Better by design
Sailing Today|February 2021
Design secrecy is a key part of the the America’s Cup but the Prada Cup offers a glimpse of the yachts in action. Toby Heppell assesses the key developments
Toby Heppell

Moments after Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finish line to convincingly win the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda 2017, Circolo della Vela Sicilia, represented by Luna Rossa Pirelli Prada handed over their letter formally challenging the Kiwis for the next cup, so becoming the Challenger of Record. These two actions – the win and the formal challenge – set in motion a chain of events, that would shock the sailing world in 2018 as the new America’s Cup class, the AC75 rule was released.

To understand how we got here, it is worth briefly looking back to the events leading up to that moment.

In 2017, Team New Zealand were the only team not signed up to a deal put forward by Oracle Team USA, which would see the event continue in the same boats and the same format.

Luna Rossa had already withdrawn from the 35th AC in protest after a rule change mid-cycle. Following their withdrawal, Prada put a range of financial, technical and personnel investments behind New Zealand in exchange for the opportunity to be the Challenger of Record should the Kiwis win the cup in 2017. This agreement was rumoured to come with a number of caveats, principally that America’s Cup racing would revert to a monohull - said to be the preferred option for head of the Luna Rossa team Chairman Patrizio Bertelli.

Thus we ended up with a kiwi team, who had years of skill and knowledge in foiling cats and wingsails, needing to design a soft sailed monohull alongside their new Challenger of Record. The result, a foiling, keelless monohull with a twin-skinned, soft-wing sail is, to all intents and purposes, a monohull in name only. With large foils protruding from each side of the hull which can be raised and lowered, so that the windward foil is out of the water contributing to righting moment, essentially gives a similar dynamic to a catamaran once up and on the foils. The D-shaped mast section with two sails hoisted on each corner should behave in a way that is not too dissimilar to the wingsails we had been used to.

Key attributes

In an attempt to constrain some of the costs associated with a brand new design, some parts are One-Design. The mast is the same across all AC75s and the foil arms and foil arm lifting mechanism are all One-Design too. The class rules allow a reasonably large amount of flexibility in terms of hull shape, foil shape and sail control so these are all the areas that we can see differing approaches from the teams. However, there is a great deal hidden away that will also have a significant impact. Particularly at the top and bottom of the mainsail, which the rules offer a great deal of scope for different control options, but as it is all buried between the two sail skins and behind the mast, the only way we may make any observations about each team is by watching them sail and analysing how dynamic their trim is at the head of the sails… when we finally get to see them race in anger.

Emirates Team New Zealand (Defender)

Without doubt, the Kiwis are favourites to take the 36th Americas Cup. They have unparalleled knowledge when it come to foiling and have simulators and computing software far in advance of any other team. They also designed the rule for the new America’s Cup class alongside Luna Rossa, so presumably would have been able to start developing long before INEOS Team UK and American Magic.

Given the assumption that the Kiwis might well have got the jump on much of the rest of the fleet, it was something of a surprise to see their second boat come out of the shed looking quite different to their first.

Key features in hull design are the long boxy skeg running the full length of the hull, a wide, flat transom, and angular lines from the flat bottom into the slab sides. The transom is far more radical than any other boat in just how flat it is.

Initially it was thought that a key area would be the race to get foiling earliest, particularly in lighter winds. However, this very draggy, flat transom indicates that the Kiwis seem to believe they have sufficient power at low wind speeds to overcome this drag and get the boat onto foils.

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