With the 34th AC well underway, (or over depending on when you are reading this) I thought it would be an interesting thought exercise to look ahead to what the 35th cup should look like. I think that when you look at the 34th cup you can say that the AC 72 is simultaneously the best and worst thing about the cup.
In retrospect I think that we got very lucky that the development curves of ETNZ and OTUSA converged at the time when they did. With 4 races down, it appeared that downwind no boat had a clear advantage over the other, and upwind better tacks gave ETNZ a bit of a performance edge. Starts, as with all sailboat races remain to be critical in determining the final finishing positions.
It could have been a very, very different story if one of the boats had a big speed advantage and turned into a high speed yawn fest.
The real tell for me was yesterday when my son, a non-sailor, sat down and enjoyed watching the racing, with the live-line graphics making it very easy for him to understand who was out in front.
Foiling a 72″ cat with a hard wing sail maxing out in the mid 40′s of boat speed has finally brought the America’s Cup back to leading the state of the art of yacht racing. As anyone who races a foiler will know, the high speeds involved amplifies every little mistake into a significant loss in distance, putting a premium on boat handling and crew work. Television has become spectacular. If you compare the first two legs of race one to the 33rd AC or the 32nd AC, the non foiling boats is just a yawn fest. If you don’t believe me, go and watch a race from the 2007 cup and compare. Too many crew, races one or lost at the start with little or no option to come back. ZZZZzzzzzz…
But the 34th AC is far from perfect. The biggest problem is the lack of teams competing made the LV cup a joke. The sheer cost of the 72′s has kept a lot of people out of the game. Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts have both admitted publicly that they screwed up there, and that the boats are simply too expensive which has kept the number of competitors down. Larry has said that if they keep the 72′s then at least there will be used boats for sale, and if not, they should move to a cheaper boat.
Sailing can learn from motorsport here. Whilst you can’t stop people from spending money, you can remove a lot of unnecessary cost, so if I was in charge of the boats for the next AC here is what I would do.
Step 1. Keep the cats. They work.
Step 2. Decide on foiling or non foiling. If you want low riding racing then add a rule ‘One hull must always be in contact with the water, and lifting the loaded hull above her LWL with hydrofoils is prohibited. Done.’ Personally I think that foils should be allowed, so my version of the AC 35 will have them.
Step 3. Big costs $$ so make the boats a bit smaller, so an AC 60.
Step 4. Apply the Nascar / V8 Supercar design idea of “If fan’s can’t see it, make it a standard component”. So, as part of the AC 60 rule you introduce a number of standard components that teams must use. On that list I would put:
- All deck gear, winches, hydraulics, stays, ropes and netting.
- Rudder verticals, rudder adjustment and steering systems.
- Standard structural crossbeams, and bow pole.
- Standard electronics hardware for instrumentation, navigation and telemetry.
Step 4. As the boats are foilers, and the hulls are less relevant. I have always thought that if you simply scaled up an AC45, to 72 and made that foil and focused on time on the water you would have been in with a shot. The AC should design a standard hull design that teams are optionally allowed to purchase and use instead of having to design their own allowing them to focus their development on step 6. If you really want to have more competitors make this a standard component too.
Step 5. Wings. Wings are logistically a pain in in the behind, but any AC boat has always required tenders and a large shore crew. Wings stay. Like the hulls, the AC should design a standard wing for teams to purchase as a way to boot strap their development, or focus on other areas. If you want the game to be cheaper and closer, make this standard, or the leading structural element standard. Oh. Standard control systems as well.
Step 6. Foils. For any foiler this will be the main area of R&D focus. Make this free. Control anything you want, however you want. The only restriction is it can’t be computer controlled and it can’t use stored power. So you can go wands, hydraulic, manual anything. If the focus is on foil development, then hulls are way less important, so you could consider a standard hull. The only part of the foil package that must be standard is the rudder vertical shaft. As this allows the rudder control mechanism, steering systems and wheels to be standard components. The horizontals are designed by the team and bolt on.
Step 7. Fairings. Go nuts. As the structural beams are the same for everyone, make this an area of R&D. This will also make the boats visually different as the boffins get busy in the wind tunnels and the CFD.
So there you have it. A boat that is still state of the art. A large number of standard components that teams have to use, or at least start with as the R&D base, yet freedom to design where it really matters. Then we should enjoy a cup that has the same spectacle but a lot more competitors.