Sitting down with the design leaders

Published on March 5th, 2020

Shirley Robertson

The countdown to the 36th America’s Cup is very much on, so with the first World Series event rapidly approaching, Shirley Robertson’s podcast series of in-depth interviews sits down with the four design leaders from each of the four America’s Cup teams.

The result is a two part podcast that delves deep into the design and build challenges of the new America’s Cup Class, the AC75.

From the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, Robertson talks to Dan Bernasconi, who as the Defender’s Chief of Design, played a key role in coming up with the design parameters around the new AC75 Class. With all four teams now having launched and sailed their first iterations of his vision, he’s pleased to see how well the Class is shaping up.

“It’s a hell of a relief to see teams successfully getting a boat on the water and seeing that the boat works around a race track,” admits Bernasconi. “I’ve only seen one boat at a time so far but am really looking forward to seeing how the match racing goes.

“So yeah, we went ahead with this concept having only ever tried it on a simulator, but I think it’s been validated in real life, that it’s a real exciting boat to sail, the sailors love it and I think it’s going to be really exciting for spectators as well.”

The opening segment of this two part design podcast sees the four discuss the initial design brief, as well as revealing their thoughts on what they’ve seen of each AC75 to date. They examine the reasons for the differences in hull design between the four boats, as well as discussing just how big a design project the AC75 is.

“It’s pretty radical,” notes American Magic Principal Designer Marcelino Botin. “It’s as radical as it gets I guess, I can’t think of any other boat that’s so extreme in all areas you know, the foils, the aero dynamics, the structures, the systems, everything has to be taken to the highest level you know and you need the best possible people in all areas to design this boat, so it’s as radical as it gets, that’s for sure.”

Many of the external design features of the four newly launched AC75s are easily visible while sailing, so the designers go on to discuss with Robertson aspects of foil design, and why the four existing foil setups all differ in design.

Team INEOS UK, Chief Designer Nick Holroyd talks about the challenges of the specific foil designs for the AC75, and how these are very much more complex than anything previously designed for the America’s Cup.

“This time around all the control is done down in the foil,” shared Holroyd. “There are moving flaps down in the foil so you are looking at things that are relatively analogous to aircraft flaps etc, except you are operating in a fluid that’s eight hundred times denser than air, and so your force per unit area of foil is enormous, so you are correspondingly having to generate very large control forces in something that’s thin, well packaged, etc. ”

All the designers interviewed for the podcast reveal their thoughts on, amongst other things, hulls shape, foil design, the double skinned main sail configuration, power generation, and whether the launch of each team’s second boat will see a convergence of design ideas.

The podcast concludes with a question to each designer regarding which aspect will be the most critical area of design, when it comes down to winning the Cup in Auckland in 2021. Luna Rossa, the Challenger of Record’s design coordinator Martin Fischer is not alone in seeing that in such complex boats, there are few areas one can discount.

“Control systems will be very important because control systems have a big impact on all the rest so if you have a good control system then you can push your foils further and so on,” observes Fischer. “But also foil optimization, the rig, in the end everything will be important, I don’t think there will be one point that really sticks out, they’re all important, but if I had to pick one I would probably go with control systems.”

Shirley Robertson OBE made history by becoming the first British woman to win Olympic Gold Medals at two consecutive Olympic Games. Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, produced and edited by Tim Butt of Vertigo Films, is available to listen on her website or via most popular podcast outlets, including iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast, and aCast.

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