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Two freak incidents test SailGP Technologies' capabilities

by Richard Gladwell/ 17 Apr 2023 01:01 NZST 17 March 2023
The F50 Amokura, hit by lightning in Singapore, gets a final checkout at SailGP Technologies, Warkworth © Weston Cowley/SailGP Technologies

The past two months have tested SailGP Technologies like no other.

A few minutes after winning Singapore Sail Grand Prix in mid-January, the Kiwi team's F50 was struck by lightning while being towed on its foils back to the technical base for de-rigging.

All systems aboard the 50ft foiling wingsailed catamaran were fried. It remained to be seen if the aluminium honeycomb core material in the hulls had suffered a similar fate.

Four weeks later, after the first day of racing for the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix in Sydney, as the F50s were being craned ashore and de-rigged, a localised weather bomb struck, catching the crane with a wingsail attached.

The catastrophic incident caused the cancellation of the second day of racing - with ripples potentially affecting the remaining two events in Season 3.

Now in its third season, SailGP has expanded to nine national teams, racing in 11 events and venues across 12 months - all supported by SailGP Technologies.

Now at the leading edge of the high-performance racing scene, SailGP events are adrenaline pumping with new developments for more action on and off the water. Following this SailGP Technologies have accelerated the growth of their manufacturing facility and the tech teams to ensure the F50s are in one-design racing trim.

SailGP's last two incidents were a double-whammy that had the potential to derail the rest of the Season 3 SailGP program significantly.

"In the Sydney incident, every boat had some significant damage," SailGP Technologies Managing Director David Ridley explains.

"Because the boats were in the smallest wing configuration, we had all the components for the two larger wings on site. So they were either in one of those two tents, which were destroyed. And luckily, we had six components in the site containers. All of the wingsail components in the tents had significant damage varying from complete destruction to small, limited amounts of damage.

"We had all of our rigging sets for the other two sizes of masts that we use. And 18 parts of them were completely unusable. The rigging is one of the bottlenecks we have to deal with now. So we've got everyone working as hard as we can to get those going. But I think we're looking pretty good.

"The tech team is amazing," Ridley purrs. "They do a full assessment. We've done this many times now - so there's definitely no panic on our side."

"In the wingsail incident, the repairs were started in Sydney by the on-site Tech Team. Their initial task is to pull everything apart, assess it, and do a complete check over all the componentry. Then generally, we will ultrasound the entire structure or whatever is the focus of the repair.

"Once we have a complete list of damage, the team of boat builders, composite engineers, hydraulic technicians and electricians begin constructing and replacing all damaged parts and spare parts.

"Our biggest drama was the shipping because the SailGP regattas are so close together on the calendar. Fortunately we have our global shipping partner Kuehne + Nagel to expedite the process and pre clear containers in Sydney.”

"We sent the New Zealand F50 boat from Singapore to New Zealand, and it arrived after the wings came in from Sydney."

"So we were seriously restricted in time and could only start working on the New Zealand boat after the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix event had finished.

"We had to figure out how much work we could do on the tech site at the event and how much we would do in the Warkworth facility. It's a real juggling act.

Brand synergies

"The rebrand from Core Builders Composites to SailGP Technologies obviously leans heavily on the SailGP branding, which is crucial for our long-term, externally focussed growth," Ridley explains.

"The "technologies" part describes not only the company we want to become but the level of quality and expertise that we want to develop."

"As a technologies company, we've got six pillars. One is manufacturing, for which the main site is here in Warkworth. The others are design; control systems; data, and software; LiveLineFX, our broadcast overlays software; and the Tech team - the group that puts all the boats together and runs the events.

Over the past two years SailGP Technologies has made a seismic shift from being a boat building company into a technology company.

“A third of our work is now in aerospace,” explains Managing Director David Ridley - who is also a former ILCA7 Masters world champion.

“We've gone through some pretty rapid growth since I started two years ago, and we've have almost doubled the number of people on-site to 100 at the Warkworth facility”

"We're running a business-to-business model, where we help other businesses succeed without them having to develop their own technology. We're open to helping others succeed, which will help us grow and move forward," he adds.

"We still build winning race boats, but we're here to help other sectors to reach their own goals."

Impressive facilities

SailGP Technologies' offering gives other clients and businesses ready access to some of the most impressive manufacturing facilities in the composite engineering industry.

Those assets in Warkworth include a 5-Axis Gantry CNC with a three dimensional working area of 18m x 6m x 3m - one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. Its almost 60 ft long bed allows SailGP Technologies to construct a one-piece male plug for a TP52 - meaning precision accuracy to the designed shape and a perfectly fair hull requiring the minimum weight of paint and elimination of the need for fairing filler.

"We have built three 52ft foot race boats, including Sled, overall winner of the 2021 52 Super Series Season championship and 2021 Rolex TP52 World Champions. Caro, which won Division 1 of 2022 Hamilton Island Race Week. One other TP52 is complete and awaiting shipment - the fourth is midway through its build.

"We've helped several teams with various components and foils for the last America's Cup", Ridley says. "And we are currently in negotiations to partner up with a couple of teams for the components for the 2024 Cup. And we've built a lot of aerospace components - this is a growing industry for us."

The shift to large wingsailed multihulled race boats continued after the 2010 America's Cup, with the selection of the AC72 wingsailed catamaran as the 2013 America's Cup Class.

SailGP Technologies expanded its capability to match the construction demands of the new breed, which first appeared in the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco, and has continued through various mutations ever since. The approach has been designer driven, as new ideas are tested on the simulator and then constructed using advanced composite engineering and building techniques.

"As boats are going faster with foils and wingsails, we have to be a lot more accurate to achieve performance and strength," Ridley says. "The loads on these foils are getting so big, and you can't make them in two halves like you could for your 10-metre catamaran that sails around Auckland Harbour - the glue bond in the middle just fails every single time.,"

Stages of damage assessment

"With the lightning strike in Singapore Sail Grand Prix, we were unlucky and lucky," Ridley says.

“We were unlucky, we got hit, but we were fortunate that no one was badly injured on the boat, aside from a witness burn mark on the hand of Demark athlete Martin Kirketerp delivery crew, who was holding the rigging when the lightning struck."

"Three F50s were being towed on their foils at this time - all in the same area - and heading for the derigging area. Any of the three could have been hit. Now, all we can do is move forward and learn from the experience."

"Now, when the boats are on the moorings, we've got lightning protection spikes to run up the mast. Essentially they collect the lightning and then transfer it into the ocean instead of going through the boat itself.

Ridley explains that SailGP Technologies have a fairly standard procedure they follow when there is an incident where a boat or mast could be damaged as a result of any incident.

"The visual inspection is the first thing that happens.

"We have two people on the tech site who can do any visual inspection required. They are backed up by two ultrasound-qualified people here in Warkworth.

"We've got two types of ultrasounding we can use for monolithic structures - a solid concept, solid steel or a solid structure.

"We also organise another type of ultrasounding that does cored structures - so we can ultrasound the bond between very thin laminates of less than a millimetre to an aluminium or Nomex Honeycomb core.

"Because we've never had a lightning strike happen before on the F50s, which use an aluminium honeycomb core. We didn't know how the core would react to a lightning strike. So we didn't know if there was likely to be an issue - we know that aluminium and carbon don't like each other.

"If you get salt water in the core, there are problems. We didn't know if it would be fizzed out on the inside or if it would be fine.

"All of our components get a thorough inspection before they leave the facility here, and they get the same treatment if they get damaged.

For now, SailGP Technologies' large multi-building facility in Warkworth is quiet.

"Last week, we had half of our staff working on the repairs for Sydney," Ridley explains. "And then, if Christchurch goes well in the next few weeks, we'll have very few people working on SailGP for the next few weeks. We expect to have 98% of people back on their regular projects. "

Nevertheless, at least some of the SailGP Technologies' eyes will be focused on the worklist for the final event of Season 3 in San Francisco in early May.

Additional Images:

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