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America's Cup Rialto: September 12 - The 4 o'clocker from Parnell - the first Summer breeze

by Richard Gladwell/ 13 Sep 15:34 NZST 8 September 2020
Emirates Team New Zealand - Waitemata Harbour - September 12, 2020 - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell /

One of the key points of difference for the 2021 America's Cup is the start time of the racing - 4 pm, in the afternoon.

That's a couple of hours later than usual, and often the racing will have been concluded by the scheduled start time for the coming Prada and America's Cup.

The reason was apparent yesterday - on a fine Spring day - maybe not atypical of a Summer's day with an offshore breeze. With New Zealand not yet on Daylight Saving Time, we saw the first of one of the first of the "4 o'clockers from Parnell".

Those of us who have spent a fair proportion of our sailing lives racing off Takapuna, on Auckland's North Shore, are all too familiar with the breeze that has the moniker of "the four o'clocker from Parnell". When there is no wind, or a fluctuating breeze all afternoon, a glance in the direction of Auckland's south shore, and the suburb of Parnell, about 4.00 pm or slightly earlier will often reveal the signs of the imminent arrival of a cracking breeze, coming down the harbour right on schedule.

It's like the famous Fremantle Doctor of the 1987 America's Cup - but a lot more localised.

The obvious signs are a sea of whitecaps picked out against the green of North Head and Bastion Point and cruising yachts rail down in the breeze sailing close-hauled into the harbour entrance.

On Saturday, Emirates Team New Zealand left the dock at 1000hrs in a 15kts breeze, which eased during the day back to 10-12kts, and Te Aihe could be seen sailing off Auckland's East Coast Bays with what looked to be lighter air sails including Code Zeros. Luna Rossa's recon team were first out, with the other two team's cutting the corner at North Head, catching their prey, as Te Aihe did their usual run through dinghy class racing off the North Shore clubs - giving their young fans a buzz, before heading deeper into the Gulf.

As well as the club fleets, a school of orca were also there in the Rangitoto Channel to greet Te Aihe (the dolphin), and carry out some recon of their own.

The team was off the dock relatively early. They have not been sailing for a week - while American Magic trained on Sunday, Monday and Thursday - but missed Friday and yesterday. One would guess that the Kiwis' objective was to test a new wing design against an earlier model - in the cut-over range for the Code Zero.

The familiar profile of the Code Zero, set off the bowsprit, could be clearly seen against the sun, many miles down towards Whangaparaoa at the northern extremity of the old America's Cup course area.

Emirates Team New Zealand's weather forecasting, and particularly picking the changes in the wind strength have usually been spot on. By the time they had done the warm-up and reached the test area in the old America's Cup course, the wind had dropped to the required Code Zero cross-over (which in the AC72 was about 10-11kts, and due to time limits on the San Francisco course in 2013, was not much use below that strength).

The merits of Code Zero's in the current America's Cup are one of the great imponderables, and particularly when to drop the sail - not that it can be dropped - but must be furled, where it adds drag, before being lowered. The Code Zero question can only be resolved on the water, and maybe later in the performance simulator using the acquired data.

Today's test was probably more to look at the crossover and performance of one wing against the other. Both wing profiles were seen on the test boat Te Kahu in the test program run while the AC75 was on her five month trip to Europe and return - chasing COVID-cancelled AC World Series regattas in Cagliari and Portsmouth.

Te Aihe took a long while to sail back, and run the gauntlet of photographers who almost reside on North Head. The arrival of a large container ship apparently had priority. The wait meant Te Aihe caught the prescribed 4 o'clock breeze, which was recorded at 20kts, gusting 23kts - at the Northern Leading beacon, at 4.00pm. Unusually it was from the SSW, and cold. Over the late afternoon the breeze dropped to a still very useful 13kts-15kts blowing across the harbour, at an angle which allowed Te Aihe to sail straight home after a tack or two at the harbour entrance..

Swinging the large container ship into her berth in the breeze was a challenge, maybe taking longer than planned.

Te Aihe obliged with another run down and back up the Rangitoto Channel, with her red sails glowing in the late afternoon sun with her red sails glowing in the late afternoon sun, before heading for her base - arriving at 1620hrs.

That made for a long six-hour session, with the final stanzas giving an intriguing insight as to how the racing could shape up starting in mid-December.

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