America’s Cup - Report

Prada Cup: Weekend One

February 12, 2021
Yanmar Holdings Co., Ltd.

YANMAR, the Official Marine Partner of the 36th America’s Cup brings you pro-sailor Sam Gilmour from Yanmar Racing who will present a series of articles breaking down the details of the America’s Cup racing and giving us his unique perspective.

by Sam Gilmour from Yanmar Racing

America's Cup Final Report
Prada Cup Final, Weekend Two
Prada Cup Final Races 1-4
Prada Cup Semi Finals
Prada Cup: Weekend Two

Welcome

Welcome to the first of a number of reports on the America’s Cup racing currently taking place in Auckland, New Zealand over the few months. YANMAR are the Official Marine Partner of the 36th America’s Cup and on their behalf, I am going to provide a unique insight into the racing and explain some of the more in-depth elements on what’s happening out on the water. My name is Sam Gilmour, I’m a professional sailor representing YANMAR Racing as part of their sailing team and I look forward to filling in both the major events and finer details of the racing over the next few months.

I’m focusing today on this weekend’s racing, and analysis of the performances, however, be ready for more topics to be covered, including:
- a technical discussion on the boats (what makes them so unique)
- the teams and people behind them
- discussion on the critical tactics and strategies on what it takes to win a match in the world of the America’s Cup.

Introduction

This past weekend has been host to the opening round robins of the Prada Cup, which saw both spectacular and terrifying moments on the Hauraki Gulf in Auckland.

It culminated with an unbelievable capsize from the American Magic syndicate - who were looking to take out their first race of the series - with the yacht coming just moments away from sinking. Fortunately, the yacht was recovered and American Magic will fight another day - albeit from the repair shed for the next couple of weeks.
The big surprise of the weekend was from INEOS team UK, who went unbeaten in their four matches, a big contrast to what had been seen at the lead up regatta of 2020.

America’s Cup & Prada Cup Format

The format of racing see’s the challenge syndicates going head-to-head, in a six week series, known as the Prada Cup, whereby the winner goes on to face the defender of the America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand, who won it in 2017 and brought it home for their loyal base in New Zealand. The America’s Cup competition itself is always a race between two boats, known as match racing.

The Prada Cup is no different - being the direct qualifier to the America’s Cup. Eventually, 3 will be whittled down to 1, the worthy opponent for Emirates Team New Zealand. This past weekend were the opening races of racing to decide who that opponent will be.

Weekend Recap

The challengers of the Prada Cup, INEOS Team UK, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team and American Magic, each raced four matches over three days, and needed to put together their finest work in order to get points on the board.
An America’s Cup campaign is a four year journey, and getting to the start line is no easy feat, although it was mind blowing to see just how close the performance between teams were.
INEOS had been given a great deal of criticism leading up to racing, due to their poor form in the Prada Christmas Regatta of 2020, however, the team showed just how big a difference one month can make, and came out swinging. Skipper Sir Ben Ainslie showed dominance in the starts, and the boat performance was much improved (more on this later). They ultimately went 4 from 4 in races.
Luna Rossa, showed their consistency, coming away with 2 wins - but had tight races across the board - particularly on Day 3, against INEOS, where the race went back and forward, neither team able to control the race. Ultimately, INEOS got the better of Luna Rossa in both their races, however Luna Rossa proved they are competitive outfit looking to progress far into the schedule.
Finally, American Magic, went away scoreless - although this was not the headline that you’ll have seen following the racing. The team suffered a high speed capsize - the result of a heavy squall of wind, combined with a difficult manoeuvre - that saw close to catastrophic damage to the boat, with a significant breach in the hull meaning they were close to sinking. They rushed to contain the flooding, with each of the teams lending a hand to control the situation, in what was a remarkable act of sportsmanship.

The team eventually got the boat to the dock, however, resulting water damage means repairs are not limited to the hull itself, but also the foil cant system (FCS), as well as all electronics on board. The team now estimate at least a week of repairs are ahead of them, and will be an incredible story to watch if able to get racing again.

The Boats

In 2021, the America’s Cup is seeing a new design of racing yachts, the AC75 class. An incredible display of engineering, and the first time a fully foiling monohull has been produced at the size we are seeing.
The yachts 75 feet of hull length with two separate foil arms that controlled by a hydraulic system allows teams to produce a fully foiling yacht. This trend of foiling follows on from the previous two America’s Cups, where foiling catamarans where the boat of choice.
Being a new class rule, differences in potential performance are significant, and each day teams hit the water, there are new features being tested and modified. For the designers and sailors, adaptation and new ideas are a critical component of winning this America’s Cup.

The Course

The race is a traditional windward leeward course - with teams starting on an upwind and completing three laps. In a trend we are often seeing, the edges of the course are marked ‘out of bounds’, and teams must make a number of manoeuvres (tacks and gybes) on their way up the course - with the object being to make the race tighter.

Race Analysis

As an observer from afar, something that stood out in the races, was how much strategy and the small details will matter in winning a match, and although the faster boat might have an advantage, strategy can easily win or lose you a race.

Teams are required to ‘enter’ the start line at 2 minutes before the start, with the port tack entry boat allowed to enter at 2:10, in order for then to pass around the starboard entry boat. This timing is a critical component of the start, in setting the team up to be in the best position coming into the actual start. For the port boat, their goal is to push far into the pre-start area, before turning back with correct timing to hit the start line. The starboard boat is generally trailing the boat away from the line, and must make a decision, whether to lead the other team back (if they believe their opponent is late), or trail (if they believe their opponent is early).

This decision on timing is absolutely critical to get right, and generally will incorporate the teams’ first leg strategy, as the timing decides which end of the line one will start at as well as on which side they are on their competitor.
It’s also important to note that these decisions are also impacted by high tech onboard software - which can analyse the distance from the start line against the boat speed of the yacht to give an anticipated time to the line. This obviously takes away much of the guess work in timing but can change unpredictably by a wind shift or change in wind strength. Considering the boats are moving at speeds around 30-40 knots, things tend to happen very quickly!

In saying that, often the starts having been easily won by one team with better timing or a clearer strategy that gets them to the favoured course side quickest.
INEOS were the clearest in making this decision, and particularly on race day one, where their race strategy was to be on the right of their opponent - there was more wind and a more favourable wind direction to the mark on this side of the course.
When there is only one opponent, your focus only needs to be on out-positioning, and they were particularly clever in how they went about this.

Race 1
Race 1 between INEOS v American Magic was a relatively ‘even’ start, the teams seemed to come in with opposite strategies - INEOS looking for the right, and American Magic the left. Ultimately it was the closest the boats came all race - as the right proved to be persistently favoured and INEOS sailed away, finishing over 1 minute ahead.
American Magic had the opportunity to keep it close, however the choice of a different strategy was obvious the entire match and the lead continued to expand all the way until the finish.
Race 2
In the second match of the day, Luna Rossa made the decision to push for a hook on INEOS in the pre start, a move that would have forced INEOS to tack away, jeopardising their start.
A high risk play, they ultimately missed the hook and were then late up to the start line. In addition, this meant they ended up to the left of INEOS. In a one way track - it proved to be the deciding factor.
It was an important misjudgement to note by helmsman Jimmy Spithill - clearly looking back, he would preferred the right side. The team had the opportunity to take the right, had they hung up high inside INEOS, and forced the British team early to the line by putting the bow down when the opportunity arose.
In hindsight, these details would have been obvious to the team, and I believe their debrief would have been had an interesting discussion around this situation.
Race 3
Day two saw very marginal foiling conditions - boats were on and off the foils all day, and it seemed difficult to consistently keep the boats going.
Race 3 saw Luna Rossa and American Magic match up. Interestingly, American Magic took a chance in the pre start, attempting to force a penalty on Luna Rossa, however, in the process fell off their foils.
This proved an important mistake, unable to get back onto the foils, they started 30 seconds behind - a gap that would have made a big difference to the outcome. Ultimately, Luna Rossa finished minutes ahead, however, it was the type of race whereby a small change here or there could have made a big difference to the result - as the teams fell off their foils a number of times
So often, we see the difficulty factor of sailing these boats, and taking a ‘low risk’ approach, I believe, appears to be under-rated.
Race 4
INEOS v American Magic, once again, American Magic falling off the foil in the pre-start, as they approached the line early. Had they been early, they would have received a penalty, although that would have been a minuscule loss in the scheme of things. A penalty generally requires the team to slow down two boat lengths relative to their opponents.
Once again, it was a critical mistake, unable to get on the foil for a significant period after the start. This mistake, not accepting the penalty for an early entry, meant the Americans remained on the back foot throughout the race.
Day two, for the American Magic team was one to forget - perhaps it had been a long time between races, as the racing ‘smarts’, seemed missing for them.
Race 5
Day three, saw wild conditions in terms of both sea state and wind conditions, as teams battled around the course, and boat speeds increased significantly. It was the day of boat handling - starting mistakes were fewer, and critical racing points were keeping a fast boat throughout.
In race 5, between INEOS and Luna Rossa, saw Luna Rossa take an early lead, after one lap, however, made the decision not to cover and keep their opponent close. Using the course geometry to their advantage, INEOS were able to take the favoured gate and with it, the lead.
From my perspective, Luna Rossa’s mistake was allowing leverage, choosing not to keep the race tight and the right side of the course coming into the top mark. The team had the option, and ability to make it more difficult for team INEOS, by keeping the race closer, limited INEOS’s leverage, they could have controlled the race coming into the top mark.

Race 6
The capsize. Ultimately American Magic’s capsize was an extreme disappointment for the outfit, as they finally appeared to be on their way to a win, out classing Luna Rossa completely in terms of boat performance the entire race.
With a significant rain squall, the team were caught in a tough position, needed to complete a tack-bearaway, a tough manoeuvre to complete in any conditions.
As they approached the final mark, the wind peaked at close to 25 knots, the very upper wind range for racing. These boats are most stable at high speeds, with loads on the boat increase as boat speeds reduce. As such, manoeuvres are best made at high speed.
Putting these two factors together, ie low boat speed (due to the tack), and a very high wind speed ultimately combined for catastrophic results. My feeling is that rushing to bear away out of the tack added to the dilemma and destruction of the capsize.
It was clear, straight away, that there was an issue after the capsize. As the boat was righted, the hull lay much lower in the water. The teams’ support craft rushed to keep the yacht afloat, and ultimately 16 water pumps were deployed inside the hull trying to keep water out. Support boats from all teams dug in to help out, in what was a unique display of sportsmanship.

It took the team until well after sunset to bring the boat back to the dock, and I imagine a long night following this, they began plans for repairs immediately.
If they are able to get back on the water for the upcoming racing, it will be an incredible result. Their resilience could prove critical in what is a very late stage of the campaign.

That wraps up the first weekend of racing, I expect more fireworks to come and as the teams continue to improve, for the performance of the yachts to come closer. It is the beginning of a spectacular few months of sailing, and I look forward to commenting on the up’s-and-downs and hope to provide you with a better understanding on the racing.

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