America’s Cup- Fast foils-a conversation with Paul Bieker, part I
2:35 PM Sun 2 Mar 2014 

‘Oracle Design Team – America’s Cup 35. Paul Bieker is in the front row, second from the left’    Amory Ross ©

Few people in the sailing world are sharper than Paul Bieker, a soft-spoken Seattle-based naval architect who has spent his career designing a wide variety of sailing vessels, from super-quick I-14s and his one-off line of ‘Riptide’ racer/cruisers, to America’s Cup yachts. 

Bieker is one of the core designers credited with ‘super-charging’ Oracle Team USA’s ‘USA 17’ last September, changes that helped the American-flagged international team to successfully pull-off one of sports history’s greatest comebacks to defend the 34th America’s Cup.

Yet pull up a seat on the rail next to Bieker-as I’ve been fortunate enough to do on many occasions aboard our mutual friend’s Riptide 44-and it quickly becomes obvious that Bieker’s horizons extends far beyond racecourse designs.

Take, for example, the day that he brought our crew lunch. Each sandwich was individually wrapped in brown recycled paper and was hand-tied with a bit of hemp twine in an effort to reduce landfill fodder. Or then there’s Bieker’s insistence that his Riptide designs offer their owners a huge amount of value and utility, irrespective of whether the agenda involves racing, savoring 25-knot kite rides or extended cruising. Bieker is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost foil-design experts, and while he wisely tries to dodge the limelight, Oracle Team USA has again tapped Bieker for AC35, this time in the role of lead design engineer.

I recently caught up with Bieker at a local Ballard (our mutual Seattle neighborhood) pub for part one of this two-part interview to get his thoughts on how AC34 was won, his design role for AC35, as well as his thoughts on the future of America’s Cup Racing.

Can you tell me about your work with Oracle Team USA, prior to the start of AC34? What were you designing for them?

It was in the late summer/early fall [of 2012] and I think that Oracle had a sense that their appendage engineering and construction side was not going 100-percent smoothly. My first day down there was the day before they launched the boat, and the day they broke their first foil. So pretty much from then on it was full-on, as you can image.

You were mostly working on foils back then?

Yes. They wanted to me to engineer their next-step foil for the boat, but all of a sudden it became ‘shit, we can’t sail the boat-we have no foils’. What actually ended up happening is that I went into producing the first set of raceable foils as quickly as I could, but they still took eight weeks to build. The penny dropped and we realized that we could recycle the structural spars from some surplus daggerboards [from the trimaran, ‘BMW/Oracle 90’, which won AC33]. Those boards had solid carbon spars in them that we could cut out and re-machine into a set of AC72 foils, which we called the ‘nasty boards’.

17/10/2012 – San Francisco (USA,CA) 34th America’s Cup – ORACLE Team USA AC 72 capsizes during training in San Francisco Bay and is pushed out of the bay by the tide current as the team try to salvage the platform. – Oracle Team USA capsize AC72 Oct 16, 2012 –  Guilain Grenier Oracle Team USA ©?nid=119759   Click Here to view large photo

Those were the modular ones?

They were straight and had brutish-looking boards but the sailors were able to get out sailing with those while we were building the new raceable foils. We didn’t even get the racing boards on the first boat before it tipped over. Then our big job was to do all the repair drawings to repair the hulls and the beams. The boat didn’t go back into the water until after Christmas 2012.

It was a really big repair job?

You have no idea-it was really bad. It was pretty grim. You would have looked at the pile of stuff and said it was close to hopeless. I had a hard time thinking that we could patch all that damage together and not miss something that was going to cause it to fail. The Oracle shore team and boat builders did an amazing job getting the boat back on the water.

How much of the old boat got rebuilt?

We had to cut a good portion of the lower bow off of one hull, and then there were tons of patches everywhere on the central pod and the beams and in the hull. It was painstaking work.

Am I correct that that boat ended up being the faster of Oracle’s two AC72s?

Yes, it was but it was super hard to control downwind. I don’t think we could have raced that boat. It was pretty scary.

Would you say your role as a designer evolved during the course of the campaign?

Well, I was pretty much in charge of daggerboard structures before I got called in to do the repair drawings for the first boat after it tipped over. Then, towards the end of the campaign, I worked on the rudder structures and rudder hydrofoils. During the Cup things got a little [looser] with the general theme of doing whatever you could to figure out how to make the boat go faster. But my focus remained on foils.

Did you sail into that first race knowing for sure that you had the slower boat? Or was that a total surprise?

The funny thing is that we thought that if we had a speed deficit, it was going to be downwind. Most likely our aero package was better than theirs, so we expected to be faster upwind. As it turned out, we were about the same speed downwind and maybe a click lower. We might have had a touch of VMG on them downwind, but we were quite a bit slower upwind and we didn’t have our foiling tacking figured out. We thought we had tacking figured out, but Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) were tacking better and sailing a bit faster upwind than we were. So it was the opposite of what we expected, and it was the same for ETNZ. You try and measure the other team’s speed on the water before the match, but there’s a lot of scatter in that data and it usually does not change your preconceptions.

Oracle Team USA foiling towards the end of the 2013 America’s Cup – Day 15 –  Kurt Molnar ©   Click Here to view large photo

Were you guys pinging them with lasers or something like that?

[I’m] not sure about lasers but we could pace with them on chase boats. If you watch the Louis Vuitton Cup broadcasts, you can see the speeds and other real-time numbers. They really clicked it up in between the Luis Vuitton Cup and the [Cup].

What was funny is that we couldn’t gybe our boat reliably until probably two or three weeks before the Cup. With a flying gybe, you lose somewhere between 30 and 60 meters per gybe, sometimes less-not much more than a boat length if you do it right. But if you touch down in the water during a gybe, you lose over 150 meters! So it’s going to cost you somewhere between 100 and 120 meters if you touch the water during a gybe and the other team doesn’t, so we were totally fixated on downwind gybing going into the Cup.

We were just really fixated on foiling gybes and probably for good reason because we knew we only had to miss one gybe that they got and the race was probably over, so we concentrated on that in lieu of working a lot on our upwind speed and maneuvers. ETNZ, however, concentrated on upwind [work] because they had their gybing nailed long, long before the Cup. Part of our problem is we had Boat One, which was really unstable downwind-it was just hard to keep her stable on foils. We were generally sailing with rudder wings that were maybe a little bit too small. So Oracle and ETNZ leapfrogged each other, they ended up faster than us upwind and we ended up faster downwind.

Can you describe to me a little bit about what the atmosphere was like after that first week of racing?

It was pretty grim…like really grim.

Was it the sailors, the designers or everybody who was feeling down?

It was pretty much everybody-some [people were] concealed and others not so concealed. The thing is that after you’ve done a couple of Cups, you know that everything goes poof at the end of the campaign. Everything that existed no longer exists. So there you are with this beautiful boat and team at the apex of the sport, right at that moment, but right after the Cup ends, the boat just becomes something that you have to store somewhere and the team disbands. And so you realize that you need to muster up whatever energy you have for that final push, because it really is a sprint to the finish and after the finish it just doesn’t matter anymore. After the finish everything else is gone so you shouldn’t leave anything in the tank. I’d say that probably a third of the people on the team felt like that. Another third were just going through the motions and just doing their job, and another third had already given up. In a traditional America’s Cup, the 8-1 hole is the sort of deficit you’d never be able to come back from. Luckily, the sailing team kept a positive attitude.

Oracle Team USA – America’s Cup – Day 15 –  Kurt Molnar ©   Click Here to view large photo

So that sounds like Jimmy Spithill’s bravado about ‘we can win races, it’s not over yet’ was just bluster?

He may have felt that way, I don’t know. He was definitely pretty down in the dumps during a few unguarded moments, but he kept his nose up and then guys on the team stepped up to the plate and made the improvement.

Tell me a little bit about how were politically able to introduce the changes that you made at the end. Was this a matter of convincing the design team, or convincing the sailing team, or at that point was everybody just throwing ideas at the wall?

It’s a little bit of the latter. Basically, when we were down five or six points it was pretty dire. People were starting to bring beers to the design meetings and it got way [looser] than normal. You know, ‘who has got ideas?’, and it seemed like you basically needed one person to agree with you, and you were just going to do it. We just got lucky.

The thing was at the part of the regatta that we were in trouble, we had lay days so we could do things to the boat
and test them and if we didn’t like them, we could take remove them. When ETNZ was in that sort of situation, they didn’t have any lay days.

Basically, what we were doing with the rig during the whole event was trying to put the center of pressure further and further aft. We were flattening the jibs. We were opening up the little tab at the aft end of the first element on the wing to load the flap on the wing. We almost doubled our traveler load on the wing between the beginning of the regatta and the end, so we were really trying to move pressure aft. One of the things we tried to do was rake the rig.

We went out on one of the lay days after we had done a big rig change the night before. This involved different shroud lengths, a recut to the jib, wing base modifications, etc. The guys went out and they didn’t like it so we spent the next night putting everything back for the next race day. If that had not been a lay day, we would have probably lost that race. It really worked for us to have lay days when we were in strife, and for ETNZ not to have that luxury.

You told me once you added a faring to the interceptor ramps so that the sailors wouldn’t freak out on a 90 degree edge. Who has ultimate say on what actually goes on the boat and what doesn’t? Russell Coutts or you?

It would have been Russell [Coutts], Dirk Kramer and Grant Simmer that made the final calls on what went on the boat. When I suggested it Michel Kermarec [N.B., Kermarec was Oracle’s appendage designer and VPP lead for AC34] thought it sounded like a good idea, so that was all it took. The next thing you know, we’re putting this wedge on the stern of the boat so that anyone who walks up is just going ‘huh?’, but what was neat about it is that if you explained it to the guys, they would go along with it, even though it didn’t look right to them. That’s the cool thing about the America’s Cup-the technology drives it and the sailors understand that.

What was the reaction from the sailing and design teams once the interceptor ramps and the Rudder/hydrofoil intersection cavitation fairings started to really show their results?

We were doing a whole lot of different things, so whether the interceptor helped or not, I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure it helped the boat when it was in that skimming mode, going into takeoff, but how much I can’t say. The fairings on the rudders definitely helped. We did calculations that showed that they were 0.6 knots faster downwind in the 40-knot range of boatspeed, but those fairings didn’t make us any faster upwind. What made us faster upwind was changing the wing trim, and the fact that the crewed figured out how to foil tack. By the end of AC34, they were taking better than ETNZ.

What do you think were the biggest factors in Oracle’s come-from-behind win?

My guess is that the biggest things were dialing in the wing trim, crew work and the [foiling tacks]. One of the other big things the guys learned is that very aggressively trimming the wing-I wouldn’t say pumping-is a way to get up on foils without bearing off too much. In our practice foiling upwind, the problem was that you had to bear away so much to get up on the foil that you would just barely make it back to where you were by the time you had to tack and the tacking-before the Cup-was violent. The boat would come through and the old leeward hull/new windward hull would all come down into the water and it was pretty slow.

The trick was that once you figured out how to tack the boat, you aren’t dragging this long skinny hull through the water in the middle of the tack, you’re just up on three foils. This means that you’re losing almost nothing, whereas in a normal multihull you’re taking this big long thing and you’re trying to make it turn through the water. You lose a lot in the beginning of the tack, but when you do a foiling tack you lose almost nothing in the first part of the turn.

The guys learned to carry some lift on the old leeward/new windward foil, and to keep that windward hull up in the air. If you never have two hulls in the water, all of a sudden it paid to be foiling at the beginning of a tack. Before, it was a such a violent maneuver that you lost a lot of speed.

I think I read somewhere that one of the ways the guys learned to improve tacking was by watching videos on how ETNZ was pulling off their foiling tacks?

I’m sure they watched lots of the videos of those guys, and they watched also lots of videos of themselves. We had a pretty neat data-collection system on the boat so you could look at different tacks to determine if you had a good tack or a bad tack. You had video from lots of different angles, so you could really start to identify what made a tack good and what made a tack bad. You could really look at it in detail.

The cool thing wasn’t like we were all, as a big group, analyzing the footage. The crew was working hard on the tacking side of it, and we were working on the design side of it and luckily we went forward in most places.

Where do you physically do a lot of your design work?

Here in Seattle.

So was the Cup won right here in Ballard?

I don’t know if the Cup was won right here in Ballard, but we did a lot of the foil work right here. I like working here just because we’ve got a nice office environment. It’s quiet, and I can concentrate.

Do you have a specific title with Oracle Team USA for AC35 at this point?

I think I’m called the Senior Design Engineer, but I don’t know exactly what that means. I’m in charge of making sure the structure of the boat is right and that the systems are properly integrated, and I’ll be involved in the naval architecture side of it as well.

Can you talk a little bit about the work that you’ve done with the design rule for AC35?

Basically the Challenger of Record and the Defender are trying to reduce the cost of the boats so that smaller teams can get in and run a reasonable campaign with a moderate amount of money. We really want to be able to foil upwind in moderate air. Right now we’re sort of hoping we can foil upwind in 12 knots of wind and foil downwind in eight knots or so.

Stay tuned for part two of this two-part interview, later this week.


by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor


Against the Wind

One of the Greatest Comebacks in Sports History


Photo: Getty Images; Animation: The Wall Street Journal

The winds on San Francisco Bay started kicking up in the late morning. Before long, they were blowing more than 20 miles an hour.

Jimmy Spithill and his 10 teammates put on their crash helmets and flotation vests and climbed aboard the AC72, a menacing, 13-story black catamaran capable of near-highway speeds. As a powerboat pulled them into the bay for Race 5 of the 2013 America’s Cup, Mr. Spithill shot a glance at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was shrouded in fog.

Jimmy Spithill in front of San Francisco Bay on Feb. 3, 2014. Drew Kelly for The Wall Street Journal

An unfamiliar, uncomfortable feeling was tugging at him. Mr. Spithill, skipper of Oracle Team USA, the richest and possibly most prohibitively favored team in the history of the world’s most famous yacht competition, had lost three of the first four races. Something was wrong with the way the Oracle boat was performing. Now he was facing the unthinkable: His team might lose.

The America’s Cup, first held in 1851, is believed to award the world’s oldest international sporting trophy. The contest also is one of the least professionalized. There is no permanent organization, commission or governing body. The winner gets to pick where and when the next race is held—typically every three to five years—and what type of boat is used. All that tends to make the racing rather lopsided. In most cases, the faster of the two boats in the finals wins every match—and the faster boat is usually the defending champion.

The 2013 Cup wasn’t supposed to be any different. But a competition that was expected to be humdrum turned into one of the most remarkable ever. This account of how that happened was pieced together through extensive interviews with the sailors, engineers and other team leaders.


Largely because of team owner Larry Ellison, the founder of software giant Oracle Corp. and one of the world’s richest men, Oracle had all the advantages conferred upon the incumbent, plus some.

The 11 sailors were a collection of international superstars. The engineers who designed the yacht and the programmers who built the software used to plot strategy had no peer. Oracle’s computer simulations suggested the AC72—which cost at least $10 million to build—wasn’t just the better boat in the final, it was the fastest sailboat ever to compete for the Cup, capable of 48 knots, or about 55 mph.

Mr. Spithill wasn’t sure why Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle’s opponent in the final, had been faster so far. The prevailing theory among Oracle’s sailors was that they were just rusty. As the defending Cup champions, they hadn’t had to race in the preliminaries.

As the AC72 dropped its towline on Sept. 10 and headed for the starting line, Mr. Spithill hoped that in Race 5, the Oracle crew would get its act together.

The start of an America’s Cup race is an exercise in pinpoint execution. The two boats can’t cross the starting line until a countdown timer hits zero. On this day, both boats hit the line simultaneously.

The five legs of the racecourse sent the boats from near the Golden Gate Bridge to the downtown San Francisco waterfront and took anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to complete, depending on wind. Through the first two legs, Oracle was in total control, building up an eight-second lead.


The upwind third leg was the one that had been keeping Mr. Spithill awake at night. Sailors have known since ancient times that sailing against the wind requires plotting a zigzag course—called tacking—steering the boat back and forth at a roughly 45-degree angle to the wind. Oracle’s aura of invincibility had crumbled on this upwind leg. If New Zealand was behind at the upwind turn, it would take the lead. If the Kiwis already had the lead, they would turn the race into a rout.

Tacking involves an elaborately choreographed routine. To initiate the turn, eight sailors crank winches resembling hand-operated bicycle pedals, powering the system that moves the sail. Two sailors pull ropes to adjust the angles of the enormous mainsail and the smaller jib. At precisely the right moment, the skipper—Mr. Spithill—spins the helm. Then all 11 sailors scurry from one hull, across a patch of trampoline-like netting, to the other side.

If everything goes right, the boat loses little speed. A small misstep or two, however, can cause the boat to bog down—or in extreme cases, to capsize.

As the upwind leg began, New Zealand headed out toward the San Francisco waterfront while Oracle vectored toward Alcatraz Island. Mr. Spithill looked over his shoulder and saw he was ahead of New Zealand by 2½ boat lengths. But the Kiwis edged closer with every turn. Within three minutes, New Zealand’s red yacht crossed in front of Oracle. Mr. Spithill had blown another lead.

By the time the boats reached the fourth leg, the gap was too large for Oracle to recover. New Zealand won by more than a minute. In racing terms, that might as well have been a week. New Zealand was now nearly halfway to the nine wins it needed to secure the Cup—and the time gap between the boats was only getting larger.

Even the Kiwis were surprised. After the race, Team New Zealand’s managing director, Grant Dalton, passed one of his sailors in the hallway and said: “I can’t believe we just won.”

As the AC72 skulked back to its berth, Mr. Spithill heard the voice of Russell Coutts, the New Zealand-born chief executive of the Oracle team, on his walkie-talkie: “Have you thought about using the postponement card?”

A postponement card is the America’s Cup equivalent of a timeout, envisioned as a way for teams to fix problems like broken equipment. By using it, Oracle would be able to delay the afternoon’s second race to the next race day, 48 hours later.

“We’re going to play it now,” Mr. Spithill told Mr. Coutts.

At the postrace news conference, the grim-faced skipper said: “We feel like we need to regroup, really take a good look at the boat.”

The following day, his team practiced in the bay and considered modifications to the boat, while the programmers ran simulations. In addition, the team’s tactician, who advises Mr. Spithill on wind, current and strategy, was replaced.

Mr. Spithill thought the break, and the small modifications they had made, might have done the trick.

The answer came quickly in Race 6. After getting blown out again on the upwind leg, Oracle lost by a margin of 47 seconds, and later that day, lost Race 7 by 66 seconds, its worst finish yet. New Zealand now needed just three more wins—and it had 12 chances to get them.

Already, the fans who gathered on the waterfront to watch the races had started cheering for the Kiwis. Unless Mr. Spithill figured out how to sail faster upwind, the affable sailor would forever be remembered as the engineer of his sport’s greatest flop.

Jimmy Spithill grew up in the tiny Australian town of Elvina Bay, just north of Sydney. He learned to sail in a leaky wooden dinghy that a neighbor had planned to throw away.

Being a sailor of modest means isn’t easy. Even as Mr. Spithill showed prodigious talent as a teenager, his parents—his father was an engineer, his mother a medical receptionist—struggled to send him to international competitions. Mr. Spithill exhibited an aggressive streak and a blue-collar mentality. Once, a week before the national high-school sailing championship, he broke his wrist playing rugby. He won the sailing contest in a cast.

In 1999, when he was 20, the Young Australia team made him the youngest skipper in America’s Cup history. The team lost, but he proved talented enough to get recruited to the U.S. team OneWorld in 2003. He lost again in preliminaries, to Mr. Ellison’s Oracle team, which went on to lose in the finals.

He returned in 2007 as helmsman for the Italian team Luna Rossa. During the semifinals of the challengers’ heats, he got his first glimpse of Mr. Ellison’s lavishly funded new Oracle team, with a budget that ran into the tens of millions. He routinely outwitted Oracle at the starting line and won the series, 5-1, before losing in the next round.

Mr. Coutts, the Oracle team’s CEO, was suitably impressed. When the Cup was over, he made Mr. Spithill one of his newest hires.

For the next Cup, team Oracle tricked out its three-hulled trimaran with a revolutionary carbon-fiber sail that looked like an upright airplane wing. Joseph Ozanne, then a 30-year-old engineer with a degree from a prestigious French aeronautics-engineering program, was responsible for designing the sail, which contained movable flaps like on an airplane.

Mr. Ozanne was in charge of a computer program, the Velocity Performance Predictor, that calculated optimal wing angles and projected speeds. But the sailors ignored his advice. “You did your job, now let us sail the boat,” Mr. Ozanne recalls being told.

Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison spent at least $10 million to build the AC72, the most technically sophisticated sailboat ever to compete for the America’s Cup.

After the sailors struggled for two days, Mr. Ozanne sat them down for a PowerPoint presentation. “You need to forget everything you’ve done on the conventional sail,” he said. When the sailors eventually heeded his suggestions, the boat began performing as advertised.

At the 2010 Cup, held in Valencia, Spain, Mr. Spithill led Oracle into the final. It was a cake walk, with BMW Oracle winning the first two races in the short best-of-three format. At age 30, he was the youngest winning skipper in the competition’s history.

For the 2013 Cup defense, Mr. Ellison decided to commission a new kind of boat, a decision that would turn the sport into something akin to Formula One on water. Picture two canoes, each one 72 feet long and made of carbon fiber, connected by a raft, with a 13-story wing, also made of carbon fiber, pinned to the middle. The software tycoon’s $10 million investment created a vessel that could do more than 50 mph.

The boat was so strange and powerful it was hard to handle. During training in October 2012, problems setting the sails and steering the boat caused the bows to nose-dive and the boat to pitch forward until the sail slammed into the water, leaving the sailors clinging to the yacht. The experience spooked everyone.

In May 2013, during practice for the Cup races, the Swedish team, Artemis Racing, had a similar mishap. One of the sailors got trapped underneath the boat and drowned.

Coming into the final, Mr. Spithill and his crew felt they were ready for the speed. And they had reason to be supremely confident. According to the computer, the AC72, with its skinnier hulls and drag-reducing dug-out cockpits, was superior to New Zealand’s boat.

If anyone had predicted that New Zealand would win six of the first seven races, they might have been thrown overboard. But that is exactly what had happened.

After his Race 7 drubbing, Mr. Spithill emerged from his shower to find that the team’s sailors, engineers, designers and computer scientists had started a meeting without him. All the chairs were taken.

Mr. Spithill sat on a desk and sipped a Red Bull as the 30 people took turns suggesting changes to the boat.

As mandated by America’s Cup rules, all the teams had to create boats of the same basic design—in this case a 72-foot catamaran. All of them had L-shaped boards under their hulls called “foils,” which stick down below the waterline like little feet. When the boats hit a certain speed, the hulls rise out of the water and ride on the surfboard-size foils, creating the illusion that the boats are actually flying.

Both Oracle and New Zealand had been foiling downwind. But New Zealand’s boat was getting partially up on its foils on the upwind leg, too.

Oracle had experimented with upwind foiling five weeks before the race at the insistence of Tom Slingsby, a redheaded Australian team member who had just won a sailing gold medal at the London Olympics. Mr. Slingsby had seen the Kiwis doing it in practice and the preliminary rounds, and to his eyes, they were sailing much faster than Oracle. Before the final, he had emailed Messrs. Spithill and Coutts, telling them it could be a “game changer” and they needed to try it.

For two weeks, they had—but for only a few minutes a day. Nearly every time they tried, Oracle’s hulls would fall off the foils and the bows would nose-dive into the water. There also was a bigger problem cutting into Mr. Spithill’s practice time. Cup officials were investigating a modification Oracle had made on its boat—one ultimately ruled a violation of the rules. Oracle was slapped with a two-race penalty before the competition even began.

There was little time to experiment with the new technique, and Mr. Ozanne’s software indicated Oracle would easily outsail New Zealand upwind even without foiling.

Now, with the Cup under way and New Zealand using the technique to smoke Oracle on the upwind leg, the topic was back on the table.

The engineers weren’t sure it was possible because modifications made before and during the race had created balance problems. When the AC72 was foiling, not enough of its load was borne by the rudders in the rear. That made the boat hard to control—sort of like an airplane with too much weight on its nose.

Oracle’s boat designers suggested redistributing the load, mainly by increasing the twist in the top of the sail and decreasing it down below. The shore crew worked through the night. Mr. Spithill went home to his apartment in San Francisco’s posh Marina District.

Each night, he would act out the farce of going to bed at 11—only to lie awake worrying. Before the races had begun, a confident Mr. Spithill had flirted with the idea of flying to Las Vegas during the middle of the competition to see a Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing match. That never happened. Unable to sleep, he would eventually grab his laptop and dial up video of the losing races.

Each time, he jumped to the beginning of the upwind leg. Sailing upwind involves a trade-off between speed and distance—the tighter the angle to the wind, the shorter the total travel distance but the slower the boat moves. Mr. Ozanne’s computer program had given a target: Sail into the wind at a relatively tight angle of about 42 degrees, which would produce the optimal mix of speed and travel distance.

Looking at the video, Mr. Spithill could see that the Kiwis had come to a different conclusion. They were sailing at much wider angles to the wind—about 50 degrees, on average. They were covering more water but reaching higher speeds—more than enough to offset the greater distance traveled. Foiling appeared to be the key. Oracle’s computers hadn’t anticipated such speeds.

Nobody had expected this. Had team Oracle placed too much faith in the technology? Had its enormous budget lulled the team into overconfidence? Had Mr. Spithill gotten away from the lessons he had learned in Elvina Bay?

What especially galled him was the New Zealand team’s apparent contempt for Oracle’s approach. The managing director of the New Zealand team, Mr. Dalton, was openly disdainful of the costly, high-tech catamaran Oracle had chosen. The Kiwi boat had a similar, but more rugged, design. Dean Barker, the opposing skipper, was the son of New Zealand businessman Ray Barker, who had founded the menswear company Barkers.

Mr. Spithill didn’t relish losing the Cup to a team who could say, rightfully, that their win represented a triumph for the craft of sailing. With his team’s prospects getting dimmer by the hour, Mr. Spithill decided it was time to stop obeying the computers and start thinking like sailors.

The next morning, a scheduled off day, Oracle’s sailors made upwind foiling the focus of their practice. Rather than sailing 42 degrees off the wind, what the team called their “high and slow” mode. Mr. Slingsby suggested trying 55 degrees, which he called “low and fast.” When the boat got moving fast enough to get up on its foils, the crew made another discovery. It was able to tack more quickly—13 mph rather than 10 mph.

The mood began to lighten. But after three years of training, the America’s Cup might just come down to how well he and his crew executed a maneuver they had practiced for just one day.

In Race 8, New Zealand jumped out to an early lead. But after the boats turned upwind, Oracle was moving faster than ever. The difference was Oracle was now foiling, too.

The race was dead even until near the end of the upwind leg, when Oracle pulled off a quick turn and began heading into the path of the Kiwi yacht. In sailboat racing, the boat on “starboard tack”—when the wind is blowing from the vessel’s right side—has the right of way over a boat on the opposite tack, with the wind coming from its left side. Oracle’s turn gave it the right of way. The Kiwis would have to either slow down and turn or go behind Oracle.

New Zealand tried to turn quickly, but miscues caused the wind to catch the sail the wrong way. Its right hull lurched into the air and the giant yacht began tipping. Oracle was headed directly into the underbelly of the Kiwi yacht, which was teetering at a 45-degree angle to the water.


“Starboard!” Mr. Spithill yelled into his radio to alert race officials the Kiwis weren’t yielding the right of way. As he yanked the helm to turn away, the New Zealand boat stopped tipping and slammed back into the water. The near capsizing completely sapped its speed.

Oracle won the race by 52 seconds. The sailors pumped their fists. Despite their six-race deficit, they had clearly caught New Zealand by surprise. “We rattled them,” Mr. Spithill told his team.

Back at the Oracle base, Mr. Ozanne said he had found the flaw in the computer model. To get going fast enough upwind to get on the foils, the yacht initially had to sail at an angle that would force it to cover more water—something the computer wasn’t programmed to allow. When Mr. Ozanne input the wider angles into the software, the computer had recalculated the speed and showed the boat could sail faster that way, confirming what the sailors had found.

Six days later, early in the morning of Sept. 20, Jimmy Spithill drove through the empty streets of San Francisco to the Oracle base for what he thought could be the team’s final race.

While Oracle had figured out to how to match New Zealand’s speed upwind, it hadn’t yet mastered the technique. The Kiwis had rallied to win two of the next three races, giving them an 8-1 advantage—thanks to the two-race penalty meted out to Oracle at the beginning—then Oracle had taken a race. Still, one more loss for Oracle and it was done.

Instead of turning on the car radio, Mr. Spithill plugged in his iPod and played one of his favorite songs, Rage Against the Machine’s “Take the Power Back.”

It was another foggy afternoon and the winds were unusually light. At the start, New Zealand took an early lead. As Oracle fell behind, the team continued making mistakes. The Kiwis sailed away through the fog. Their lead grew to nearly a mile. It was, for all intents and purposes, the end.

The Kiwis had one thing going against them. Under Cup rules, the winning team had to complete the course within 40 minutes or the race would be abandoned. The winds were so light, and the pace so slow, Mr. Spithill didn’t think the Kiwis could do it. But he wasn’t sure.

At exactly 2 p.m., Mr. Spithill heard the voice of a race official in the radio. “This is the race committee,” he said. “The time limit has expired.”

The Kiwis, about three minutes from the finish, had run out of time. “It just wasn’t meant to be,” says Mr. Dalton, the Kiwi team’s managing director.

The day wasn’t over yet. About 30 minutes later, the winds had picked up and the two boats entered the starting area to try again.

The Kiwis beat Oracle at the starting line. But by the time Oracle got to the upwind leg, it had a 20-second lead. It won by a commanding 84 seconds. The score was now 8-3.

On the next day of racing, Oracle took an early lead and held on to win by 23 seconds. In the day’s second race, it did the same, winning by 37 seconds.

It was now 8-5. Oracle now was foiling faster upwind than the Kiwis. But Mr. Spithill was well aware that with one misstep, it would be over. Still, the America’s Cup would be a race after all.

In the next race, Oracle outmaneuvered New Zealand off the starting line and led wire-to-wire. The score was 8-6.

The crowds were growing. Spectators who had earlier cheered for the underdogs from New Zealand had begun to cheer for the Americans.

On Sept. 24, Oracle took an early lead in the first race that it never relinquished. In the day’s second race, it took the lead on the upwind leg and won by 54 seconds. The score was 8-8.

Now it was the turn of Mr. Dalton, the New Zealand team’s managing director, to fear the worst: that the Oracle team might pull off the greatest comeback in Cup history.

The next day, Sept. 25, was the day of the decisive 19th race. During his drive to the base, Mr. Spithill listened to Pearl Jam’s live rendition of “Immortality.”

As a powerboat towed the Oracle yacht past the Kiwi base, Oracle’s sailors waved at their opponents in what had become a daily test: How many New Zealand team members would wave back? This time, nearly all of them did.

Mr. Dalton, New Zealand’s managing director, now saw his team’s prospects as bleak. “We knew we were going to lose the last race unless we sailed a perfect race,” he said.

About 45 minutes before the start, Mr. Spithill heard a loud bang. A critical piece of the sail—a part attaching some of the flaps to the wing—had sheared off. The wing wouldn’t curve properly without it.

Two powerboats sped over and the maintenance guys climbed up onto the wing and started shooting hot glue everywhere. They finished the job about five minutes before the boat had to enter the starting area. Mr. Spithill and his tactician looked at each other and laughed.

On the San Francisco shore, the Oracle supporters were back in full force, waving American flags. Just after the boats crossed the starting line, Oracle caught a gust of wind that sent its bows submarining into the water, costing it precious seconds.

Mr. Spithill had decided to sail conservatively. He wouldn’t get tangled with the Kiwis on the downwind leg, lest they crash or capsize. His goal was to keep it close until the upwind section, where he knew his boat now was faster.


When Oracle hit that leg, it trailed New Zealand by only three seconds. On every tack, it edged closer. Not far from the San Francisco waterfront, Oracle took a lead. When the upwind leg was done, Oracle was up by 26 seconds. The race was all but over.

As Oracle approached the finish line, Mr. Spithill glanced at one of his teammates, Kyle Langford, who was working in front of him. Mr. Langford, a 24-year-old last-minute addition to the crew, was in charge of adjusting the angle of the 13-story sail with a thick rope he held in his hands. There was nothing high-tech about this job, but it was absolutely crucial. If Mr. Langford dropped the rope, the yacht would quickly lose momentum and possibly capsize.

About three minutes from the finish line, the rope slipped out of Mr. Langford’s hands. He lunged and caught a piece of it with his left hand—just barely—and held on. Mr. Spithill laughed and said, “Nice catch, mate.”

Oracle crossed the finish line 44 seconds ahead of New Zealand. The sailors hugged.

A powerboat pulled up five minutes later. On it was Oracle founder Larry Ellison. He stepped aboard the yacht and said, “Do you guys know what you just did? You just won the America’s Cup!”



  • 22ND FEBRUARY 2014


In race five on the third day of the Extreme Sailing Series™ in Singapore, France’s Groupama sailing team (FRA) and Team Aberdeen Singapore (SIN) crashed just metres from the finish as a big gust hit the fleet on the final run to the line. In winds that were varying from 5 to 23 knots, Team Aberdeen Singapore caught the biggest gust of the day as they came into the finish line struggling to hold off the pace, ploughing into the back of the French team.

The Safety Team were immediately on site to provide assistance, and all the crews were quickly taken account of. Tanguy Cariou (FRA) onboard Groupama sailing team suffered minor facial injuries, and was taken ashore immediately for treatment. The rest of the crew onboard both Groupama and Team Aberdeen Singapore are uninjured, and the technical team are craning out the boats in Singapore’s F1 pitlane for full damage assessment. Due to the conditions, Race Director, Phil Lawrence had already called the whole day a no-Guest Sailor day, so there were no guests onboard at any time today. A full update will be available on at 1930 SGT.


Burns and Speer:
Secrets of the Comeback

ACEA/Guilan Grenier

ACEA/Guilan Grenier

“Platform aerodynamics, I think, made the difference between the American boat and the Kiwi boat.” Tom Speer, wing designer, Oracle Racing

By Kimball Livingston

We could have titled this, Six Extra Feet of Wing, But Do You Know How to Use It?

The way “Fresh” Burns tells the story, and he should know, having been head of performance for Oracle Team USA, there were multiple turning points in Oracle’s desperate, early losing days of the San Francisco America’s Cup. The American boat was losing on every tack, every gybe. Then the Mere Grinders came to the Mighty Chiefs and said something like, “Look, we can tell when the boards are loaded and when they’re not loaded. Why don’t we try moving them when they’re not loaded?”


And if you’ve been around even a little while, you’ve heard someone on deck wisecrack, “You just keep grinding, and if I need any sheet, I’ll take it.”

Well, sonny, that’s pretty much how the Oracle crew was sailing USA-17—with hydraulic pressure always on tap—on those upwind legs where the comeback finally kicked in. Nonstop pumping. No-delay trimming. That was the context when Ben Ainslie yelled, “This is it! This is it! Work your arses off!”

Skiff stuff, translated. Advanced Sailing 101.

And then the dazzled Kiwi press went to spinning stories about a “Herbie,” a Boeing-built gyroscopic stabilizing contraption that made quite a good story, if you needed a story. My headline ran, “Bigfoot Sighted on Grassy Knoll.”

These days, Burns commutes between his home in the California wine country and 201 Shipyward Way, Suite B, Newport Beach, CA. That’s the street address of Morrelli & Melvin, where the next design rule is taking shape. If you’re paying attention, you already know the basics: 60-65 feet long, certain components made one-design in the hope of achieving cost savings, fewer restrictions on control surfaces to make the boats, in turn, easier to design, safer to sail, and faster per foot of LOA. Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts has gone public with that much, and in my too-cool-for-school fashion I assumed that 60-65 feet was merely a gloss of an already established overall length, to hold something back for the press conference at the release of the next Protocol, presumably in March. Maybe. But when I threw that at Oracle wing designer Tom Speer—returning for 2017— Spear allowed as how, “Actually, I think they’re still working on it.”

Maybe. Tom Speer is a straight shooter when he can be. I think we can take it for granted that it’s a welterish job down at M&M, trying to sort through the gamut of the possibilities for a 2017 AC generation in the wake of all the unintended consequences of the 2013 generation.

ACEA/Guilain Grenier

ACEA/Guilain Grenier

Speer spoke on Wednesday at a noontime gathering on the San Francisco cityfront, addressing wing development over the decades and, inevitably, in Q&A, the comeback. He went so far as to say, “Platform aerodynamics, I think, made the difference between the American boat and the Kiwi boat. We had that pod [below trampoline level] that effectively extended our wingspan two meters. That gave us the potential for the upwind speed that we eventually developed, and platform aerodynamics is the area in which we perhaps can make the biggest performance difference going forward.”

With that potential waiting to be exploited, and New Zealand close to clinching the win in spite of it, another key turning point in the 34th match came, gradually, as Oracle studied how to retrim to add more load to the back of the wing. “The boat had lee helm,” Speer said. “You know that kills upwind speed. It was clear that we needed to retrim, so we raked the wing aft—and no, that didn’t work. It turned out that when we powered-off the upper elements—when we added twist aloft—the center of effort shifted down and forward. There was no relief in that. So instead we opened the slot. That gave us less lift on the main element and more lift on the flap [which funnels air aft]. Over the course of the regatta we increased the traveler load by 50 percent. That eliminated lee helm, helped the boat point, and simply made us faster upwind.

“So, it was a bunch of boat-tune things that turned it around for us. Look at any one-design fleet, and the difference between the front and the back is huge. Most of that is fine tuning.”

Before we leave the subject of “slot,” we should listen to Tom Spear describe the effect of the slot from an engineer’s point of view. Here goes: “The slot allows you to go to a higher maximum lift because of the behavior of the boundary layer, which is where all your skin-friction losses occur. The boundary layer is thin, but it wants to get stuck to the wing and not move. Meanwhile, at the leading edge of the wing, the pressure is very low. Toward the trailing edge, pressure increases. There is a tendency to push the boundary layer toward lower pressure—push it forward on the wing—and that’s where you get flow separating from the surface and a big dropoff in lift. With a slot-and-flap arrangement, you are basically dumping slow air from the lead element into high-velocity air around the flap. Or, let’s say that you are taking one bottom layer and handing it off to a fresh bottom layer on the flap.”

Wings have been a fascination in this space for years, but in Spear’s figuring, “Wing development has hit a plateau. [in only one AC cycle, after decades in C-cats and A-cats!]. Given the motivation to control costs, it’s likely the next design rule will constrain the design of the wing so that teams don’t have to spend so much in that area.” Again, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve heard the talk in high places about making all or, more likely, parts of the wing one design.

Control. Control. Control. Another just-in-time for Oracle, and the hydro that bit New Zealand.



Foiling is here to stay. We can never unsee the excitement it evokes.The America’s Cup exposed the world to foiling and anything less will never again be acceptable to the public. This event will be remembered as the defining moment of change in sailing as a sport.
I have predicted before and will state again the 2020 Olympic games will feature at least one foiling class if not two.


America’s Cup: Rod Davis – still looking for answers after Cup defeat
11:51 PM Sun 5 Jan 2014 GMT 

‘Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team New Zealand on the Final Race of the 2013 America’s Cup’    Carlo Borlenghi/Luna Rossa©   Click Here to view large photo

Emirates Team NZ coach, Rod Davis, admits he is still a bit stunned, three months after the conclusion of the 34th America’s Cup, and the shock loss by the Challenger, after being on Match Point. 

Part of Davis’ post-Cup frustration-relief therapy is to go sailboat racing every chance he can – and by is own admission, that is a lot of sailing, at present.

‘It’s still hard to believe that we out-prepared Oracle by that much, ahead of this regatta, and lost the regatta’, he says with the incredulity of the 9-8 result, still to fully register.

‘It is hard to come to grips with it. Normally when you out-prepare a team by that much in any sport, you come away with a victory. And it didn’t happen that way.’

‘Suddenly Oracle ended up with a better package, and that’s amazing and depressing!’

For sure, the America’s Cup Defender, Oracle Team USA, realized they were well off the pace in the early stages of the regatta, and began to play for time.

Their first ploy was using their Postponement Card on just the third day of racing when they only had one win from five races, and Emirates Team New Zealand were just two race days away from winning their third America’s Cup.

At the time Regatta Director Iain Murray commented that the Postponement Card was intended to allow boats to recover from structural damage, not call for a time-out to allow them to re-group. But this was not stated in the rules, and Oracle Team USA elected to pull the pin on the racing after being passed again, sailing to windward on Leg 3 – a race which Emirates Team NZ went on to win by 65secs.

‘If you look at the results, we had 19 races in the regatta, and at the near half-way point, after the first nine races, we were six wins and three losses’ says Davis. (Two Oracle wins where spent to offset a Jury imposed penalty, so the points score was 6-1 at that stage.)

‘And after the next ten races, we were two wins and eight losses. So the trend was that Oracle was getting stronger all the way through. But in the second half of the series, we couldn’t buy a break’, says the Olympic Gold and Silver medalist, with the frustration and disbelief still clear in his voice.’

‘We had three races taken off us, and we were leading in all three. As the clock went on Oracle were getting stronger and stronger. With hindsight maybe we should have pushed to do more racing earlier on in the series.’

‘We had an option to that and we didn’t,’ he says, referring to the decision by both teams not to use a reserve day to make up races lost, early on in the series. Oracle Team USA were later reported to have used the day to make substantial changes to their rudders.

‘Honestly I don’t think anyone appreciated, at that point, it was going make a difference’

08/09/2013 – San Francisco (USA,CA) – 34th America’s Cup – Final Match – Race Day 2  ACEA – Photo Gilles Martin-Raget?nid=118184

‘The call was made not to race on the Reserve Day (September 16)’ says Davis. ‘As to why? You’d have to ask Emirates Team NZ upper management.’

‘So you look back at it, and see it differently now’ he reflects.

Davis believes the key error made by Emirates Team New Zealand was showing their hand too early on the foiling of their first AC72.

‘The major mistake that I see in the campaign was letting the world know we were foiling way too early. From a Sponsor, Press and Public point of view it was a coup, but for the big picture and winning the Cup, it was a liability’ he says.

He discounts the notion that regardless of Emirates Team NZ’s first foil-borne flypast up the Waitemata Harbour, and subsequent foiling with TVNZ on board, the other teams, with their spy and surveillance programs, would have spotted the foiling AC72 anyway.

‘They didn’t know the extent of it, however. We could have kept the extent of it a lot quieter.’

‘It wouldn’t have happened in the Russell Coutts’ era of Team New Zealand. In 2000, they changed bows out on the water, out of sight of spies, so nobody knew they were doing it,’ he recalls.

‘It says something that if you want to keep secrets, then you have got to be damn serious, truly committed, about keeping secrets,’ he adds.

Responding to a question on the wind limits and the effect they had on the racing, Davis believes that both teams got it wrong.

‘The funny thing about the wind limits is that Oracle wanted to lower the wind limits and wanted them a lot lower. We said ‘no, we’ll go from 33kts to 25kts’, and Oracle wanted it down at 20kts, because they wanted to position the limit low in the wind range, because they thought they had a good downrange boat, and our big powerful boat was going to be a good up range boat.’

‘But we get into the America’s Cup and it’s all wrong!’

‘We’ve got the light air boat and Oracle have got the heavy air boat. Halfway through the series Oracle was pushing to have the wind limits increased again! (Wanted the base limit increased from 23-25kts, which was rejected by Emirates Team NZ as they didn’t want a change mid series click here).

‘How do both teams get it so wrong?’ he asks.

ETNZ fully lifted during a recent training day  Graeme Swan   Click Here to view large photo

Superstitious New Zealand fans should have known something was likely to happen in Race 13, given their team’s complete lack of luck in the preceding nine days of racing.

The abandonment of Race 13 when the New Zealanders had a lead of 1000 metres, just short of the finish when the 40 minute time limit expired, caused widespread disbelief, given that AC72’s had been sailing at speeds of up to 20kts.

‘I guess no-one really understood that you couldn’t start a race in eight knots and not finish within the time limit.’ Davis explains…..

‘I don’t think that Oracle knew that any better than anyone else at the time, although they may claim they did now, because Oracle was pushing to race in light with thinking (wrongly) they were going to be quicker in eight knots.

‘We knew the time limit was going to be close, but nobody that I know of can say that before that race started, that you could not finish, if you had to use a gennaker or Code Zero.’

‘Iain Murray never knew that, none of the other teams knew that. Oracle says they knew it after the fact.’

‘We had just never sailed a San Francisco race in that light a breeze before,’ he added.

Davis has sailed in 11 America’s Cup campaigns, for four different national teams – as a coach and a sailor. Many consider ‘Hot Rod’ to be the consummate hired gun. Now the tide is running the other way with many wanting a return to the stronger nationality requirements that existed prior to 2007, and even a return to the near absolute nationality rule that existed from 1958 to 1983, and was only seriously diluted after the 2003 America’s Cup, by new Defender Alinghi, who sailed in 2007 with one Swiss National aboard.

‘It’s not what I think (Davis says he is in favor of a nationality rule) but it’s what Oracle thinks’ he responds. ‘Oracle is talking about a nationality clause, but if you look at it, why would they want a nationality clause? They only had one American on the boat this time. It makes no sense.’

‘Sometimes you don’t listen to what people say; you watch their position and figure that they will do what’s best for them. I can’t see a nationality clause coming out of Oracle.’

‘I don’t think Larry Ellison cares if there are not a lot of Challengers, so long as he hangs onto the Cup. I don’t think we will see much change in the nationality rule,’ he concludes.

America’s Cup – Artemis Racing foiling on their AC45 in San Francisco  Sander van der Borch?nid=118184_- Artemis Racing ©

With the Protocol for the next America’s Cup now not expected to be announced until at March, a least. Davis is more than a little skeptical about the reality of cost reduction. With his long America’s Cup experience, he is well aware that cost reduction is a topic that is often discussed, but never delivered.

‘We might see some changes in the one-design components of the boat – to try and make the boats less expensive by saving on designer costs.’

‘To try and make the America’s cup less expensive is a difficult, difficult thing to do. All you need is one team, one guy, who is prepared to spend more money and time and that will drag everybody else in that direction to match them and be competitive.’

‘How are you going to trim the budget by 20%? I don’t see it happening in reality’

‘They want to have the AC45’s racing in the future and do the ACWS type circuit. But that has a cost to it. And should those 45’s be modified to be foiling like the AC boats? If so, that’s going to be more expensive, isn’t it? ‘

‘How do you practically pull cost back? I pity the poor guy who is responsible for that’, he says, shaking his head.

The cynicism that there will be any change in the Nationality rules, coupled with the re-signing of crew by existing teams, is perceived as making it difficult for new teams to get established – and having to start with completely new sailing talent.

As a highly experienced coach, at both America’s Cup and Olympic level, how would Davis approach crew selection and training with a new team?

‘From a sailing team’s perspective, with new young talent you would get stuck into some big, say 60+ feet multi hull racing. And try and get their heads around that. The AC45 will work for them to a certain extent as far as the wings and stuff, because I expect the wings to stay.’

‘You want a good balance of youth and enthusiasm and experience, then let the experienced guys teach the new sailing talent how to deal with these boats and what we know about starting and racing and all that. Then turn the youth lose to use their talent and do what what they love to do, race sail boats’

‘From a design standpoint you are going to have to draft in from other teams as much design talent as you can, but before you can do that you need to have protocol to know what/if you’re designing hulls, boards, wings…

The Challenger of Record, Team Australia look set to emulate this approach – having been unable to sign their established America’s Cup sailors. Instead they are looking to draw on a not insubstantial pool of Olympic and other talent and go without the America’s Cup ‘heavies’.

‘I don’t know if it guarantees a will to win the Cup with that sort of approach,’ says Davis, ‘but you will do a very good job. And the America’s Cup is up for a revolution anyway, in terms of younger, fresher talent in all the sailing teams. There has to be.’

The five time Olympian sees Emirates Team New Zealand as being in a similar situation, having to rejuvenate a long established team.

‘Team New Zealand has gone with the same team from 2007 and that is probably the same core team from more than ten years down the road.

‘I think there has to be a new group that comes in. That has to be good news for New Zealand, because New Zealand has got a really good crop of new young sailors coming through right now.

‘They might be a click young, but the passion and talent means they’ll close the gaps pretty damn quick.’

‘The tricky part, and the part that needs clever management is the balance of experience and youthful aggression. That is not something that just happens, it takes insight to all the different perspectives; the new talent, the experienced veterans, and both their Olympic and AC aspirations. All this has to be blended into dominant, across the board successes. It can be done, it’s tricky to do but must be done’


by Richard Gladwell

Rod is an old friend, we sailed against one another in the 1977 america’s cup summer in twelve meters, both of us were bowmen.  I always felt that a good bowman already knew what the helmsman would do before he did, being able to anticipate was key.


ac 1 ac2 ac3 ac4 ac5 ac6 ac7 ac8 ac9


The America’s Cup 34 will be remembered for many reasons. Perhaps the most significant is that it has defined sailing going forward. It will be the historical reference of the change from what was and what will be. Indeed the fulfillment of Russell Coutts prediction of the Flintstone generation and the Facebook generation.

I have stated before and will state again, the next Olympics, not the upcoming event, there will be at least one foiling class if not two.


A lot has been written and expressed about the performance of the 72’s. When someone like Glen Ashby speaks, we should all listen.

Glenn Ashby explains the Emirates Team New Zealand nosedive.

August 20, 2013

The most heart stopping moment of the 34th America’s Cup action so far was the huge bear away crash which saw the Emirates Team New Zealand AC72 nosedive at the windward mark in race two. (In case you have been living up a mountain with no internet or left the planet temporarily in the last few days the video clip is at the end of this article).

So what exactly went wrong on the Kiwi boat to trigger such a spectacular nose dive that it thew the majority of the crew into a tangled heap and flicked two of them unceremoniously into San Francisco Bay.

To find out from one who would know for sure, we got Emirates Team New Zealand wing trimmer Glenn Ashby to talk us through it.

First we asked Glenn to explain what he is doing to the massive wing sail when the boat goes around the windward mark.

“The goal for me is control the angle of heel as we transition from upwind to downwind. To do that I am basically twisting the wing profile and easing sheet as we initiate the turn. You are getting more and more power as you transition through that 90 degrees until you get to a sort of neutral ground where you are really in the meat of the power zone. At that point you have a low boat speed but a huge amount of thrust.

“So as you are punching through that power zone the guys will be winding the sheet and I will be sort of fanning the sheet to try to keep that angle of heel constant through the turn.

“Once you realise that you are through the power zone I’ll be immediately trying to stand the leech up or bring the head of the wing back, because if you punch through that zone and you don’t get the sheet back on and the power back into the wing the apparent wind is basically on your bow and you will do a big windward hull touchdown.

Then, because you will have board rake on the leeward side the leeward hull will be flying, your windward hull will be stuck in the water and you will have absolutely no power to turn the wing back up to lift that windward hull back out of the water again. That can actually turn itself into a bad bow down situation quite easily.

“By being able to pace the boat up enough, put the board rake on, even pop the boat up on to the foils before you start your turn, you are not having to drag the whole hull through the water, it won’t wash off enough speed and as you pass through the power zone you don’t have to ease as much sheet because the apparent stays forward. That means you can get the sheet on again much faster and that can give you a really good slingshot or whip out of the top mark. You will often see the boatspeed go from 30 knots to 45 knots in the space of a few seconds.”

So what happened during the second race to cause such a huge crash?

“The other day we just got into a really big, right hand heading puff as we went round the mark. It probably went from 15 or 16 knots to low twenties as we went around the mark. What that did was to widen and increase the density of the pressure in that power zone as we were punching through. It got to the stage where we were half way round and I was having to ease a huge amount more wing than I normally would – just with the extra thrust that we had.

“Unfortunately it was one of those bear aways where our leeward elevator pierced the surface at one stage. Once you lose the effect of that elevator which is basically holding the boat down you are effectively into an old school multihull bow down situation. It happened in an absolute blink of an eye. We have never had it happen before but that time the stars had aligned to give us that finger of God just as we got to the top mark.

“When you go back and look at the data on the breeze that we sailed into, it was a huge shift – possibly with a lot of sheer from top to bottom too – combined with a big increase in pressure. When you are sailing through the power zone you only need a half a knot or a knot of increase in pressure to make a massive difference to the power zone. We had a good three or four knots of increase as we went around and that was enough to load everything to a point where for a standard maneuver it would have been no problem; but we recognise that we were a bit foot to the floor with that one.”

Despite having gone though a crash which would have put most of us off going afloat ever again, Ashby said instead that the incident had actually given the Kiwi crew more confidence in their boat and how hard they could push it.

“It was a good one, but it was also a good example of Team New Zealand’s design and engineering capabilities to be able to create something that us as sailors can throw that sort of punishment at it and it will just pop up with nothing but a bit of cosmetic damage to the fairings.

“The boat performed extremely well. We have designed a boat that will allow us to push it really hard and it will be forgiving and look after us. That means we can keep our foot on the throttle. It let us know that we were probably pushing a bit too hard the other day.

Ashby, like the rest of the crew – other than helmsman Dean Barker who was braced behind the wheel – was thrown on the floor of the windward hull as the boat slowed dramatically from 41 knots to 13 in the blink of an eye.

“The biggest thing that stopped us was when the front beam hit the water and that’s when I went for a little bit of a tumble. It happened quick like every down the mine episode – whether it be on a Moth, A-Class, or a 49er, you generally get a split second before hand to say to yourself “Oh bugger!” and then you know you are on your way.”

Ashby maintained that having studied the nose dive in detail and debriefed it amongst the crew, they had no plans to make changes to their bear away technique.

“At the end of the day we are not going to change anything we do. In fact if anything it gives us more inspiration to keep pushing hard and learn the limits. We are still learning about the boats the whole time and we have really good confidence that we can pull off some pretty wild maneuvers in good breeze and shifty conditions and get away with it.

“Having never had that experience with the boat before it’s good to know that the boat is safe as house and that the performance is hopefully good enough as well.”


courtesy of sailing anarchy

With lifting foils getting more and more important and complex at the top end of multihull racing, our pal Dario from Carbonic Boats wrote a relatively simple little guide to the different solutions and how they work.  

1) Angled Board

The simplest way to obtain a vertical component by just canting the foil lift vector.  This solution is extremely constrained in angle and span if a beam limit is to be respected when the foil is retracted. The same constraint also forces the foil exit point in the hull inboard toward the middle of the boat, moving the hull/foil junction closer to the free surface and reducing righting moment (because the centre of vertical lift moves inboard).

Every part of the foil span contributes evenly to vertical lift so, assuming enough foil angle is possible to lift the boat clear of the water, there is no stability in heave (ride height).

Using two such foils together on a very wide platform such as Hydroptere (diagram 
below) can give heave stability by simply reducing immersed foil area with altitude.  But this arrangement is not practical in most classes racing ‘around the cans’.

2) C, J, and L Foils:

C Foil: Sideforce (to windward) is unevenly vectored to generate upward lift. Vertical component is greatest near the bottom. By tightening the radius, more extreme lift characteristics can be obtained regardless of beam restrictions. On the practical side, C foils are easy to install because they fit in a constant-radius foil case.

 C foils are unstable in heave: as ride height increases, vertical force does not decrease. Given constant thrust, if lift is greater than total weight, the boat will rise until the foil stalls, causing a crash. C foils are helpful in foil-assisted sailing as long as they lift less than 100% of the weight of the boat.

J Foil: Similar to C foils but maximum lift remains available when a J foil is partially retracted (shown orange). The lower part of a J foil stays ‘canted’ until the junction radius reaches the hull. Unlike a C foil that becomes more upright as you pull it up. J foils are also unstable in heave so are suited to foil-assisted sailing rather than full foiling. They potentially have less drag when sailing downwind because their draught (and hence frontal area) can be reduced when vertical lift is still beneficial but less sideforce is required.

Both C and J foils can have high induced drag when set for max lift (raked – see last diagram below) because the lift distribution along the span becomes biased toward the tip. End devices such as winglets or washout at the tip help alleviate this but cause parasitic drag at other times and add complexity to the foil case design if the foil is to be fully retractable. Note that tightening the transition radius on a J foil progressively gives a ‘traditional’ 90 degree L foil that is also unstable in heave.

‘Acute L’ Foil: A very elegant way to automatically regulate heave for full foiling on only one (leeward) foil. First “stumbled upon” by the ETNZ design team, this idea is a great example of how rule constraints can push innovation by forcing competitors to think laterally.

As ride height goes up, the immersed area of vertical ‘strut’ decreases (lateral area is lost). This makes leeway increase, in turn reducing the Angle of Attack (AoA) on the ‘horizontal’ foil.  To get your head around this, imagine what would happen if you made leeway extremely large (like 90 degrees): The horizontal foil would actually start pulling down!  Under normal conditions the change in leeway is small (say 5 degrees) but the component across the boat works to reduce the AoA on the horizontal foil, moderating lift to stop a runaway leap into the air.

So: boat goes up > lateral area gets smaller > boat starts slipping sideways a bit more > horizontal foil moves toward its own low pressure field > lift decreases > boat settles > lateral area increases > leeway decreases > vertical lift grows again… And so on until an equilibrium is reached.

The higher the inboard tip relative to the outboard root/junction, the closer the coupling between ride height (through sideforce) and vertical lift.

At extreme ride heights, the acute L foil begins to work as a conventional (powerboat) V hydrofoil: When the inboard tip of the horizontal foil breaches the surface, immersed foil area is gradually reduced regardless of sideforce. This is vital to avoid a crash when pulling away to a near square run in reaction to a gust. It is a good ‘safety valve’ in situations where speed (and lift) may be high but sideforce is small.

3. Combos

With the basic components described above, designers have a kit of parts that can be mixed and matched to suit the particular application at hand.  The principal groups that can be seen when observing recent AC72 testing are described below in the order pictured above.

L Foil with Polyhedral: The bent inboard tip provides stability in the same way as an acute L foil. Kinking the horizontal foil reduces junction angle between vertical strut and horizontal foil to 90 degrees. In a way similar to introducing a bulb or aradius, this decreases drag where interference effects are most prevalent.

The root of the horizontal is heavily influenced by the low pressure area inboard of the vertical strut so is less affected by leeway than the tip. It makes sense therefore to use the root to generate the bulk of vertical lift and exploit the tip for heave control.  The penalty is a bit more parasitic drag as there is more foil area for a given effective span.  The bent horizontal foil can also hug the hull more snugly when the foil is retracted, reducing drag when the windward hull is near the water.

Acute L with Kinked Strut: Bending the vertical strut enables some adjustment of the angle of the horizontal foil so that stability in heave can be fine-tuned. A bend may also be necessary to stay inside the beam restriction if designers want to cant the strut inboard to get an effect similar to a C-L foil.

C-L Foil: Combines the heave stability of an acute L with some lift vectoring of the strut for lower overall drag. The cost is ashift inboard of the centre of lift which reduces righting moment.

S-L Foil: Similar objective to a C-L: more even lift sharing for lower overall drag. But the inflection at the top moves the bottom outboard again, recovering full righting moment.
The S also fine-tunes the angle of the horizontal foil to adjust ride height and heave stability. The downsides are mechanical complexity at the bearings, a foil case that holds more water, and more friction when raising and lowering.  Bending the foil at the highly loaded area between hull and deck bearings is also structurally more demanding, especially on bigger boats.

And finally, a diagram (left) showing how foil rake affects vertical lift.

Remember that heave stability is the tendency for lift to vary inversely with ride height.  For effective foiling it must be combined with pitch stability which is a bit simpler to obtain using properly sized T+ or Lrudder foils.

On small boats such as the A Class, it may be possible to ‘stay on top of’ an unstable platform by actively managing weight placement and sideforce, countering in real time the continuous tendency to depart stable flight. Like riding a unicycle this is difficult but humanly possible.
Until now this solution, though far from optimum, seems to be the best real world choice for racing around the course in the A Class, mainly due to rule constraints on foils. The challenge for the future is getting stability with an acceptable drag penalty within the rule.  Bigger boats do not have the option of quickly shifting weight and aggressively trimming the sails so true stability is important for safety and speed.