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Team Japan claim to have found ‘game changer’

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SoftBank Team Japan announced today that they cracked the foiling tack this year while training with their AC45 Sport test boat in Bermuda.

Long regarded as the holy grail of the America's Cup, the manoeuvre has been the last significant barrier preventing America's Cup teams from hypothetically foiling around an entire racecourse — a feat that if proven could potentially define the outcome of the 2017 series.

“We know now that it's achievable and it's a real game changer,” Dean Barker, the skipper and chief executive officer, said. “Most of the teams know we did it, so the race is on now. The trick with the foil gybe was learning the different settings and techniques for different wind conditions, and that's going to be the same with the tacking.”

The manoeuvre has the potential to reshape the upwind strategy of the next America's Cup, as it reduces the deficit incurred by slowing down to cross the wind, resulting in gains of possibly hundreds of metres compared with the 2013 event.

“The boat needs to be doing a certain speed to stay on foils — typically in the 16-18 knot region — as when you're going into a tack, the bottom speed is usually around 13-14 knots,” Barker said. “So what you end up doing is using the speed you have going into the tack to make sure you don't drop below. You typically would lose a lot in the tack, up to four boatlengths even, but if you can stay on the foils the losses are heavily reduced.”

The first foiling tack manoeuvre was developed by the team on April 19, alongside their training partner, Oracle Team USA.

“We were out there, nice breeze, put the boat into a tack and stayed up on the foils,” Barker added. “Then we pulled off another one the same day just to make sure it wasn't chance. In the months since then, we've been growing in our consistency to perform the manoeuvre.”

The breakthrough of the foiling tack marks one of the final pieces in the accelerating development of the new wing-sailed, foiling catamarans that have come to define the America's Cup.

In preparation for the 2013 event, it was Barker and his team who first foiled their AC72 class yacht and then proceeded to develop the breakthrough technique for gybing the boat downwind while staying on foils.

Now at it again, Barker is pushing his team even farther to use the new tacking technique to try to achieve a perfect flight around the racecourse without getting the hulls wet.

“The absolute holy grail would be to pop up on foils at the start and then keep the hulls dry all around the racecourse. It's certainly not inconceivable. It would be quite the achievement to pull it off.”

Calling it a “game changer”, tactician Chris Draper was confident that the new technique, once mastered, has the potential to change the entire playbook of the America's Cup.

“If it's anything like Moth sailing, this starts to open up the racecourse a lot more, your options are a lot wider,” he said. “It's not about sailing boundary to boundary any more; you can tack on the shifts a lot more on demand. It will make the racing a lot more exciting for the public as well.”

Barker is cautious that all teams will likely be able to perform tacks while foiling during the America's Cup in 2017. Still, now that SoftBank Team Japan have cracked the code, the sailing and performance teams are devoting significant resources towards mastering the manoeuvre.

“It's no secret it's what teams see as the future,” Barker said. “You have to believe everyone will be able to do it, but it's nice to be getting there early to try to learn what the key parts are. I'm sure over the next few months we'll see more teams perfect the tack.”

On an upward curve: SoftBank Team Japan believe their breakthrough will change the face of America's Cup racing next year

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Published August 25, 2016 at 12:23 pm (Updated August 25, 2016 at 12:23 pm)

Team Japan claim to have found ‘game changer’

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