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Pushing The Limits On The AC40'

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  • Pushing The Limits On The AC40'

    Returning to New Zealand from the European summer circuits, Pete Burling and Blair Tuke wasted no time in re-joining the extensive Kiwi testing programme, stepping aboard Emirates Team New Zealand’s AC40 for a blustery first taste of the most sensational boat of 2022. Nathan Outteridge who’s been steering one pod during the initial outings alongside Olympic bronze medallist Sam Meech were again onboard for an intense afternoon session having craned in at 11.30am and docked-out just an hour later with the rig set for the tow to the sailing area.

    After a positive first few days of sailing and testing by the extended team, it was interesting to note how the returning team members, on their first full day on the AC40, were able to quickly go from tentative to full-on pushing as the commissioning process for the AC40 continues apace.

    After some getting-to-know-the boat-runs in sheltered waters, pretty soon the team were looking for more testing conditions: “We were tucked in behind Waiheke Island for a bit, so we went out to find more waves in Shark Alley,” commented Tuke, “And then we lined up right on the waves of the Waiheke ferry which is pretty similar swell to what we’ve been sailing in Cadiz recently.”

    With the wind coming in strong as the afternoon progressed from the north-east at a mean of 15 knots and gusting up to 18 knots, the sailors had the AC40 on rails hitting speeds over 30 knots as they pushed through the programme of refining and honing the shared auto-pilot software. “It was good testing, and we learned a lot. It’s an awesome package and with a bit more refinement will be a great boat for the Youth & Women’s America’s Cup and for the teams to do their testing on,” said a damp Tuke afterwards.

    As the Kiwis pushed, it was noticeable to see the scalloping steering style being developed by the helms whilst the boat is in flight as they ride the foiling tightrope to hit the optimum ride height whilst keeping the power in the rig. On occasion there were dunks amidst huge plumes of spray down the decks but the speed with which the team could get the boat flying again was remarkable with the AC40 just popping back up and flying almost instantly. As the wind increased, most notably in the gusts as the session progressed, the team were quick to change down to a smaller headsail going from the J3 which they used for 45 minutes, down to the J4 which they used for almost two hours. As Ray Davies commented in an earlier session: “Once you’re flying you don’t need that much sail area as it just becomes drag.”

    What’s abundantly apparent though is that the AC40 is a pocket-rocket that is highly manoeuvrable and responsive to the crew inputs but very much a plug-and-play boat that the sailors are really enjoying sailing. In total, on the windiest trial day for the AC40 so far, the Kiwis went through 13 tacks with only one touchdown whilst impressively they executed nine gybes on the foils completely flawlessly. With a tacking angle of 45 degrees as standard but 50 as the team pushed it more aggressively, Tuke was impressed: “Just three days in and being able to push it like that is pretty cool.”

    Commissioning continues this week with more sailing sessions planned and an ideal weather forecast for the Auckland area on Thursday ahead of some stronger winds into the weekend. But the lasting impression of today was Blair Tuke’s opening reaction as he stepped ashore for the recon unit interview: “Yeah it was pretty epic.”

    That’s the AC40 in a nutshell.

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