We recently swatted up on our nautical terminology, donned an eye patch, and headed out into international waters (well, the little bit of sea between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight) to witness an America’s Cup World Series race.
It’s such an exhilarating and unpredictable sport that we want to share it with you - filled with technological innovation and pushing the boundaries of physics.
Here are four reasons you need to get excited with us:
1. The history is fascinating
If you don’t know the history of the America’s Cup, you’re in for a treat...
The story begins in 1851 (making this the world’s oldest sporting trophy) when a yacht named “America” from the New York Yacht Club beat 15 boats from the Royal Yacht Squadron in a race around the Isle of Wight.
Apocryphally, Queen Victoria asked who was second, to which the answer was “Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second.”
The trophy was taken back to New York and renamed the America’s Cup (after the yacht, not the country), and donated to the New York Yacht Club under the Deed of Gift. This deed specified that the Cup was to be held in trust as a perpetual challenge trophy to promote competition among nations.
This deed also stipulates that while any nation can challenge for the Cup, the reigning Cup holders set the rules of engagement.
The British have made 16 attempts to win the cup back over 165 years, but we’ve never been successful…
Fast forward to 2013 in San Francisco. It looked as if Emirates Team New Zealand we’re going to take the cup from reigning champions Oracle Team USA.
In a battle of heats, with the first to nine taking the Cup, New Zealand were 8-1 in the lead.
After five heats, Sir Ben Ainslie (British Olympic Champion) was tagged in by Oracle Team USA as Tactician. He saved the team from the jaws of defeat and went on to win the 2013 America’s Cup 9-8.
It’s considered one of the greatest sporting comebacks in history and kick-started the UK’s bid to #BringTheCupHome...
2. We’re finally in with a chance of winning
After helping Team USA win in 2013, Sir Ben Ainslie formed his own British team and started a technical partnership with Land Rover. The team created is called Land Rover BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing).
Based in a new multi-million pound HQ in Portsmouth, Land Rover BAR is comprised of some of the best sailors, boat designers, and engineers in the world.
Don’t go counting your chickens yet, though - we’re still very much the underdogs in this competition where the other teams are mainly funded by bored billionaires.
A little background into how the 2017 Trophy will be contested:
The competition will be held in Bermuda in June 2017.
Oracle Team USA currently holds the Cup, so they’ll race in the final no matter what.
The other teams, Australia, Italy, Sweden, New Zealand, Great Britain, France and Japan will fight it out in a knockout style competition, with Qualifiers and Playoffs to decide who faces Oracle in the final.
With us so far? Good.
There’s also the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series.
This is held before the America’s Cup proper. It’s a number of races competed across the globe (there was one in Portsmouth this weekend).
The winner of this Series will go into the America’s Cup proper with a two-point advantage.
Land Rover BAR are currently leading the World Series with two races to go.
3. The races are thrilling
We spent the weekend in Portsmouth excitedly watching our first ever America’s Cup race.
Due to the amount of money spent on sponsorship and marketing - there’s a lot of effort now going into making the sport more watchable.
Compared to Portsmouth last year, the 2016 course was smaller (for fiercer and more nail-biting races) and closer in-shore so it’s better for the spectators.
Broadcasters make good use of on-screen graphics to make everything clearer and easier to follow.
The racing is also a treat to watch. Boats jockey at the start line for position, then choose which way they travel around the gates in order to get the best wind. It’s all very exciting stuff, with yachts ‘rolling’ over the top of each other during overtakes.
It’s not the predictable drudgery like F1, the World Series races are unpredictable, the winner of the first heat could come last in the next if they chose the route with no wind.
4. It’s super technical, like F1 on water
Remember that last paragraph, where I said it wasn’t like F1? Well, it is, especially when it comes to technical development.
This is best illustrated by the hire of Martin Whitmarsh, ex-CEO of McLaren F1, and now CEO of Land Rover BAR.
The World Series is a single design series, that means everyone races in identical boats. But the America’s Cup proper has design parameters, with the teams able to design freely within those parameters. It’s similar to F1, where all cars look similar, but there are a few key differences.
Recently the America’s Cup went from mono-hull designs to catamarans. These lightweight catamarans quickly developed into hydro foiling boats, which literally fly in the water (reducing drag and increasing maximum speed).
The hydro foiling catamarans are lifted out of the water on incredibly strong dagger boards, and the sail is closer to a plane wing than a fabric sail. These help the yacht travel faster than the wind pushing the boat along. Which blows our mind, frankly.
During this year, Land Rover BAR will be developing five test boats, named T1 to T5.
This is where Land Rover comes in as Innovation Partner. Using the company’s artificial intelligence and machine learning it developed in the Self-Learning Car project (which we tested last year at the Technology Showcase).
During testing the yacht's sensors produce around 16GB of data a day. This data is processed by Land Rover analysts to help the boat designers make information-led decisions.
This is difficult in real world testing due to the constantly changing conditions. As Richard Hopkirk, Land Rover BAR Head of Systems and Analysis, puts it, “Unlike a Formula 1 car – where the engine’s power output can be accurately calibrated – the wind is constantly changing. This makes it difficult to quantify performance improvements when the power input is unknown.”
Mauricio Muñoz, who spends half his time and Land Rover and the other half at BAR, says, “Understanding this will present a radically new view of on-the- water performance, leading to better decision-making in the boat.”
Despite being the oldest sporting trophy it feels like the America’s Cup is finally ready to hit the world stage. We’ll be tuning into every America’s Cup race from now on, and we hope you will too!
You can follow the action on the official America's Cup app and live broadcasts on BT Sport.