms of their reliability. A lot is still changing. It’s too early to predict who’s going to be strong in this America’s Cup but the performance of the boats is incredibly impressive. We’ve certainly seen speeds of 47 knots, some even at 48 knots, so we’re getting close to that 50 knot (93kph) speed barrier.”

“We’ve had plenty of close racing against the other teams the last couple of days and it was great to see Emirates Team New Zealand joining the race week”, said Artemis Racing’s Skipper Nathan Outteridge. “We had our light wind boards in for a couple of the days, and it’s been good to begin working on our light wind configurations. We are very happy with how things are going with good starts, and with heavy winds in the middle of the week, we also had good top speed sailing. All in all it’s been a successful week, now we have a couple of days off and then we are looking forward to making the boat go quicker again.”

Anders Gustafsson, one of the Artemis Racing team’s Swedish Grinders added that the competition is getting tougher with less than a month to go until the first race day of the America’s Cup. “We have seen all types of conditions this week with both strong and lighter winds. With less than a month left it really feels like the tension is building and it you can feel it in the air in Bermuda. It was great to finally race against Team New Zealand on the water, we have a lot of good tight races and all the competitors are really focused.”

“We learned a lot this week,” said ORACLE TEAM USA skipper Jimmy Spithill. “On Wednesday, we were the only team out there with the wind well above 20 knots, so we learned a bit about how hard we could push in the heavy stuff and did numerous laps.

“Yesterday we still had strong conditions. We had a difficult gybe in a race against Artemis and a few of the stress alarms on the boat went off, so we came in to check a few things. As it turned out, nothing was damaged, but it meant we lost a bit of race time.

Americas cup

America's Cup Class (ACC) boats practice racing in Bermuda

SoftBank Team Japan and defenders Oracle Team USA during practice racing.ACEA 2017 / Photo Austin Wong

“But today [Friday] was great. We’re still on our high-speed boards (heavy air boards) and even though we were a bit out of range for them in today’s conditions, we managed to have some good races, and some interesting line-ups outside of racing. We gathered a lot of useful information to feed into the design team.

“On the sailing side, we’ve been happier with our crew work. We’re trying to do a few things in our playbook differently and the guys have really responded well to the challenge.

"Also good to see Dean Barker and SoftBank Team Japan, beating Team New Zealand and Peter Burling by a healthy margin in their race today.

“The forecast is pretty light over the next few days, so we’re going to take a bit of time to make some scheduled upgrades before we sail again early next week.

“There’s still a lot of potential left untapped in our boat and crew work and as of today we have exactly four weeks to unlock as much of it as we can before the first race of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers. There won’t be a lot of down time!”

Skipper and CEO of SoftBank Team Japan, Dean Barker, wrapped up the week encouraged at the rate at which the Japanese team is developing despite the increasing pressure mounting as racing is only 25 days away.

"The practice racing last week was incredibly valuable for the team. Racing periods like that put everyone under pressure and gives you the opportunity to go through all the small checks to make sure there’s nothing missing come race day.

"We’re really happy with how we’re going - at this point there’s nothing in it amongst the top teams. Good wins for us against all our competitors this week and really happy with some new modifications to the boat. There’s still plenty of new pieces the boat builders are fabricating and installing and we're taking delivery of several new items over the coming weeks - no one will know the hand each team holds until May 26th.

"The attitude of the team is what’s been impressive to me, you can see everyone here is digging in at the moment and working overtime knowing that it will only get harder with less time and more things to do. That attitude is what's going to help us be successful on the start line in a few weeks time."

Franck Cammas, Skipper of Groupama Team France added, “We’re barely a month away from the start of the competition. It’s the final straight. The sailors are focused on sailing a fine course and having a great race on the water. We’re working on the starts, the timings and all the maneuvers during a course. In fact, we’ll run through an entire course. At the same time, the shore team is continuing to develop the AC Class. There are always developments; the lack of time we have is frustrating, but at the same time, it’s rather good news as we know that we still have room to improve technically, particularly regarding the systems and the complicated parts, which require fine-tuning. The whole team is working flat out. Over the course of this last month, we’ll need to manage the sailing and preparation days as best we can. The schedule is complete right through until 26 May. Everyone has to focus on their task so as to ensure we perform as well as possible during the elimination rounds.”

Glenn Ashby, Skipper, Emirates Team New Zealand added his thoughts on the first day of practice racing for the Kiwi team, saying, “We learnt plenty today, but the main thing that sticks out is just how close all of the boats are in performance, and therefore how close the racing is going to be. It could very well come down to the finest design detail or smallest mistake on the water that is the difference between winning and losing at any stage of the competition.”