British Cup Challenge Is Full Steam

The second-time America's Cup challenger's top brass and designer are confident the team is taking the right early steps this time around.

INEOS Team UK’s surrogate boat “T5” prototype
INEOS Team UK’s surrogate boat “T5” is a prototype only. “Whilst we have learned a great deal about the general behavior of the boat,” says design Nick Holroyd, “and the dynamics and the control side of it and so on, there is really nothing in that yacht that really encompasses our thinking about what the big boat might look like.”Harry KH/INEOS Team UK

The British Challenge for the 36th America's Cup, lodged by the Royal Yacht Squadron has made some rapid strides, particularly since receiving a massive cash injection from Jim Ratcliff's INEOS and is now known as INEOS Team UK. It was the first team to launch a trial boat – a 28-foot foiling monohull – from which skipper, Sir Ben Ainslie, has declared somewhat jokingly: "We're getting plenty of swimming practice!" Each time the black hulled boat goes out on the Solent, it has several prying eyes from the other three declared teams watching every move that is made.

Grant Simmer, the most experienced and successful Cup sailor/administrator has been appointed CEO of the team. He was a friend of Ainslie from years past and says he was delighted when Ben asked him to join the British team. Now, some twelve months into the post, he hesitated slightly before attempting to say exactly where the team stood.

“On the Cup front,” he said, “we don't have the schedule yet for the regattas. They’re not required under the protocol, but clearly it is making it difficult for us to plan without them, without a schedule both for 2019 and 2020. We need those, and to be fair to the Italians and the Kiwis they are working on it. They have not really been able to decide. They have set some tentative dates for 2019, and there are a few things that have got to happen with the supplied equipment being delivered on a time and everything for the teams to be able to complete. They have not been able to announce those regattas officially yet. And 2020 the venues and dates are still moving around. Where we, as a team, we obviously have this little test boat which we are sailing quite a bit, and a test program happening where we are testing various things, and we are just learning to sail that boat, which is unusual. It has gone well and actually went better than we had anticipated.”

“Noticeably,” he continued, “the Kiwis are quite interested, genuinely interested — the likes of Grant Dalton, Ray Davies and Peter Burling. But I think they were always a bit nervous of the concept of what a boat like this would sail like. So, they have been genuinely interested, and I am pleased to see that our little boat has been sailing around quite well. It is edgy, these boats are edgy, to say the least, but exciting. We are really glad that we did the little boat because we are learning plenty of stuff relevant to the big boat.

“We debated what scale to do it – you are allowed to do a 12-meter-long test boat and we did it smaller because we could do it faster that way. We started making a bunch of parts before the rule came out on the first of April. We didn’t have the rule, we were making stuff and we sort of configured the boat, based on what we heard, and what we had seen, but it turned out that our intelligence, what we estimated for the boat, was about right. And so, the boat turns out to be a pretty useful little boat. We think the Americans are building something closer to 12 meters. We are hanging about to see that. We believe it is about a month away at the moment, so it will be early to mid-October.

“We are about to get started; we are working on the design of our first boat now, very progressed with that, and we will try to get sailing around the middle of next year in that boat. That is what we are doing. We have to make a bunch of decisions on the design.” —Grant Simmer, INEOS Team UK CEO

“The Italians, we have seen testing one of these soft wings on a catamaran, a modified 45F, the World Series boat, so they are testing the soft wing, but we have not seen an AC75 style foiling monohull yet, we have not seen them do that yet. The Kiwis, if you ask them, all they will tell you is they’re just starting building their big boat.

“We believe they have just started their big boat now, or building the tooling for their big boat. We don’t think they are going to build a 12-meter test boat. That is what they are saying. The fact is they are backing the simulator program and maybe the reality is the simulator program did a fabulous job for them last time and maybe they will do that again and go straight to the AC75. They had plenty of people here watching us, as have the other teams. Meanwhile we are about to get started; we are working on the design of our first boat now, very progressed with that, and we will try to get sailing around the middle of next year in that boat. That is what we are doing. We have to make a bunch of decisions on the design. We have got to rely on our tools, we have got to rely on our modelling, we have got to rely on our simulator. I think all teams will be in that position when we go to commit to our second boat and then we will have a lot more information.”

It was suggested INEOS Team UK was thus far, happy with the state of play at home.

“Yes, I think so,” says Simmer. “The team is going to gel together nicely. We have quite a few new people in the sailing team, like Joey Newton, Iain Jensen, lots of enthusiasm and energy, useful. So, mixing that with the likes of Jono Macbeth, Nick Hutton, and Freddie Carr. There are a couple of young blokes from the last time, who are really good guys, Neil Hunter, Bleddon Mon. They were in BAR last time. You have got to have team experience in the young guys.”

It was suggested that the team is progressing rather well at the moment, to which Simmer’s reply is: “I think the design side, yes. I think the relationship between the sailing team and the design team is important and seems to be working OK. Pretty good. Nick Holroyd is doing a great job on the design, pulling together naval architects, structural engineers, modelling tools, systems guys. All those sorts of things have got to come together. Foils particularly. We have been harassing both Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand, one bit of information apart from the schedule, one bit of information that is really important is when can you change the certificate and if you go back to Valencia as we are pretty much – we had a thing called a no-change period both in Auckland and in Valencia. A no-change period, which is a period of time during the regatta you could not change the certificate, and now in the last couple of Cups, both in San Francisco and in Bermuda, you pre-measured – we had on Oracle we had eight configurations we could be in, runner elevators, different boards, a few other configurations on the boat.

“We pre-measured to make sure the boat was measured and then we would say, ‘OK we are using certificate three or four today.’ We needed and we have been asking for that bit of information because it is really important. We are only allowed to build three sets of foils, so if you are allowed to configure your boat every day you would make a light-air board, a medium-air board and a foil and a light, medium heavy air for different speed rangers.

“But, if you go back to the Valencia model, you have got to have your foils, they have to be all-purpose foils, and you have to be able to deal with the whole wind range, which is quite a different design. So, to be fair to [Grant] Dalton, he just said in the Cup, classic Dalts, in the Cup there is only going to be one certificate, I don’t care what they do other than that, but I can tell you in the Cup there is only going to be one certificate, but I mean that is verbal and we need that in writing.”

“That is an important bit of information, and to be fair to Dalts, we have to trust him to say that and we are really going – if that is the rule for the Cup then the challengers are going to have to follow suit. They are going to have to, if they can’t, there is no point in having two sets of rules.”

“That is one last really important bit of information that we need. They gave us a course configuration at the meetings in Cowes [in August 2018], and that was important. It is quite a narrow course with boundaries, so it means a lot of maneuvering. We didn’t know. We knew it was windward, leeward, but the width of the boundaries is important, controlling as they do, the amount of maneuvering.

It’s fine. We just needed to know. It is like whether it a no-change period or whether you can change your certificates: we just need to know and then we can target our whole design process.”

It was as though they had been kept in the dark and fed on the proverbial. Simmer plays the suggestion neatly into touch.

One pressing question has so far remained unanswered – what has happened to the old team – Land Rover BAR?

“There’s a few people that have changed within the team and new faces. The previous investors? Ben had spent quite a lot of time with them and to a man they were bloody good. They could see that the level of funding proposed by INEOS was going to exceed anything in the previous funding model, and they all understood it was going to be an expensive Cup. This is a very expensive Cup, so they accepted that this level of funding gave the team the best chance of winning, and they decided we should allow the team to move on in this new basis. Sponsors that remain with the team are “in kind” sponsors, but big cash sponsors, like Land Rover in particular, are no longer with the team.

“INEOS have done exactly what they said they would do. I just can’t stress enough, the previous investors were emotionally attached to Ben, largely, and to the team, and what the team was trying to do, but to a man they decided that the best chance for the team was to take this opportunity with INEOS. The previous investors said that they were happy to stand aside and allow the company to move on this new funding model.

“It is difficult if you’re a new team to build a team from scratch like the Americans are trying to do. Really, really difficult. Bloody good for us with the background of Ben and BAR, the background that they had, the core of people, the technical tools. The fact that the team was established meant it could just roll on. It has not really stopped, even though the commercial model changed.”

Does Simmer feel there is anything else the team needs?

“Well, time is a tricky one. We are rushing to get boat one designed and built. It would be nice to know what is going to happen next year, what the real schedule of racing is going to be next year. To get that confirmed because that is really going to drive how much time we get to commission the boat. We are almost in the tunnel now with our launch day.”

Simmer seems happy and thus far content, so I ask Nick Holroyd, the Head of Design (a position he held with ETNZ in the last America’s Cup), what was going on at the moment within his department. It’s no secret that shortly they would be starting to build the first proper boat, and that is driven by the fact that it will take roughly 30,000 hours to complete and that the aim is to have it on the water in time for safe trialing and to be able to transport it to the regattas in September 2019.

“It is about a year long process,” says Holroyd. “So, we are actually in the final stages of refining the tools – the velocity prediction program; predictions that will guide the design of the first boat which is being refined right now. we are geared up to make a flurry of decisions in the very near future.”

But there is some doubt exactly what direction the predictions would have to be made, even to Holroyd: “Certainly, a week ago we obtained the race course information. It is a windward/leeward. There is a reach to the finish. It’s going to be roughly a 35-minute race, 3 minutes of that might be pre-start. Thirty minutes of windward/leeward and a couple of minutes to reach to the finish. So that gave us some parameters and they have given us width to the course versus the length and we can take the pole as we have for the boat and we can start to map out and that might mean if the course is 0.8 mile wide, as they suggest in their paper, and they will be adjusting the length of it and the number of laps to give us the race duration we can start to look at the number of maneuvers, time between maneuvers, power required to go through each maneuver, that sort of thing.

“The physical handling of these boats is not going to be easy, so I think the loads and that side of the systems stuff is the information we have been needing for a while. We have that, but there isn’t the information that we would like more of. It is around things like whether we are going to be able to change certificates, and if you recall back to the Version 5 days, we had to set the boat up for the Cup or Challenger final, and we were stuck with that configuration through the duration of that event, and then we moved to the 72s and then the 50s where we could load the boat on a daily basis and you can imagine that those are different design scenarios.

“Am I designing a board that goes from 5 knots to 25 knots, or am I designing boards to fit into that range, or what have you? That would be good information to have. So, we are starting to get a picture of what our racing environment might be like. Obviously, I know Auckland reasonably well, and yes, it is an interesting boat. It does not have to be the perfect boat, it just has to be the boat that we can learn enough from to build a perfect boat the second time. That is the process. We obviously need enough detail at this stage as we start making decisions about the deck systems just to know where the center of gravity of the boat is going to be, where to stick the foils, all of that sort of stuff. That is our world at the moment. Suddenly it has gone from being quiet, kind of conceptual, to suddenly we are into the details and we have to make decisions.

“Ultimately, we have to produce drawings that somebody can build something to - and to detail as in that I have to put a number on where the foil goes in the boat. I have to put a number on how much wing area we’re going to have, and all those types of things. So, in that sense we will move into quite a detailed phase of design in the next few months. Probably sometime after Christmas we will come up for air and come back more to the conceptual stuff that will take us through to boat two and beyond.

“We’re reaching a very important and interesting stage and we’re glad to have the little boat, T5, going well and out there on the water and that has been a useful, very useful exercise for us, just understanding the dynamics and the behavior. It is interesting how much information the little boat is providing. We have had people out there following us around from the other syndicates. That makes me smile to some extent.

“To get the boat on the water, the little boat - we designed it before we had the class rule so at that point in time all we had seen was the initial animations that Team New Zealand put out – this is what an America’s Cup yacht is going to look like, and so in some respect the fact that people are watching us bothers me much less because there is nothing embodied in that yacht which is a specific solution to a rule problem. So, whilst we have learned a great deal about the general behavior of the boat, and the dynamics and the control side of it and so on, there is really nothing in that yacht that really encompasses our thinking about what the big boat might look like. So, they can watch all they like, really.

“There is a long, long way to go in this campaign. We will just keep our heads down and try to learn what we can from day to day. Get better at what we do. Practice our craft. Keep moving forward. I go out and watch the boat, occasionally. We are very reliant on Ben and Giles and Leigh and Ian Jensen - they are probably the primary crew. Only two up on that little boat, and so I am pretty reliant on them interpreting what they feel and what they experience, and when I ride my bike to work in the morning it sort of starting to get a bit chilly and I know it is going to get seriously cold on board that thing fairly soon. We have test engineers on the water and I go out occasionally. All of the processes that will in time stand us in good stead, analyzing the full-size boat and stuff. All those data analysis tools and things are as rule building blocks that we have spent the last six to eight months putting in place and getting to work and so I can sit at my desk and watch it on video in real time, or I can dissect the data afterwards. All those other pieces of the puzzle that you need to put in place on the project are all coming together as well. It’s very satisfying.

“You get better at your art by practicing it, and for us it is a chance to practice it, and that practice goes everywhere from the naval architecture at the start of the project through the building process, through the systems that are on board, the electronics, the hydraulic systems complexity that is a 28-footer. There could not be another 28-footer like it on the planet, but the ability to bring that back ashore, have all that data, go through the whole de-brief process, talk to the crew. When you move into a new class like this you end up developing a language the way you talk about the dynamics of the boat - it does this, it does that. So, we go sailing, the guys come in and tell us about it. That kind of connection and that language between the design and sailing teams gets better and better. The analysis tools, as I say, and all those sorts of things are coming along. That is where we are at and we are practicing. These are busy times, but it is a fun project.

“I am not short of anything I want. There is not much really as to how far you can push these programs in terms of technology, you can keep building layers of people and stuff. In some sense there is no limit, but at some point, you cannot lose; you lose your agility and you lose the thread. No, I think the size of the group we have got is appropriate for the task. I think the resources we have got here and the lack of distraction we have here actually, all those things are pretty positive for us right now. It is a quieter environment and from a purely selfish perspective that is not a bad thing.”

Progress, as the author was reminded at the 22nd America’s Cup, is a mighty slow process, and a team behind at this stage of the forthcoming event might find great difficulty in delivering what it hopes is a winning combination. However, one doesn’t expect that the other three teams announced at present will have sat on their hands in the past fourteen months since the Kiwi team dazzled its opponents.