Sir Ben Ainslie has issued a warning about increasing speeds bringing increasing consequences as they became the first team to break the 50 knots barrier in America’s Cup racing.
INEOS Team UK hit 50.29 knots in their thrilling win over Luna Rossa that booked them a place in the Prada Cup final, starting February 13.
The speed translates to just over 93kph. Teams have been pushing past that in training but this was the first time it had been achieved in a bow-to-bow battle with all the pressures that come in match racing situations.
That was never better displayed than in the brave last gybe by Britain as they held off a charging Jimmy Spithill in a cross so close sailors could almost have boarded the other boat in front of the finish line.
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Ainslie survived a protest call to claim the crucial victory that has given him three weeks to work on increasing Britannia’s speed and fine-tune the crew work that is looking increasingly slick.
Ainslie says all the teams are getting more and more comfortable with these radical foiling monohulls and performance levels are rising.
Todd Niall and Duncan Johnstone review a shortened day of racing where INEOS Team UK continued their dominance of the Prada Cup.
So are the risks, especially as the stakes rise and that will certainly be the case in the Prada Cup semifinal that starts on Friday, a first to four wins affair that will see the loser eliminated in this multi-million dollar extravaganza.
“These boats are getting closer and closer as we are learning to race them better and handle them better,” Ainslie said.
“The prestarts are interesting as well … you try to push as hard as you can.
“We’ve talked about this before, but especially (now) we’ve seen these boats with foil arms hanging out the side of them … I guarantee you that every sailor is doing absolutely everything they can to avoid these boats coming together because you know the consequences are severe.”
Talking of the dramatic cross, that looked touch and go, to see off the Italians, Ainslie felt it was always going to be close – but safe.
“Francesco’s team pushed it pretty hard and came down on us, we pushed it pretty hard and came down too. It’s a battle of inches but I don’t think at that point there was any danger of the boats coming together.
“It was a great final moment to finish off the race neck and neck. It was as close you could get.”
The highest speed achieved by the 50-foot foiling catamarans used in Bermuda 2017 was 47.2 knots by Sweden’s Artemis Racing. Emirates Team New Zealand had the top speed in the 72-foot catamarans used in San Francisco 2013 with 47.57 knots.
These 75-foot monohulls have taken the foiling speeds to a new level.
Ainslie felt this week’s semifinal was going to be a thrilling matchup as Luna Rossa find new speed in the stronger winds, an area American Magic were excelling in before their capsize.
“It’s going to be great to see these two great teams duke it out to see who gets into the Prada Cup final, and we know we are going to be up for a massive fight here,” he said.
Looking on enviously at last Saturday’s race, American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson felt the two teams had lifted their performances beyond simple boat improvements.
He was impressed by the communication on the English boat that has been a feature of their comeback.
Hutchinson felt the Italians were also getting better in this area which is so important when putting these boats through manoeuvres. It was a zone American Magic needed to work on for their own comeback.
Hutchinson has backed the foot to the floor approach of his helmsman Dean Barker and says these boats actually feel safer when they are at their higher speeds.
Patriot was travelling at 83kph when it came unstuck, with Barker attempting the difficult tack bear away double move that got complicated by an unexpected gust of wind.
Fortunately, rivals Luna Rossa weren’t in close proximity as the United States boat lost control.