Duncan Johnstone checks in with Team New Zealand as they get set to change America's Cup boats and finds concerns that their early success in testing could come at a high price.
Team New Zealand are worried the reliability of their first America's Cup catamaran could lead to rival syndicates "hobbling" them.
TNZ have put the 72-foot monster in the shed now, having completed the 30 days of testing allowed under cup rules between July 2012 and the end of January 2013.
While their rivals struggle for sailing days, TNZ are already well into the build of their second boat, to be launched in February.
Their reliance in a wide range of conditions comes in stark contrast to the problems that have handicapped cup holder Oracle who totally demolished their AC72 in a dramatic capsize in San Francisco and are hurriedly building their second boat in a game of catch-up. Swedish challengers Artemis Racing have also experienced problems in the Californian city that will host the Louis Vuitton Cup and America's Cup between July and September next year.
TNZ's concern is that the opposition, seeing their ability to handle the high-powered monster so comfortably at the top end of the 33-knot limit set for cup racing, will seek to have that wind range reduced to help even the field.
TNZ's boat has certainly proven sea-worthy, never more so than on "Tornado Thursday" which will go down as a landmark day for the Kiwi syndicate.
Being the 28th day of testing, the head engineer demanded the sailors push the boat to the limit. And that's exactly what unfolded.
They were well out on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour, growing increasingly aware of an unusual weather pattern thundering in from the northwest, though not quite up to speed with the deadly carnage that was unfolding on land in Hobsonville.
The brains trust on board weighed up their options - seek shelter or back their speed and make a dash for base?
They decided to hammer home and pushed the AC72 beyond anything it had endured. Only their new chase boat, powered by four 300hp outboard motors, could keep up.
With a 32-knot northeaster blasting behind them and the outgoing tide working against that to create considerable waves, there were some hairy moments. The bows were buried to the beam a few times but the boat not only survived, it excelled.
"We have proved that you can sail these boats safely in the conditions that the protocol is set up for us to do," Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said.
"Maybe Artemis and maybe Oracle, who in the end are kind of running the whole show, are having a few problems in that area.
"So we start to see the start of a thread where 'well, maybe it's too much wind or maybe the races should change a little earlier in the day when there's less wind', which would be nothing more, from our point of view, than them attempting to hobble us.
"If someone pulls out the word safety, it's one of those words where you're look like you're not mean-spirited but just reckless if you don't abide.
"So we are watching that pretty closely now. But if our opposition feels they have an issue, I think we have a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet in terms of them thinking that maybe they are going to move the goalposts."
Can they do that? "Well, that's the question."
It's the murky world of the America's Cup where lawyers play as big a part as the action on the water.
The only things murky about that Thursday was the water and air that TNZ cut through at breakneck speed.
"The breeze really kicked in and the waves got up. It was around 28 knots when we had to bear away to come home and I think we had a VMG dead downwind of around 32 knots. And I know we had an average speed over two and a half minutes of something like 42 knots over the ground," remembers Dalton.
"It was big waves, the bow was digging in, the boat was lifting. We we're OK, but you never really know how OK until it all goes wrong. But that's the hardest we've ever pushed ...
"All good, we got back, but there wasn't anybody unhappy to put the boat back in the shed, that's for sure!
"So structurally it has been really good. We have sailed it in some really hard conditions ... conditions that the older boats would have struggled in.
"Now as we come into summer with the new boat, all those learnings go into that. We're in pretty good shape."
Interestingly, reliability wasn't the be-all of TNZ's work with their first boat. They will seek more of that vital ingredient with the next cat.
"We have been trying to develop the boat and when you change something and try and move it on, often you don't make it particularly reliable first up," Dalton said.
"So reliability hasn't been the core catch-cry of this boat. But it will eventually become the catch cry of the campaign. Because it doesn't matter how good or how fast you are or how good your crew work is, if you break down."
Dalton described the looming replacement as "evolution, not revolution".
"If it was revolutionally different, that would indicate you're not happy with your first boat. We didn't even know if we were happy or not because we had to start building quite soon after we launched this first boat because of the tight time frame.
"As we learnt about the boat, we've been able to change and develop those ideas into boat two. But to look at it won't be remarkably different."
TNZ are quietly pleased with their progress though they don't believe they are at the front of the four teams who are contesting sport's oldest trophy. Nor are they taking any joy out of their rivals' struggles, aware that a disaster in these hi-tech craft is just one small mistake away at any time.
"The problems that they [Oracle] have are certainly not to our disadvantage ... I don't see how they could be," Dalton said.
"Oracle no doubt started this with a massive lead ... financially all paid for, a team in place, having done a wing [sail], and having gotten the learnings of the last multi-hull ... But in the end we are just putting one front in foot of the other each morning we come to work and what will be, will be."
- Sunday Star Times
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