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The hairy edge

In the August issue of Yachts & Yachting (out now), we take a look at what Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup bid means in detail – the sailors, the sponsor deal, and the AC62s.

I was lucky enough to have a good chat with BAR design signings Dirk Kramers and Jason Ker. Dirk, who was Chief Engineer to Oracle Team USA in 2013, admitted that things were not always as controlled as they seemed in the last Cup. Here’s what he had to say:

Was it a hard decision to move away from the Defender to a first-time Challenging team?

No, not really, I’ve been with the defender for such a long time now, it was kind of refreshing. It’s good, it’s a great opportunity, great challenge, so not at all.

What’s exciting you about the BAR bid?

Well, like I said it’s a new challenge. Usually when you are with a team for a long time, or teams that have existed for a while, you tend to sort of end up in particular ways of doing things, and I like change. I like things that are new and different, and this was an opportunity to do something new and different,and that’s what I like.

Had you worked closely with Ben at all at Oracle, or not so much…?

Yes, at Oracle I worked with him obviously. He came in halfway through the campaign, right after the Olympics. I was very impressed with his way of doing things and his determination, approach to things. It’s not a very difficult choice to try to sign up with him and do things a bit differently.

With the AC62s, I’m guessing you’re pleased with the road that’s been taken?

Er, yes, I suppose. The basic concept of the boat is pretty much what we were expecting. One of the problems right now is that the Defender still retains the right to change the class rule, in any respect, right until next year some time. So the difficulty we have now is trying to focus our development in a certain direction, with a big risk of the defender and Challenger of Record changing things on us and yielding our hard work useless, so that’s a difficult situation to deal with right now in terms of structuring our development.

So, what can you do? Do you sit back a little bit?

No, no, you can’t afford to. The way these projects work is that it’s a continual development cycle, and you keep running through cycles. You design, analyse, build, sail, learn. Then you start it all over again. And really the more cycles you run through the more significant your improvement will be, so you can’t sit still. You have to move forward. But with the rule the way it is, and the Protocol the way it is, it’s a very risky proposition.

The obvious other risk is you’ve no idea what conditions you might be designing for at the moment have you either?

That’s absolutely true!

Are you thinking already about placing your bets on where the venue might be, or thinking of something that might work across different conditions?

No I think at the moment we have to approach things in a more general term, wider wind range. We don’t know where it’s going to be, if it’s San Diego or Bermuda or Chicago, or wherever it may be, it’ll be quite different, so we have to broaden the scope of our development – broaden the wind range of our development I should say.

I had a little chat with Jason at the launch last week, and he described it as feeling like a second iteration rather than a new Rule? Is that how it feels to you?

It’s true to some degree. The rule is certainly written modelled on where we ended up with the last Cup in terms of the basic layout of the boat, and they’ve fixed certain shortcomings in the rule that accidentally ended up being there, but it’s a bit of a second iteration. So whereas the last Cup was really a complete adventure as to where we might end up in design and a foil design, this one will be more of a refinement.

So with, for example foil design, are we expecting to see anything radical or is going to be much tighter in terms of refinement for all the teams this time?

Well, that’s difficult, as I say it’ll be a refinement of what we saw before, as soon as you say that you come up with a different idea – wait a minute, that might work! So you know, we’ll continue to look under all the rocks we can, and we might find something different. I think in general, visually, it’s not going to look that much different. Even the configuration of the platform, the hulls and cross structure, is pretty much dictated in the rules so to deviate greatly from there there is not really possible. So the whole difference between, for example, the Team New Zealand and the Oracle approach last time, those big differences I don’t think you’re going to see, but there might be significant differences in the details. So it will be interesting for the general public to follow where our development is heading. So I would certainly encourage the general public to keep an eye on whatever pictures you might publish of all of us training and testing! That will be quite an interesting story for this next Cup.

“We were very much on the hairy edge last time”

Where do you see the potential for improvement here: is it in straight-line speed, or stability on the foils or something else?

I’d say probably stability on the foils. Everybody said, ‘Oh these boats are beautiful and they’re nicely under control,’ but they’re not really. We were very much on the hairy edge last time, and it’s really a miracle that we didn’t see any [more] major crashes or break downs in the last Cup. I think a lot of the focus is going to be on control and safety and broadening the wind range.

Do you think those gains are going to come from the design team or is the main jump going to be how the guys are sailing them?

Oh that goes hand in hand, we can’t design a boat without the sailors and the sailors need us to design a boat. So it’s truly a team effort. So we come up with a crazy idea, we need to run it by the sailors – how do you think this is going to work, would you be able to handle this? These discussions are continuously happening, and once we agree we should try this then we go design and build it and try it out.

Obviously it looks like there is going to be a very short window of time for the guys to have the boats on the water, so last time we saw this huge jump in performance over the course of the Cup races themselves. Do you think we might see something similar this time?

Probably less so. But a lot of the development for this Cup is going to have to happen in testing boats or training boats, or development boats, whatever you want to call them. All the teams, I think, are progressing on designing and building those boats now. It could be either a boat that’s 10m or shorter, or it can be a modified version of the AC45. So it looks like the majority of the teams are going to modify the AC45s and get them up on foils, and run their development on those boats.

But then, the 45 racing itself, are we expecting there to be changes for that or strict one-design?

Well it will be strict one-design, I’m quite sure, although we haven’t seen the rules of that yet. There’s talk about modifying them to foiling boats, but I don’t think we know exactly what’s going to happen there yet. We’re sort of waiting for the infrastructure of the organising committee to take hold. We don’t have a Regatta Director yet, and the arbitration panel is not in place yet, so there’s a bit to go to get the mechanics of how to run the regatta in place, and until we do then we need forward in good faith.

I’ve seen quite a few commentators talking about the ‘one-design’ elements of the 62. How do you see that working out?

The wing shape is actually one-design. They’ve issued us a IGIS file (check), which is just a way of transmitting the 3D shape of the wing. So that is fixed and there are strict controls about what you can do with that. For the platform there is a sort of window in which you can locate you cross-structure, your beams and your end plates and so on, and then the location of the hinge, or the ball as we call it, the mast rotation ball, is located fairly tightly in terms of distance to the transom. So when you look at the boats side-on they’re all going to look pretty similar, because they’re all going to have their masts with the ball position in the same place, the wings will look identical in profile, but it’s going to be in all the details that the differences will be.

Obviously another big change we have this time is a reduction in crew numbers. Is that going to change how you can set things up, what you can do?

Well yes, it’s a significant drop in the amount horsepower provided. That’s maybe not the right term for these guys but, but the fitness level of the grinders is going to take a big jump. Young strong guys is what’s needed.

“The grinders are going to start looking more and more like bike racers”

A jump again from last time, because it looked pretty impressive from last time?

Oh yeah, if you look back at what happened in monohulls the grinders looked like weight lifters basically. They’re going to start looking more and more like bike racers, which is not all bad, it’s still a sport, which is good. But having said that where that will take is to try and improve the efficiency of the control systems, and the more work we can get out of the limited amount of horsepower will help us make the boat go faster.

How key is safety going to be this time around – and really is it possible to make these boats in any way significantly more safe?

Well the rule did address that, and in some aspects safety has been addressed in that sailors now have to operate out of cockpits in stead of sitting on top, so falling off the boat in a pitchpole or something like that is going to be less likely, and there will be similar safety measures like breathing apparatus, climbing harnesses, all these kind of things there will still be helmets, lifejackets, that will all still continue. There are also requirements for flotation bags in the wing in case the boat capsizes. After the tragedy last year, big steps have been made and those will continue.

Looking at the BAR squad there’s been quite a lot of appointments on the design side already, do you feel you have a very strong team to work with there?

Yeah we have a great team. The interesting thing, or exciting part about it is that we have a mixture of some of the old guys like me and some new young guys, and to get fresh ideas out you need some fresh new blood, and we certainly have that, and you also need to avoid the sort of novice mistakes that hopefully old guys like me can bring to the table!

In terms of your immediate goals, what do you want to set out to achieve first of all?

It’s probably no secret that we working on modifying a boat to start sailing the latter part of the summer or beginning of the fall, so that’s what we’re working on right now. So we need to continue planning our development. The rule’s been out two or three weeks now so now we’re in the process of coming up with a strategy on how we’re going to plan our development.

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