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Gladwell's Line: AC40 and Chase Zero test sends powerful 'Green' message from America's Cup

by Richard Gladwell/ 20 Sep 02:06 PDT
Emirates Team NZ's AC40 - Foiling Trial - September 20, 2022 © Richard Gladwell -

Emirates Team New Zealand put the first AC40 through a foiling trial this afternoon on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour.

As with Te Kahu, the team's test boat from the 2021 America's Cup, there was no public launch ceremony - the boat was splashed with only team members present.

Recognised as being a good omen in Maori tradition, there was a flick of rain around the launch and testing proceedings - said to be the tears of joy of ancestors. KZ-7 was launched by Dame Naomi James in the pouring rain, and it is hard to remember a launch of ETNZ's in recent times when it didn't rain at some stage of the proceedings - and the rained on boats have all been quick.

The AC40 passed the foiling trial with flying colours (from what could be viewed from ashore). It was hard to believe that this was a test, with the AC40 lifting out easily and staying in level flight. It is assumed that it was under automated flight control. Other foiling trials we have witnessed usually involved the boat - test boat or AC75 - going through a range of dives and rear ups - checking the extremities of the manual flight control system.

A feature of the trial was the AC40 being towed by the Emirates Team New Zealand hydrogen powered foiling chase boat, Chase Zero, which seemed to be able to pull the AC40 effortlessly. It was a marked contrast to the team's regular chaseboat, also in attendance, packed with designers, engineers and the like - with 1800hp on the transom.

If ever the America's Cup wanted to give the world and sponsors a "Green" message, this was it. And a powerful one, too. We're looking forward to seeing, in the next few days of a foiling yacht sailing at 35-40kts on wind power alone, accompanied by a hydrogen powered chase boat travelling at a similar speed. That should be a big step forward for the Cup and sport.

Normally foiler, wind or hydrogen powered, going past at 30-40kts makes no more noise than foil-whine. But that's offset by the roar of 1800hp of high revving chase boat engines. Today on the fly-pasts, the silence was deafening.

Four crew were on the AC40, which will be used for the Youth and Womens America's Cups, as well as a test boat for the teams. The AC40 is expected to be used for a combined regatta, yet to be formally announced, to be staged in Sardinia in the latter half of 2023. It will also be used for two similar events ahead of the 2024 America's Cup in Barcelona with the final Preliminary Event for Barcelona 2024, being sailed in AC75 raceboats that the teams will use in the 2024 America's Cup Match and Challenger Selection Series.

The AC40, unlike previous pseudo America's Cup classes, looks like a regular one-design class. On that basis it should have good appeal and is telegenic. It appears to be a one design - and unlike the design multiplicity and variants in race boats designed, over the years, to the various America's Cup Class Rules.

The test was undertaken on Auckland's upper harbour - off the Chelsea Sugar Works in flat water with several runs being made at low speed, marginal foiling speed and high speed with boat chase boat and AC40 up on their foils.

This area is low traffic, aside from the occasional ferry wake, and is flat water - ideal for testing foilers. How the AC40 handles rough water will be watched with interest.

As well as being a first serious workout for Chase Zero, this was the first outing for the new Reconnaissance Team, who never seemed too far away from today's action.

The output from the Recon team will be made available tonight to all other America's Cup teams, who will get a report, view photos and video if available of the day's test. That process is repeated for every team, every time one of the teams in the 2024 America's Cup goes sailing or even just comes out of the team shed.

Surprisingly the AC40 was emblazoned with generic graphics - presumably to allow images to be used by other teams for publicity purposes, without compromising their own program sponsors. Chase Zero - on a longish tow carried the livery of two team sponsors - Toyota and Omega.

The AC40 was launched from the team's new location in the former INEOS Team UK base, on Wynyard Point, and opposite the historic Percy Vos shipyard, established in 1922, and which built many of Auckland's early race yachts, many of which form the classic yacht fleet in Auckland. The yard was saved from demolition and has been restored as a heritage project, as part of the rejuvenation of the area as part of the 2021 America's Cup facilities - when the old fuel and hazardous substances tanks were removed.

As well as being the launch site for the AC40, the Wynyard Point area will be the launch site/service park for the 11th round of the 2022 World Rally Championship from September 29 to October 2, the Rally is returning to New Zealand after a 10 year absence and is filling with team containers.

It is expected that the AC40 will start sailing trials later this week - weather permitting. Currently the forecast is not great, with Auckland transitioning into Spring - with ideal winds of 8-12kts with overcast skies and some rain.

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