Two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA yesterday became the latest team to unveil the wing-sailed, foiling catamaran it will sail in the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda this year.
Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill at a media conference
Skipper Jimmy Spithill said the boat, which is just longer than 49 feet, is more refined than the 45-foot cat the syndicate has been training in.
Oracle unveiled USA 17 in its shed and will launch and christen it with champagne today. After dockside testing, the boat will go for its first sail as soon as the weather permits.
"Now it really starts for this boat," Spithill said by phone from Bermuda. "There are 100 days to go and the clock's ticking. We really need to put some hours on it."
Qualifying races begin May 26. The America's Cup match, between Oracle and the winner of the challenger series, will begin June 17.
The new catamarans, which rise up on hydrofoils when they reach a certain speed, are smaller but faster than the 72-foot cats that sailed in the 2013 America's Cup on San Francisco Bay.
"It's all about boat speed," Spithill said. "We're going to try to develop this boat and get it going as fast as we can. It's a really critical time going forward."
Spithill steered Oracle to a thrilling comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013 to retain the oldest trophy in international sports.
"This boat is a lot more refined, another level ahead, and as you saw last time, the development did not even stop when we began racing," he said. "The learning curve is going to be steep and it could be going right up until the last race of the America's Cup like it did last time."
British syndicate Land Rover BAR, led by Ben Ainslie, recently launched its new boat in Bermuda. Team New Zealand has been testing its new boat in Auckland and will formally launch it today. The Kiwis' boat features a cycle grinding system in which sailors will use their legs instead of their hands to turn the winches.
Oracle, Artemis Racing of Sweden, SoftBank Team Japan and Land Rover BAR recently finished a series of practice races in Bermuda in their 45-foot development catamarans. In unofficial results, Oracle had 16 wins, Artemis 12, SoftBank Team Japan eight and Land Rover BAR was way off the pace with just one.
"It will be interesting to see if they bounce back for the Cup," said Spithill, who added that racing among Oracle, Artemis and Team Japan "was incredible. We were separated by just seconds at the finish and the speeds we were doing, it was amazing how aggressive we can sail these things now. We were just throwing them around. It was very fast."
Each team can build just two sets of hydrofoils. "You're stuck with what you've got," Spithill said. "All the development in the 45s is what led to the decisions with appendages. It will be fascinating to see what decisions people reached."