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AMERICA’S CUP “GIVEN THE COURSE ALLOWS BOATS TO COME AT MARKS FROM DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS, TRIPLE- FIGURE CLOSING SPEEDS ARE A REAL POSSIBILITY. THERE ARE OF COURSE NO BRAKES WHATSOEVER” PHOTOGRAPHY: MARK LLOYD AND RICARDO PINTO Forget for the moment you think you know about one of the world’s oldest sporting competitions, the America’s Cup: all the stuff about loyal Brits putting on a yacht race for Queen Victoria, promptly losing it and never, ever winning it back; the legends about the American titans – the Rockefellers and the JP Morgans – racing for kicks, their bigger-than-yourimagination boats somewhere over the horizon; forget what you think you know about the arcane rules, the victories won in court and that impossible schedule. Forget all that. The new America’s Cup is driven by one very simple idea; the finest sailors in the world sailing the most advanced, space-aged, out-there and plain fastest boats on the planet. Sounds like a familiar formula? It is; America’s Cup is high speed racing on water. Isn’t that powerboats, you say? Nope. Given a decent, but by no means excessive, breeze, these boats can sail toward each other at close to 100 mph. The boats – six of them, sailed by teams from America, New Zealand, Japan, France, Sweden, and of course Britain, via Land Rover’s cutting-edge project with Sir Ben Ainslie – are wing-sailed foiling catamarans. The wing sail replaces a conventional mainsail and is exactly what it says it is – a wing, just like that on an airplane, in this case something roughly the size of a Boeing 737’s wing or about 75 feet tall. It is more efficient than a conventional sail and can generate enough power for the boat to sail at three times the speed of the wind. The foils are the hydrofoils deployed below the two hulls (the catamaran part) and are capable of lifting the boat clear of the water at speeds around 15 mph. Doing so reduces the drag of the hulls through the water to zero, leaving only the foils and rudders still attached to the water’s surface. Free of the gloopy grip of the dense water (which is 786 times more dense than air), the boat is free to accelerate enormously fast. That extra speed in turn makes the wing work harder. It is, in effect, generating its own wind. So the boat can reach 50 – maybe even 60 mph – with enough breeze. And given that a sailing race course allows boats to come at the upwind and downwind marks in different directions, triple-figure closing speeds are a very real possibility. And there are, of course, no brakes whatsoever. So you’ll understand the need for the smartest guys in the business to be behind the wheel. Land Rover BAR has five gold medalists on its boat, with Giles Scott, who won his first gold for Great Britain in Ainslie’s Finn class in Rio, and Ainslie, who won the first of his four consecutive gold medals back in 2000. The New Zealand boat won in the 49er class in Rio. Sweden’s skipper won the 49ers in London and his teammate won gold medals in 2000 (Finn class) and 2008 (Star class). On the American boat was a London 2012 gold medalist in the Laser class. And then there’s the American ship’s Australian skipper, choosing to go straight into the America’s Cup, becoming the youngest sailor to skipper a Cup boat, the youngest to win a Cup race, and the youngest to win the America’s Cup itself in 2010 in the first great Oracle multihull powered by what still remains the longest – at 180 ft long – single wing yet constructed. By the time the American skipper came to defend the America’s Cup in 2013, Oracle was smaller, but faster. Foiling technology had arrived, albeit only latterly to Team USA, and they had to fight the rearest of rearguard actions to beat New Zealand in the final. The comeback from 8-1 down is regarded by many as the greatest in the sport’s history. 25
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