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This Is the Airbus-Designed Boat That Could Win the Next America's Cup

The race is on for the world’s oldest sports trophy—and the American entrant is formidable.

team Defiant out sailing in Narragansett Bay, R.I. Photo by Amory Ross, courtesy of American Magic

A lot has happened in the world of competitive sailing since we last wrote about it in November 2018. Back then, most of the action consisted of enthusiastic announcements about marketing partnerships, yacht designers engaged and name-brand sailors joining the teams. Now, there are three different challengers with finished boats, while the defender, Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) is busy with its own “boat to beat,” the Te Aihe. It’s currently zipping around the waters of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.

The world’s oldest sports trophy is held every four years at the location of the previous winner’s choice. ETNZ are hoping to keep the Cup they won in Bermuda in 2017. The winner also chooses the specifications for the next challenge.

Defiant‘s first sail in Narragansett Bay, R.I. Photo by Will Ricketson, courtesy of American Magic

Every America’s Cup competition thinks of itself as the latest and greatest, but this one may actually be—because what ENTZ chose was so radical, so unique, that many in the sailing world thought it could not be done. ENTZ called for foiling mono-hulls. While these are technically single-hull boats, they are the only ones in the world without keels. Instead, foils and rudders are used for ballast and stability.

The boats are designed to a box rule that requires some of the components like length, beam, draft and sail structures to fall within specific parameters. Other components of the boat, like the mast and aspects of the foil, must be exactly as specified. Finally, some features, like the hull design and additional foil designs, can be unique. If you’re confused, you’re not alone.

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Each team is allowed to build two boats.

American Magic is the U.S. challenger for the 36th America’s Cup. This represents a joint vision with the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) and its multiple, successful sailing and motorsports racing programs, to win the oldest trophy in international sports.

The team’s boat, Defiant, has been designed with the help of aeronautical engineers from Airbus. Since Defiant will foil at 50mph, it doesn’t hurt to have a team of flying experts.

As one old salt put it, “When reading about the technical achievements of all four boats, it helps to have degrees in both mechanical engineering and advanced computational dynamics.” The science behind these foiling masterpieces is at the Space X level.

An AM38 test boat gets tied up to the docks at New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court for the 175th Annual Regatta BBQ. Photo by Amory Ross, courtesy of American Magic

Here is the current status of the boats in the water:

American Magic

The American team, headed by sailing legend, Skipper and Executive Director Terry Hutchinson, have left the cold clime of Narragansett Bay, R.I., and are currently skimming the waters off their winter base in Pensacola, Fla.

Defiant was built in the old stomping grounds of past America’s Cup boats; Bristol, R.I., home of the legendary Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. As Terry Hutchinson told Worth, “We are extremely proud that we built this boat in Bristol, home to so many of the great AC boats of the past. Part of our mission is to help revitalize marine trades in America. For example, we built the spars in Michigan.”

Construction took place under military-type security. When I approached the build shed (in a very unassuming industrial park) last summer for a look-see, I was politely but firmly asked to move on. I might have been a spy for another team.

Defiant sailing in Newport, R.I. Photo by Amory Ross, courtesy of American Magic

American Magic is counting on a series of innovations to make the boat fast. First may be the hull. In order to get the boat up and out of the water, i.e., to make it as “slippery” as possible, the fit and finish are at the micro-precision level.

There is a lot of firepower behind the American Magic Challenge. Aside from the backing of the NYYC, which held the trophy for 132 years before losing it in 1983, three Team Principals founded and led the team. Sailing World Champions Hap Fauth and Doug DeVos joined motorsports icon Roger Penske to form American Magic shortly after the last America’s Cup was won by Emirates Team New Zealand in 2017. The team now has a staff of 140. Terry added, “I am happy at where we are now. We met all our design, build and crew goals. Defiant is doing well. The real test, however, is in April in Sardinia, when we race the other boats for the first time at the America’s Cup World Series, a promotional regatta. That will determine how happy we really are.”

Three America’s Cup World Series regattas will take place in Europe and New Zealand in 2020, followed by the Prada Cup (the Challenger finals) and the 36th America’s Cup in March 2021 in Auckland.

The bottom line is that the American Magic challenge is formidable. Everything about Defiant says “competitive.” Real Yankee engineering, with a continental touch of Airbus technology, may be unstoppable.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team

The Italians claim responsibility for finding America. After all it was Italian navigator Columbus who risked all on the then-unknown high seas. The Italians are at it again, with a combination of some serious euros in financing, high style from Prada and super-high-tech engineering from global industrial giant Pirelli. Their boat Luna Rossa is a serious contender. Worth caught up with the rather elegant Marco Crola, North American CEO of Pirelli, at the Prada party in Newport last summer. His take was, “This effort is about visibility for our technology. We are contributing a lot of the key parts of the boat. Since Pirelli often wins on asphalt, it was logical to take those successes to the water. When you combine that with the Prada luxury connection, we hope to win the 36th Cup as our brands win in the consumer market.”

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INEOS Team UK 

This is a reconstituted Sir Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) effort. His performance was, frankly, underwhelming at the 35th Cup. They were eliminated early on. From what I saw in Bermuda, the BAR-Land Rover effort came up short in both sailing skills and technology. However, and this is a big however, Sir Ben has teamed up with another “Sir” in the person of Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, to fund his challenge. According to reports, Sir Jim told Sir Ben, “Do it right.” He is hoping the $150 million pounds he put into the challenge boat Britannia can accomplish that goal. Britannia is by far the most radical of the boat designs. Her wide hull and long smooth curves make it look like it could skim over the water like a polished stone.

The Defenders: ETNZ

Te Aihe means “Dolphin” in Maori. One very knowledgeable observer thinks, “This is the boat to beat.” For one thing, the event will be held in the Auckland Gulf, their home waters, known for fickle winds. Another advantage is they issued all the design specifications. Theoretically they knew what they wanted. It did, however, capsize in a recent trial. No one was hurt and the boat was righted.

ETNZ, coming off their win in Bermuda, has a tight team. They were full of surprises there, winning in a stunning upset. Can they fend off the new, very well-funded challengers?

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We will find out when they first sail against each other in Cagliari Sardinia April 23-26.

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