blow your mind

blow your mind

AC Anarchy’s Multihull Expert John Casey was a busy beaver in Valencia, talking speed tips with the insiders to get the inside scoop on the secrets of the AC beasts.  Don’t forget to hit JC’s website for more of his great stuff, and pics courtesy of our much prettier AC Anarchy correspondent Meredith Block.

When Bertarelli slashed the rules allowing for his engine, he surely didn’t realize how much the other side would beat him with what he thought was his advantage. BMW/Oracle’s legal phalanx may have been fighting to reinstate ISAF rules, but simultaneously they were working to exploit the use of an engine, full friction reduction systems, and laser technology.  We all saw how the BMW engine worked to keep the wing functioning far better than Alinghi’s soft sails, with amazing automation working in a very visible way. But other technology to rip up the racecourse was in development all along – fast technology. It’s stuff that could blow your mind, or just mess with your head.  The end result would have been the same.

First, 3M riblet film technology. It is basically a plastic sheet with grooves molded into it with an adhesive backing to easily apply it to the hull. The texture of the film is similar to a shark’s skin.  A similar version was used by Stars & Stripes when Dennis Connor won the 1987 America’s Cup, after which the tech was banned.  Other than modification to the riblet shape and density to reflect the difference in speed and displacement between a 12 meter and USA-17, it’s the same stuff, manipulating the closest boundary layers of water to the hull  Originally designed for airplanes, models of ribletted boats showed an 8% skin friction drag reduction.  But it was also coupled with a system that blew Ernies mind right up and made him come out of his skin. 

The BMW/Oracle system used a polymer discharged from the hull to further reduce skin friction – the same system that caused Alinghi lawyers to complain about ‘propulsion’ and ‘pollution.’  And when the International Jury and Spanish government heard all the evidence from the US team – evidence that the polymer was an ingredient in common shampoo, and safe enough to be injected into the human body – it was approved for use.  When EB found out this was going on, he ramped up the PR against the new weapon.  Remember the cartoon with the oil slick and beach goers?  Well, neither ended up making an appearance in Spain.

The Slick System
Remember the tarp over the rear beam?! It covered a holding tank located on the back center of the rear beam during testing. In the holding tank was a mixture of the polymer and alcohol, and it was pumped out of two slits in each float (when the jury learned that the speed it was pumped was significantly slower than boat speed, they ruled it was not propulsion). The mixture formed a thin layer between hull and water, and once it exited from under the hull, it mixed with the alcohol and dissipated with no trace in the boat’s wake.

Now here’s the mindblower: When the system was on, it provided a VMG increase upwind of almost three knots!  That is upwind velocity made good, not just boatspeed. How about the Virtual Eye tracker on that one!

The problem was that they didn’t know whether they could use it or not, so their testing and installation was delayed, and the yard work clean and Mer saw on the Saturday before the first race was troubleshooting one of the pumps.  And they made the decision right then to get rid of the system and the 300 kg it took up.  Can you imagine the horizon job if it was working?  Anyway – the damage was already done to EB’s head. I mean, the guy was flying into the commercial port in his RIB to investigate – he was cracking!

The next push of technology BMW went after was laser wind finder – Racer’s Edge LIDAR laser Doppler technology. When I spoke with the designers of the Racer’s Edge last week, it appeared it was on the boat and it was overlaid on Jimmy’s HUD. Everyone was fooled by the PR machine on this one. It was not on USA 17 during racing! Actually, it wasn’t on the boat at all. The wind teams used it to map out the wind around the course and the older, larger version, The Vindicator, was used on the performance catamaran support boat. They collected information in the yellow cases until Ian “Fresh” Burns did his not so fresh belly flops into the Med before each race. According to the design team, the Racer’s Edge was too heavy to carry around while racing, and the crew hadn’t used it enough to be effective with it – it certainly explains how Kostecki missed that huge righty in Race 2.  So you see, it is still boat racing after all! So far, all the tech in the world can’t replace a good tactician. They did say it is impressive technology that will be very effective in the future.

Again, EB was duped, giving USA a huge tactical advantage going into the Match. Also, the inside word is Alinghi higher ups knew USA was faster but breakage prone (well, more than their boat), and if they took more time to build new sails, USA would strengthen up the tri’s weak links. So they wanted to race as soon as possible so USA might break during racing. The fact was, even though all the alarms were ringing on the boat, it held together well and EB was left watching from miles behind crying, “Break, Break!”   Oh – don’t pretend you too haven’t thought it before while well behind in a race!

Here’s some more inside action: About a week before racing, Alinghi’s carbon forestay attachment failed at the hounds and the forestay hook cut about a meter down the mast. They almost lost the whole rig.

And that’s the inside scoop from Team OTW Anarchy and our friends inside the walls.  Good stuff! -JC