Friday, April 25, 2008

Alinghi present sailing & design team in Valencia; announce imminent construction of yacht

Alinghi, the Defender of the 33rd America's Cup held on Thursday a media day in their base in Valencia, presenting their sailing and design teams and giving an update on the status of design and construction of their multihull yacht. Don't hold your breath there wasn't anything spectacular announcement, although we do know now that the start of construction is "imminent".

Design & Construction of multihull yacht
We would have been foolish if we had expected any major revelation during Thursday's presentation even if hearing Brad Butterworth in his opening words say that construction of the new yacht had started in Villeneuve, Switzerland was indeed a surprise. During the day, and depending one who you talked to, the stage of construction varied slightly. Rolf Vrolijk, chief designer, stated that design is in its final stages and construction could start at any moment after the decision is taken. Regardless of the exact degree of construction, it appears that Alinghi is about to start or has just started the construction process.

Obviously, this is the official line and we doubt anyone knows how advanced the construction is, except a small circle of insiders. At this stage, it would be foolish to reveal anything to the adversary. BMW Oracle also sent some days ago three pictures from what they claimed was their boatyard, without showing any specifics or even dating the photos.

The Alinghi design team has been reinforced with a number of experts, the most prominent being Nigel Irens, the British designer with more than 30 years of experience in large multihulls. Although he claimed he was just a "small addition" to Alinghi's existing team, it's certainly no coincidence he designed a 75ft and a 97ft trimaran that smashed the round-the-world records.

Some general lines were given but lips were tight as far as the details were concerned. With the absence of any predetermined design rules or previous examples of similar yachts it is still a wild guess what they will look like. It appears Alinghi's design team, and not only, was trying to convey the message that because of these reasons and the inherent complexity, it is impossible to build such a boat before the end of the year and for that reason it is impossible to hold an America's Cup match before May 2009, the cornerstone of their legal arguments.

Rolf Vrolijk claimed that it takes 3 months just to understand the concept and structure of such a yacht. Its construction takes roughly 9 months, twice as much as an America's Cup from the last edition. These yachts will contain 3 times the amount of carbon fiber in the current conventional boats. Adding 2 months needed for shake down, Alinghi will not be able to race before a year from now. It appears the design and construction of the yacht are trapped in a vicious circle. The design cannot be finalized before the issue of the venue is decided. The venue depends on the date of the race which in turn depends on the outcome of the legal battle.

One thing is certain, designers and boatbuilders are entering uncharted territory where anything goes. It is up to them to try to figure out what they can achieve in the limited time they have and provided the following construction time schedule in order to support their claim.

Wherever the truth lies about the design and construction of such a boat, the costs are staggering. Grant Simmer, general manager of Alinghi, pointed out that the team's total budget for the 32nd America's Cup was 130 million euros and this time, despite building just one yacht, they are still "proportionally similar". In plain English that means 60-70 million euros for a race that might not even last more than 3 days!!

Sailing Team
There might be a number of reasons why one could be critical of Alinghi but the quality of its sailing team is without any doubt not one of them, quite the contrary. Out of the Defender's 27-strong sailing team, 14 were already part of the 31st America's Cup winner and another 12 joined in the lead up to the second victory in the 32nd edition of the event. That leaves us with just two newcomers, John Barnitt and Alain Gautier.

Barnitt, a three-time America's Cup winner, joined Alinghi as sports director while Gautier is a French multihull specialist whose role in the team is described as multihull consultant. When he was asked to explain his job in the team he described it as "to answer questions".

As a result, it's a closely-knit group of top professional sailors that has won two consecutive America's Cups and there isn't any inherent reason why they shouldn't be able to quickly reach a winning level in multihulls as well. According to Gautier there isn't any preparation deficit in the current structure and no need to change a winning team. This is the reason why they just didn't "buy" an already-established multihull team and renamed it Alinghi.

Unlike BMW Oracle, we weren't surprised with any big-name addition to the team and we were greeted by the same familiar faces we have been seeing in the last 3 years but then, BMW Oracle's sailing team was hardly a brilliant success last year. Alinghi's sailing team shrank from 36 members to 27 but that was a result of change of scope, passing from two fully-crewed America's Cup yachts to two small multihulls or a big one.

Sailing Program
There wasn't any surprise either on the nature of the Defender's sailing program for the next months. Alinghi wants to get the maximum of experience and performance in multihulls and that's what they are going to do. First of all, they will obviously be training aboard the two Extreme 40's here in Valencia.

Second, Alinghi has a third Extreme 40 in order to take part in the iShares Cup, the racing circuit organized by the class. This year's iShares Cup will travel to Lugano in Switzerland, Hyères in France, Cowes in the UK, Germany and finally Amsterdam. The season's kickoff will take place in Valencia, with an exhibition regatta, or official training as the organizers call it, on May 16-18.

Third, in parallel to the iShares Cup, Alinghi will also be racing aboard its D35 on lake Geneva.

Finally, according to Gautier, Alinghi will sail onboard FONCIA and train against another 60ft trimaran but this hasn't yet been decided.

Some of the team's sailors will be sailing on monohulls, on an individual basis and this is probably the biggest difference with BMW Oracle. The Americans have entered the RC44 and TP52 racing circuits in full force. In both of these classes, BMW Oracle has its own fully-crewed yacht while a number of additional sailors are onboard other boats.

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At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey - I have just seen that there is an iShares Cup blog, where you can ask them questions about the teams, venues etc.

You might be interested in it.


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