America's Cup team gambles on sea cycling

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The Kiwis have gambled on an innovative approach in their bid to capture the Auld Mug for the first time since 2000 and avenge the 9-8 defeat by Oracle Team USA in San Francisco in 2013.

For this year’s event in Bermuda, the New Zealanders have replaced the traditional arm-powered winches with cycle-style grinders.

Four bikes on each of their new AC50 catamaran’s hulls will provide the power to supply the hydraulic systems, which raise and lower the foils and pull in the huge wingsail.

The ideal scenario, and the fastest way to sail, is to keep the boats foiling continuously above the water all around the course — known as stable flight.

This requires power in the system to make continuous adjustments to the foils and wing.

And with six crew allowed on board, and two — the helmsman and wing trimmer — concentrating on steering, strategy and sail settings, only four sailors are available to produce all the power needed.

‘Innovative’

The theory behind the bikes is that the bigger leg muscles will be able to produce more power for longer than arm-powered winch grinding.

Team NZ has recruited Olympic bronze medal-winning cyclist Simon van Velthooven to lead the new revolution.

The benefits of cycling as opposed to regular grinding are “obvious,” according to Emirates Team New Zealand design coordinator Dan Bernasconi, but “not without issues and difficulty with functionality.”

“Winning the next America’s Cup is all about maintaining a stable flight on the entire race course, and that’s the reason why this boat contains some of the most innovative and powerful technology ever used in this competition in its systems, electronics, hydraulics and foil designs,” he told the team’s website.

Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill and former Team NZ skipper Dean Barker — now head of rival syndicate SoftBank Team Japan — have questioned the potential benefit of the bikes.

Two-time America’s Cup champion Spithill said they may cause extra wind resistance, and be difficult to get on and off quickly during maneuvers.

“We looked at it hard, as I know all the teams did, and it’s a compromise. Nothing is straightforward,” the Australian told Bermuda’s Royal Gazette. “I don’t think that decision will be the deciding factor.”

But former America’s Cup designer Mike Drummond said such leg power could provide “10-15% extra for longer periods.”

“So Team New Zealand, by getting more power out of their grinders for a longer period, maybe they can go to slightly faster foils,” he told TVNZ.


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