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Truth and Lies in AC36

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

Whenever I hear anyone say: “Everyone believed Emirates Team New Zealand had several knots of speed on Luna Rossa,” I timidly put up my hand and squeak: “Not me.”

Truly, I didn’t. I couldn’t see where that information could have come from or where they would get so much extra speed; Luna Rossa seemed so slick and even though these are the fastest big monohulls in the world, even they have a limit.

I’m sure that will be broken in the next generation AC75, but not this time, at least not by the promised several knots.

Besides, I follow the wisdom of Francesco Bruni who often makes clever observations. Twice, he’s said that having the fastest boat in this America’s Cup is not necessarily the best weapon. Fastest average speed, definitely, but not necessarily the top speed. Both the eliminated challengers, Ineos Team UK and American Magic, posted top speeds for the day several times, but it wasn’t enough to win the Prada Cup.

Instead, this America’s Cup seems to be about high speeds, sailing angles and velocity made good, and that’s where Prada has banked its money. It’s got a high fast mode for blistering performance upwind that minimises its distance travelled to the top mark and it’s got a lethal high, slow mode with which it tries to lure another boat into falling off its foils. Luna Rossa is nimble in its footwork and loses less speed in tacking duels.

Oh, and about that. Race one, day one: Jimmy Spithill copped some flak when he tried to luff ETNZ into a penalty just after the start. How could the Pitbull make such a rookie mistake?

It turned out, he didn’t. As the commentators explained the next day: the AC75’s dangerous foiling arms are part of the invisible, keep clear boundary which surrounds each boat in a diamond shape. The diamond runs from the bow prod, outside either foiling arm and down to the transom.

So even though Luna Rossa was still several metres from the side of ETNZ when it made that luff, the Italians’ bow was less than a metre from the invisible diagonal line from the port foiling arm to the transom. ETNZ only just kept clear, thus avoiding a penalty.

Another rumour I’ve heard from the world of professional sailmakers is that ETNZ would likely lose a few races and then begin its winning form. So far, with both teams on two wins each, that prediction is already inaccurate, but it makes sense that ETNZ will rapidly improve its performance, now that it has a sharp blade in Luna Rossa in which to hone its skills.

Luna Rossa will improve against ETNZ too, but, having developed significantly in the Prada Cup, it may be further into its potential than ETNZ. Let’s not forget though that Jimmy Spithill wrote the book on matchracing tactics and continues to add chapters.

The other player in this America’s Cup, dare I say it, is Covid 19. It cancelled the first two America’s Cup World Series regattas scheduled in Italy and England last year, thus robbing the teams of valuable development time, training time and time in sizing up the opposition.

Even at the America’s Cup, it’s altered the schedule, thus robbing teams of lay days which would probably have benefitted ETNZ more as it evaluated its performance against the Italians.

One of the rumours which I do subscribe to is that ETNZ has superior ability to adjust its mainsail, in which case it can probably find more power and height in its sailing angles; despite its smaller foils, it is quick at getting up into flight and that has to be a reflection of instant power in its mainsail. The ability to make continuous changes to the shape of the double-skinned mainsail is paramount in generating power and minimising aerodrag in the AC75. ETNZ will be scrutinising the data during every race and finding untapped potential in speed, height and agility.

As for the rumour about being slow in the light. It’s hard to believe that ETNZ would rock up to a boat race on the Hauraki Gulf in March without a light airs weapon.

But what would I know? I’m nearly always wrong about the America’s Cup.

Photo: Racing on day two, 12 March 2021. Studio Borlenghi.

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