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Gladwell's Line: AC40 has impressive first day's sailing on Course E

by Richard Gladwell/ 21 Sep 06:54 PDT
Emirates Team NZ's AC40 - passes the 150yr old Bean Rock lighthouse at the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour - September 21, 2022 © Richard Gladwell, / nz

Emirates Team New Zealand had an impressive day sailing their new AC40 for the first time. Indeed it was the first sailing for the America's Cup champions, for 18 months. The SailGP squad were away getting ready for this weekend's SailGP regatta in Cadiz.

Today's crew comprised Nathan Outteridge, Nick Burridge, Ray Davies and Sam Meech - Bronze medalist at Rio 2016 in the Men's Laser . All were having their first sail in a foiling monohull. So that considered, it was a good effort.

After yesterday's murk, the morning was bright but with light winds.

The Kiwis may have been out of it for 18 months, but were quickly back to running their predictable, military-like sailing schedule:

  • 10.00hrs Boat to crane
  • 10.30hrs Boat into water
  • 11.30hrs Dockout

The mini-armada consisting of a regulation America's Cup Chase boat, and a 2021 America's Cup umpire boat now re-purposed as a Recon boat, pursued the AC40 towed once again by the bug-like, hydrogen-powered foiling Chase Boat Zero down a barely rippling Waitemata harbour. They hooked up with a second big chase boat in the Channel, which presumably had been sent ahead to check the conditions - with a modest northerly forecast.

The fleet headed off to Motuihe Island, a former prisoner of war camp and quarantine about 5nm distant, before heading down the Channel to the Course E, of the 2021 America's Cup, and set up off Beachlands and the Pine Harbour marina.

There they were getting beyond binocular range - even for a pair of 14x stabilised Fujinons - however, the AC40 seemed to be sailing well enough in what would have been flat water, but with a likely patchy breeze - upset by the surrounding islands. The area is near completely landlocked - and quite a different proposition from the long lolloping cross-swell of Barcelona.

A few hours later, the fleet appeared from whence there had disappeared, and near-straight lined back to North Head, sailing in a light-moderate northerly. At North Head, there was a conflab with the chase boats, before they sailed a couple of short laps up and down the channel before turning right and foiling up the harbour in time to catch the early rush hour.

The AC40 sailing we saw was impressive for a first day in light winds of 10-12kts off North Head, blowing from the North and straight down the Rangitoto Channel. Off Course E it appeared to be lighter based on the Predictwind now-casting read-outs.

Because the AC40 sails so close to the water surface, it is often hard to detect if it is fully airborne or not. The white hull melds perfectly with the giveaway white spray of an underbody touchdown. The effect is somewhat disconcerting - with plenty of double-takes. But even if it was not always clear of the water - it was so close as to be insignificant. It certainly turned on a dime, and its manoeuvrability was impressive - with none of the obvious crashing off the foils during a tack.

Foiling gybes were de rigueur, and foiling tacks almost the same.

The only issues were the raising and lowering the foil arms in tacks and gybes. In the conditions, there was a significant gain to be able to turn a corner and get the old wing quickly clear of the water - and it wasn't as slick as we are used to seeing on an AC75.

There was the occasional roll to windward, as the pressure comes off the rig unexpectedly, and the leeward foil generates excessive lift.

The demeanour of the AC40 is such that it always appears to be sailing bow down - but then again Te Rehutai - the current America's Cup champion from the same design team - has the same sailing attitude.

Undoubtedly, the AC40 will be a challenging boat to sail.

It will be interesting to see how the Youth and Womens crews can throw the boat around in both Match and Fleet racing once their confidence is up, come the America's Cup regattas in Barcelona 2024. One suspects that we may see some completely different racing from that of the AC75's in the last Cup.

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