“If it doesn't break, it’s too heavy,” was Ben Lexcen’s favourite saying. Seeing as he designed Australia II, the wing-keeled wonder that stole the Cup from the New York Yacht Club almost 30 years ago, it’s an extreme philosophy that served him surprising well.
Legendary small-boat designer Uffa Fox’s version of the Lexcen mantra was to claim that: “Weight is only of use to the designer of a steamroller.” Fox and Lexcen would have loved the modern era of the America’s Cup, with not a lead bulb in sight, and a focus on wing technology that is making aerospace engineers the new hot property in Cup world.
As Artemis Racing boss Paul Cayard mentioned in last month’s interview, designing and building a wing for the AC72 catamaran has been an immense project, the challenge of which he couldn’t have predicted. Where other teams have been testing wing rig concepts at smaller scale, the Swedish team threw itself in at the deep end. “We chose the full scale strategy,” says Cayard. “Our decision was more time consuming, but it allows us to learn how to handle this powerful wing. Before performance, there is the safety of our team. San Francisco Bay in July and August is an unforgiving place.”
Head of the design team at Artemis, the freethinking and outspoken Argentinean, Juan Kouyoumdjian, is not given to conservatism, but “If it doesn't break it’s too heavy” is not a phrase that you’ll hear Juan K or any other designer daring to utter this side of the 34th America’s Cup. The timescale for getting an AC72 designed, built and battle-ready is frighteningly short. No time for tinkering at the margins.
Artemis made an early statement of intent by becoming the first to unveil its new wing rig in March, mounting this 40m structure on the team’s testing platform, a modified ORMA 60 trimaran. The culmination of more than 35,000 man hours, it has a sail area of 260 square metres, with the predominantly carbon fibre structure weighing in at just over a ton. Of course, this is just the wing. We’ve yet to see a complete AC72 in action and that is still some months away.
Meanwhile the America’s Cup World Series is about to kick off again after a long winter’s gap since San Diego last November. Naples in April, followed by Venice in May, sees the teams get back into action, including two boats being fielded by Luna Rossa, the late-to-the-party Italians who have been working closely with Emirates Team New Zealand during the Auckland summer.
Both boats will be skippered by British sailors, Chris Draper who departed Team Korea at the end of last year for a more secure future at Luna Rossa, and Paul Campbell-James who won last year’s Extreme Sailing Series steering the Italian team’s Extreme 40 catamaran. When Ben Ainslie takes the tiller of his own AC45 campaign, Ben Ainslie Racing, later on this summer, the Brits will have overtaken the Kiwis as the best-represented nation in the America’s Cup. That, despite there being no British challenge.
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