America’s Cup - Report
Prada Cup Semi-Finals
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
Week 3 of the Prada Cup constitutes the selection series for the challenger of the America’s Cup and its exhilarating racing is now getting towards the pointy end. With INEOS Team UK through to the Prada Cup final, it was Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and American Magic fighting it out in a first to 4 points series.
During the last week we saw American Magic putting their “AC75 Patriot” back in the water following repairs to the damage made on the boat after the team’s dramatic capsize two weekends ago. For the US based team, it was always going to be a tough run in the fight back to the starting line, having had the experience of the capsize so close in their minds. Not only were they pushing to get the boat repaired in time, but the improvements we’ve seen on Luna Rossa have been impressive thus far, an even tougher prospect for the Americans.
Day one of racing saw fresh conditions with wind close to the 23 knot limit set in place by organisers, and it certainly showed.
Within the first minute of the pre-start, we could immediately see that the Americans were having some difficulty with controlling their boat, to be expected, having had just two days sailing prior to race day. This being said, often with this type of sailing, we see a tradeoff between speed and control - perhaps the Americans were focused only on getting the most out of the boat?
Luna Rossa on the other hand, were showing that they had made a big jump forward in a number of areas during the week of training. There has been criticism towards the Italian team from many in the sailing community regarding the communication style onboard in relation to teams’ race strategy and boat handling, and by listening in, it was clear that the Italian team had turned a leaf.
Uniquely, Luna Rossa have two helmsmen driving the boat, allowing them to remain on one side of the boat for the entirety of the race. Whilst one drives, the other controls the foils to ensure the boat is at optimal flight and performance. Luna Rossa’s two helmsman, Spithill and Bruni are both champions in their own right, so this technique comes with its advantages - the helmsmen are able to help one another to improve and discuss ideas, as well as being able to stay in a single position while not needing to switch sides in the boat in every maneuver.
However, the Italian team’s disadvantage has shown to come when they are discussing race strategy and in their execution in certain situations. Since the Italians have two helmsmen, a role of a tactician has been forgone and instead it is shared between skippers. We have already seen this create confusion and indecision between the two and perhaps the reason for losses in several of their close encounters. Leading up to racing, the Italian team said they had spent significant time on this issue, and it truly showed. Decisions were sharp and tactical choices left little for the Americans to do.
Races 1 and 2 were almost carbon copies. The Americans looked unstable in the pre-start, whilst the Italians, totally in control, put their opponent in a difficult position, started ahead and never looked back.
Although at times it looked like American Magic were keeping the race close, the instability of their boat meant that many of the team’s maneuvers appeared difficult. In both races, the American team reached a ‘cavitation point’ at the top-mark bear away. This happens at high speeds when water is vaporised on the foil, limiting the lift that is generated and making it extremely difficult to maneuver. It’s a phenomenon that happens on these foils around 50 knots. We saw American Magic reached speeds over 53 knots in some of their most disastrous maneuvers.
For American Magic, when this happened, they were forced to drop off the foils and make a gybe down speed, enough to lose around 1000 metres on the race track relative to Luna Rossa.
Luna Rossa were then up 2-0, and looking strong heading into day two.
Race 3 and 4 were held in lighter winds, perhaps more manageable by both teams. It became more of a battle of strategy and start execution.
When race 3 got underway, it was a nice close start, with neither team at an obvious advantage. Soon though, Luna Rossa slowly eked out a lead, sailing upwind in a slightly higher mode, making their course to the mark slightly more efficient. Once ahead, Luna Rossa covered and pushed this lead slowly but surely throughout the course of the race, scorecard now 3-0.
For American Magic, race four had everything on the line. They needed an aggressive lead at the start to be able to control the lead, or at least, be close enough at the top mark to be able to attack if an opportunity came up.
Although the race started close, and appeared to be one that would come down to the wire, it was the boat that ultimately let the team down, as reliability issues with the foil arms meant the team couldn’t lower its foils going into tacks and gybe. Unfortunately, that was it, Luna Rossa continued to race on and the Americans limped around the course to close out their America’s Cup campaign.
Nevertheless, this kind of foil arm issue wasn’t unexpected, having had just a couple of days sailing following the rebuild, reliability was always going to be tough. It was an emotional ending for the American campaign, but in famous words of origin of the America’s Cup, ‘there is no second’.
Coming up shortly, we have the tantalising prospect of the Prada Cup final between the two top challengers. The British outfit of INEOS team UK, led by the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, Sir Ben Ainslie, will be in a cut throat race off with the ever improving Italian Luna Rossa.
Racing will get underway February 13th, in a 13 race series, the winning team being the first to 7 points. My analysis is that it will be a tight series of races and that we will see some significant technical improvements from both sides over the next couple of weeks.
Emirates Team New Zealand are waiting in the wind for the winner and with their foil and boat design radically different to the challengers, there certainly are going to be fireworks to come.