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Sail-World NZ - Dec 4, 2020: America's Cup racing starts.. Vendee Globe attrition

by Richard Gladwell, 4 Dec 2020 01:54 NZDT 4 December 2020
Emirates Team New Zealand AC75 - Te Rehutai foils early into her first sail - November 20, 2020 © Richard Gladwell /

Welcome to's New Zealand e-magazine for December 3, 2020

It seems hard to believe that America's Cup racing of some form or another will get under way next week.

The America's Cup has arrived!

Five days of official practice and informal racing are expected to be sailed ahead of the America's Cup World Series and Xmas Cup.

Hopefully, that will bring to the end of a ritual dating back to September 2019, of chasing AC75's, test boats and later the arrival and testing of the Challengers.

The ritual usually starts at around 0830hrs seven days a week with a look at the Viaduct webcam to see which teams have gone out early. It finishes in the early hours of the next day when the story of the day has been written, the images processed and the study shots worked through.

I'm looking forward to the routine of a regatta - knowing where and when the boats are going to be sailing. Able to get on the water and get some shots, with the boats coming toward the photographers, rather than trying to avoid them - or having chase boats moving in to block the shot.

AC and Olympic Regattas are still hard work - generally, there's 10 hours work ahead once you step onto the dock at the end of racing - that's sometime after 2.30 am for Auckland. But it is a routine - and for that, I will be thankful.

This will be my 11th America's Cup - covered either for a monthly magazine from 1987 or since 2007 for Sail-World. Some have been covered remotely (the way most international media will be covering the upcoming Cup New Zealand). Or from on the water - which has been my privilege going back to 2010 - and the start of the high performance/high-speed/apparent wind sailing era of the America's Cup.

Surprisingly, every one of those days has been different in each of those America's Cups. You get up in the morning knowing that by the time you get to bed, you have no idea about what is going to unfold, and how you are going to cover it.

It's a hackneyed phrase - but in the Cup you do have to expect the unexpected - and the only way to cover that is to be in a photo-boat, on the course - and with a sideline seat to view the action.

We do have a content plan for the Cup and are comfortable with our ability to deliver around 10 America's Cup stories per day - I'm confident it will be our best AC coverage yet.

The past month has been a huge one for Sail-World. We went from having 750,000 stories opened in October (minimum of 30secs each) to over 1.26million stories opened by more than 420,000 unique viewers in November.

For sure we have found a sweet spot with the start of the Vendee Globe single-handed, non-stop round the world race, which has attracted a huge following everywhere but New Zealand. The America's Cup gives another boost as the event goes through its highs - when the second generation AC75's are launched - to average days when the boats are practice sailing. Hopefully the interest will return when the hard core racing starts.

We've been able to augment our coverage with some outstanding amateur video, following the lead set by Jason Smith in Bermuda - in the buildup to the 2017th America's Cup.

Vendee Globe led by Apivia

The main game in the sailing world for the past two weeks has been the Vendee Globe, currently led by Apivia, sailed by Charlie Dalin and designed by Emirates Team New Zealand design team member Guillaume Verdier. Apivia currently has a lead of over 230nm and has led the fleet 33 boat fleet since November 23. The fleet leaders are now past the Cape of Good Hope and have entered the Southern Ocean.

The past week has been notable for the sinking of one boat, and dramatic rescue of Kevin Escoffier from a liferaft, at night in five-metre seas and 20-25kt westerly winds by another competitor Jean Le Cam. It was an amazing piece of seamanship by Le Cam. Ironically the rescue was the return of the favour when it was Escoffier who rescued Le Cam, from his capsized from his IMOCA60 in the vicinity of Cape Horn.

The other drama has come from Hugo Boss (Alex Thomson) who had been leading the race for nine days, suffered some structural damage. He was able to repair during a fortuitous break in the weather, only to suffer a broken rudder. That forced the call to withdraw, and a distraught Thomson - one of the characters of the sport - is heading for South Africa.

Latest casualty is Arkea Paprec (Sebastien Simon) who was lying in fourth place overall, before striking a UFO with her starboard foil, damaging the foil and its casing.

Several of the high profile entries for the race - Hugo Boss, PRB and Cheval (Jeremie Beyou) have suffered severe damage forcing their withdrawal or in the case of a Cheval, a return to the start, effecting repairs and then restarting - he is currently 3500nm behind the race leader.

An intriguing Cup

However for Kiwis, the main game in town is the upcoming America's Cup, and the more immediate three-day America's Cup World Series followed by the one day Xmas Cup.

It is hard to know what to expect. We have a class which has never raced boat on boat. Co-ordinated sailing is prohibited - unless sanctioned by the Regatta Director. That situation is likely to change next week - on days yet to be announced.

We don't know how seriously the teams will take the practice racing. It is expected to include two days of free-sailing in which the training in a "coordinated manner" rule is suspended. That will be followed by and the expected three days of organised practice racing with proper starts and umpiring systems in place. Given the vagaries of the Auckland weather, it is hard to see this series running to its full schedule, given the low upper wind limit and 6.5kt minimum wind speed.

The AC75 Class Rules has already proven to be a good one. The first four boats built to it were still in racing condition when retired. Of the first four boats built to the AC72 Class Rule, two suffered catastrophic accidents, and there was one death. The AC75's have suffered several capsizes, high-speed nose dives, and multiple sky-leaps - when the 7500kg boat jumps completely clear of the water after the rudder wing ventilates usually exiting a high speed gybe.

The most spectacular incident of all was the sky-leap and nose-dive by American Magic's second AC75, Patriot - which must have ticked many boxes on thir structural test list.

The key point from all of this is that the AC75's are a tough, robust class and a credit to those who developed the class rule, and to the team designers who have specified the very different boats that have evolved.

So far eight AC75's have been built, six of those are all quite different design concepts - which is to be expected from a restricted class rule. The only two that look closely related are the two from Luna Rossa. Obviously some designs may be quicker that others. But my expectation is that the event will be won by the sailors negotiating tricky harbour classes, where an inherent speed advantage can quickly be erased by picking the right windshift. Or, more importantly getting in stronger pressure and be sailing at 4-8kts faster than your opponent - remembering that the AC75's sail at two, three of four times true windspeed. That's a lot bigger speed advantage than you'll ever get out of a design computer or simulator.

COVID-19 has forced many commentators to try and evaluate the various AC75 hull shapes from video, or still images. This is quite a misleading approach. The AC75 hulls are very subtle but complex three dimensional hull shapes, which can't be appreciated in two-dimensional video or still images which flatten off the hull subtleties.

The only way to evaluate a hull is by by walking around and underneath it and then forming a 3-D view in your mind. I've only seen two and a half of the Version 2 AC75 hulls, by physically walking around them. We could only see half of Luna Rossa at the launch as it was roped off. For all their computational genesis, they are definitely works of the art of yacht design. Additionally the complex curves of the polished hulls reflect the light in some very deceiving ways, and what looks like a flared bow from one angle seems like a flat surface from another. Sorry, but video and still images don't do these designs justice.

Hopefully, the Practice Racing will also give some insights into the broadcast systems to be used in the Prada and America's Cups. While Kiwis are well catered with free to air coverage via TVNZ, those in other territories are holding their breath given the broadcast arrangements for the previous America's Cup.

The key to global coverage is to repeat what was done in 2013 with the racing being carried live and free via Youtube. That will happen again in the 2021 events - in addition to the territorial broadcast coverage, some of which has been announced, but there is more to come.

Working the time zones for TV coverage is always tricky, but the scheduled 4.00 pm start for racing in New Zealand works relatively well around the world - except for some parts of Europe and UK - where the choice is to stay up very late or get up early, or record and view later.

Of course, the Youtube coverage can be watched at any time - and if viewers can block out hearing the result ahead of time - then they too can view it "live".

In the wider context, the sailing and non-sailing world can look forward to a spectacular free to air sailing contest between the most radical boats in the sport. The fact that they sail at up to four times the speed of the wind is an amazing testament to the power of Nature.

For all the latest news from NZ and around the world see the Top 50 stories below.

Between newsletters, you can follow all the racing and developments in major and local events on or by scrolling to the top of the site, select New Zealand, and get all the latest news and updates from the sailing world.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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