Updated: Watch as Team New Zealand foil in light winds in Bermuda
As Emirates Team New Zealand come to grips with the traffic chaos on the Great Sound, and the exhaustion that comes with sailing in idyllic conditions, they are finally ready for their first taste of combat with their America’s Cup rivals.
After many weeks of wavering over whether to engage in pre-Cup dueling with the five other teams in Bermuda, the New Zealanders have decided they will race their AC50 catamaran for the first time on Friday.
Coming off the water from a second day of sailing, in “picture perfect” Bermuda conditions, veteran tactician Ray Davies told Newsroom the team are champing at the bit to go racing against a real yacht later this week, after months of practising against a chase boat on Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.
“Even today, just being in the vicinity of other America’s Cup boats, it got pretty exciting. The racing is going to really ramp things up; the stakes are a lot higher, and you have a clear result at the end of it,” he says.
“When you do your own testing and race against yourself, it’s very, very hard to know how you’re going. You just don’t know the speed of the other boats. But as soon as you line up to race, you can no longer hide.
“There’s only one speed when you go out in these boats and that’s flat out,” Davies says. “The grinders – or cyclors as they like to call themselves – are absolutely exhausted. We rotated through a couple of sets of them today.
“This boat is very physical to sail, but you do get rewarded the harder you work. The more energy you put into the boat, the more energy you get out of it.”
There are also a few tweaks to make to the boat, which had to be taken apart to fly to Bermuda, and then reassembled.
“We did a lot of modifications to it while it was apart. We put a lot of new components on board, so to put it back together and have it all working on Day One was a real credit to the guys,” Davies says. “After the second day of sailing today, the boat was still performing really well. But there are quite a few tweaks, and a lot of gains to be made, and we’ve got a lot of new equipment still to come. It still feels like these boats are very much a development class, and there’s a long way to go until we get the optimum performance out of them.”
It’s imperative to Team NZ’s success in Bermuda that they don’t stop developing. That was acknowledged as one of the downfalls of the team in the debacle in San Francisco four years ago.
Bermuda has so far dished up perfect sailing conditions for the New Zealanders – dead flat water and 11-13 knots of breeze inside the Great Sound race course. That’s meant the boat has been a lot easier to sail than it was in Auckland.
“Because the conditions are so perfect up here with the flat water, any foiling boat is a lot easier to sail. It means we can just push it harder and harder,” Davies says.
“Back in Auckland, it was pretty hard to find perfectly flat conditions. We had to sail inside Waiheke and it turns out that was pretty representative of Bermuda.”
But the conditions aren’t always perfect and predictable in the middle of the Atlantic. The forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday (Bermuda time) is “nasty”, Davies says, so Team NZ will keep their powder dry for a few more days. “But we will certainly be ready to get involved later in the week and join in on the practice racing.”
There is one downside to the ideal boating conditions: everyone in Bermuda, it seems, wants to be out in them. And that means Team NZ have had to be extra vigilant on the water.
“There are certainly a lot of spectators out here. It’s a very small race area, and today we had three teams setting up their own marks and racecourses. Then you have a lot of local Bermudians that don’t really have any idea what’s going on and quite often put themselves right in the way. So everyone has to keep their wits about them,” Davies says.
“We are being a lot more vigilant and making sure we look to leeward before we bear away. The visibility isn’t great on these boats; everyone battles with that. You actually have to go and have a look out to leeward to make sure no one is there. Come the America’s Cup, all the boats are off the course, so you only have to worry about one boat.
“It was part of the reason we stayed away as long as possible, too. We knew as soon as we got here it was going to be a zoo. And it is. And that’s only with three teams on the water, let alone six. It was great that we could stay in New Zealand as long as we possibly could.”
Nevertheless, Team NZ are happy with the attention they’re getting from locals who are enthralled by the glamour of the America’s Cup.
They’re also confident they are in a strong state, a month before the Louis Vuitton challenger series begins.
“We are definitely happy with where we are: the state of the team, the equipment we have coming on line,” Davies says. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to be a true yacht race. The wind is going to be a huge factor, so going the right way and picking a few good shifts is so important.
“Yes, there will be speed differences between the boats, but the gains and losses on the race course are going to be much bigger than anyone is expecting. Sailing well is going to be the key. We’re very happy with the tight crew we have, they are ramping into it, and looking forward to peaking in a few weeks’ time.
“We’ve just got to put the icing on the cake now. Bring it on.”