British set to launch test boat as critical development and data gathering phase begins
The 'LEQ12' test boat is the team's first design and construction project since partnering with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
When the British America’s Cup syndicate INEOS Britannia signed off on the Protocol for AC37 they made certain that, in addition to the obligatory purchase of an AC40, the Cup rules allowed the teams the option of building their own scaled down development boats.
In official America’s Cup language this type of sailing boat (or, in fact, towing platform) – which must be longer than six metres and no more than 12 metres – is known as an LEQ12 (standing for ‘less or equal to 12’).
This Autumn will see the British team launch their LEQ12 at their newly commissioned training base in Palma, Mallorca where the team expects to be based until next summer.
The British test boat is codenamed T6 and has been constructed at Carrington Boats on the English south coast – the same builder as the team’s two AC75s from the last Cup.
According to INEOS Britannia CEO/skipper Ben Ainslie it is unlikely that the team’s first new boat of this latest America’s Cup cycle will reveal much about the design direction the British are taking.
“I think seasoned America's cup technical campaigners will probably see the boat for what it is,” he told Cup Insider. “It's not designed to be the fastest 40-foot foiling monohull. It's designed to give us all of the information and data, and validity from our design process that will feed into the production of the big boat.
“Of course, it is also a nice opportunity for us as sailors to get on the water to work on our skill sets and techniques.”
Ainslie said the design and construction of LEQ12 had served as an effective way of focusing the various INEOS Britannia departments on a single project – including harnessing the ample resources of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team for the first time since the two organisations partnered up.
“Our goal from the beginning has been getting a common team bond, philosophy, working practices, structure. Now we are starting to see the benefits of that coming through as we're getting ready to get T6 on the water.
“We felt it was really important to take on a project like a test boat in terms of going through the design phases, trying to meet those milestones, working with the manufacturing team – led by Ryan Taylor working with long term partners such as Jason Carrington and his team at Carrington boats – who have done a fantastic job with the hull manufacture. Then the final process of getting all the componentry together and the testing process for all of those to finally fitting out the boat.”
Ainslie was unwilling to give too much away about what the T6 test boat would look like, other than it would be about the same size as an AC40, be battery powered, and sailed by a crew of four.
Opting for the scaled-down test boat option has many benefits over recommissioning one of the team’s last generation AC75s – as Ainslie explained.
“There aren't anywhere near the same restrictions on the 40-foot test boats as there are on the 75. The rules don’t really allow you to test anything new on a 75-footer – but you can actually do a reasonable amount on the 40-footers, be that foils, rig, sails, and so on.”
Although there are a couple of years to go before any AC75 racing will take place at the 37th America’s Cup, the launch this winter of the British test boat marks the beginning of a vitally important period for the INEOS Britannia campaign.
“This coming period – the next couple of months through until next summer – is a really, really, critical testing period,” Ainslie said.
“Ultimately, decisions you have to make by next summer are going to be on hull shapes and foil shapes. Those things are going to have to be signed off by next summer – or certainly before the end of next year.”
Hence the move to Mallorca, where – despite being less than 45 minutes flight away from the America’s Cup host city, Barcelona – the team believes it will get in more sailing days.
“For this winter training period it is absolutely critical that we get the best conditions we possibly can,” Ainslie said.
“We think that Palma is slightly better than Barcelona in the winter months because it’s slightly more protected from those strong northerlies and strong easterlies. Granted, you can still get the strong southerlies and big sea state [in Palma], but we think on average we're going to get better testing conditions.”
The British outfit are expected to have about 40 staff – including sailors – based in Palma and are hoping for 15 - 20 sailing days each month allowing for planned maintenance, bad weather and other unforeseen extraneous factors.
Giles Scott –double Finn gold medallist and Ainslie’s tactician during AC37 – will oversee the British team’s winter training camp.
“Giles has really stepped up well through this process and he is now Head of Sailing for the team,” Ainslie said.
“That takes a lot of weight off my shoulders in terms of the day-to-day management of the sailing team, the sailing schedule, making sure we’re all agreed what our testing priorities are with the design team and ticking those off.
“There is a long list of responsibilities, but Giles is more than up to the task of managing those on and off the water.
Whether Ainslie was serious in his answer to our perennial question as to whether Scott might share helming duties on the team’s next AC75 was not immediately clear.
He laughed when he told me: “Crossing these boats seems to be becoming more and more hazardous, so maybe we should just forget it and copy the Italians.”
Although there will be no space on the T6 test boat for the British cyclors, that powerhouse group of athletes will likely still get to visit Mallorca as part of their specialised training regime.
“At the moment they won't be based in Palma full time, but they will certainly have plenty of training camps down there,” Ainslie said. “One of the neat things about the INEOS relationship is INEOS Sport – which includes the Grenadiers cycling team.
“They hold a lot of their winter training camps out in Mallorca and our cyclors will tap into that group on quite a few occasions. That’s a great opportunity to work with their team to hone our human performance program for the Cyclors.”
Despite having designed and built their own personal foiling forty-footer Ainslie said the British team was looking forward to taking delivery of their AC40 – scheduled to be the second one off the production line – before the end of this year.
“We will certainly do some testing and sailing in that boat with an eye towards those warm-up regattas in 23. I think having the opportunity to train and race in that boat is a good opportunity for all the challenging teams. Clearly there are benefits in it for Team New Zealand as well – they wouldn't be doing it otherwise.
“The warmup events will be a wonderful opportunity to get match racing again in these style of boats. We will also use the AC40 for some in-house racing and development and of course for the Youth and Women's Cups as well. So, I think it will be a well-used tool.”