Wednesday, October 30, 2013

America's Cup: Lessons Learned

Apologies for the long hiatus from this blog. It's been a very busy six weeks since my last post, with several projects completed on Finisterra. But first we need to consider the AC regatta and lessons we can take from the racing and the boats themselves, and what this incredible event might mean for the future of the competition.

The boats:

1. It appears that Team Oracle really did have the better boat. I had thought that the bows might be too fine, lacking sufficient buoyancy to support the wing mast. But the designers and crew were able to keep the boat on it's feet throughout the event. The Kiwis chose another route with fuller, more buoyant bows. Perhaps in a bit more swell that would have paid off, but it is clear that the Yanks had the faster boat for the conditions they encountered. This is an indication that Team Oracle's designers had a better feel for the expected conditions on the bay and did a better job of targeting their boat for them, while the Kiwis opted for perhaps more of a safety margin in their bows and paid the price with more weight and windage up forward. This would cost them speed especially on the upwind legs.

2. Deck layouts for both boats showed significant differences. The most striking of which were the airfoils mounted on the aft cross beam of ENZ. There was a price to pay for them in terms of weight and drag and I think it's doubtful that they did enough to smooth out the wind vortices swirling off the boat to offset the negative factors. The Kiwis seemed to have a more efficient winch layout, but I noticed in the later races there were times when grinders weren't in the cockpit but grinding from a position on the trampoline instead. This was an indication to me that the crew was getting a bit rattled as they racked up loss after loss.

3. Much has been said about the fact that the tactician aboard Oracle had to grind winches on each tack or jibe while his counterpart on ENZ was able to keep his head out of the boat more and focus exclusively on tactics and strategy. This was more than offset by the addition of a strategist aboard Oracle. The early races showed that communication between tactician, strategist and helmsman would be crucial and it looked like ENZ had the better operational arrangement. However, once Ben Ainsley replaced John Kostecki those lines of communication improved drastically and it was beautiful to see how well Oracle's afterguard worked together, and this was a key factor in Oracle's string of victories.

4. There were other design features in the boats that probably made a difference. For example the helms on Oracle were angled inward a few degrees. This probably resulted in better ergonomics for the helmsman than the directly forward facing helms aboard ENZ.

5. As far as I could tell, the daggerboards were roughly the same but of course I don't know what the actual foil sections were. Another area of vital importance is the board control systems. We don't really know what the differences were and which worked best at raising and lowering them. Nor do we know which system worked best for adjusting cant and rake of the boards. Of course we can infer that Oracle's worked better since they won but it would be fascinating to see side-by-side comparisons of these systems.

I'll write more about the actual racing in a later post.

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