Team New Zealand certain their pedal power breakthrough is legal
Team New Zealand are confident their radical pedal-powered catamaran is legal under the strict America's Cup rules.
The Kiwi syndicate launched their 50-foot foiling catamaran in Auckland on Thursday evening and have caught their opposition by surprise with the decision to have four cycling stations in each hull instead of the traditional standing arm-powered grinding systems.
The America's Cup is notorious for protests and court action. Sweden used a similar cycling approach in 1977 but it was banned for later editions of the Cup. Previous Team New Zealand innovations like the "Plastic Fantastic" in 1987 and the 2003 "Hula Hull" have drawn official questioning from opponents.
Team New Zealand have operated outside of their five rival syndicates in this cycle of the Cup, disagreeing on many of the changes that have been made but happy to keep a low profile to plough on with their own campaign under the altered rules.
* Skipper Glenn Ashby thrilled with early performance of new Team NZ cat
* Team NZ: 'Revolutionary" cat can win America's Cup
* Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill has a swipe at Kiwi pedal power
Team New Zealand design coordinator Dan Bernasconi says the cycling system, which provides greater hydraulic power for the control systems for the wingsail and foils, is within the current rules.
"The rule doesn't make any requirements on how you power the boat, whether it's with your arms or your legs," Bernasconi said at the launch.
"There are very tight rules on what you are allowed to do in order to fit the guys in the boat ... the hull shape is fixed and the cockpit cutouts in the deck are fixed.
"So in terms of legality it's not an issue, it's just a case of making it work."
Asked if he felt the innovation could provide Team New Zealand with a defining edge for their quest to win back the Auld Mug, Bernasconi didn't blink: "Absolutely. It's well known these boats are short of power. You are only allowed six guys on the boat and at least two of those guys are going to be controlling the boat – the helmsman and the wing trimmer - so you only have power available to four other guys. So, if we are going to use our legs rather than our arms, we are going to have an advantage for sure."
He said Team New Zealand had placed massive consideration, research, and development in going down this route.
"We didn't on day one say we are going to go cycling, we said on day one we are going to give it serious consideration and look at the pros and cons of it."
He believed they had developed a system to defy the sceptics, that include arch rival Oracle team USA and new syndicate Team Japan headed by Kiwi veteran Dean Barker.
"It's something that has come out at the beginning of every cup cycle, it's always talked about - why you are not pedalling?" Bernasconi noted.
"The reason that's always put up as opposition to pedalling is the ability to move around the boat quickly.
"These boats are critical in manoeuvres ... you have to be able to tack and gybe quickly, get the guys from one side to the other and when you need the most power is going through the tacks and gybes. So if it is taking you much longer to stop pedalling, get out of the bike, run across the other side and start again, then it's not going to work.
"But its something we have been working on behind doors for a long time and we're really confident now that it's a good solution."
Team New Zealand have done a remarkable job of keeping their development secret and Bernasconi felt that was crucial to deny their opponents the time to copy.
The first races in Bermuda start on May 26.
"I think they could get some sort of cycling mechanism into the boat. But there are a lot of hurdles that we have had to overcome to get this far, both in terms of the training of the guys and the mechanisms of how we convert that cycling power into hydraulic power, he said.
"So that's something I think would be really difficult to get up to speed with now. That's one of the reasons we have only brought it out at this time and not tried it out on the water six months ago."
Bernasconi described the reaction within the team from the first couple of days of testing as "really positive".
"There is always going to be some teething problems but we are really happy with how the boat has gone over the first couple of days."
He admitted that it had been a nervous time seeing the catamaran sail for the first time.
"Of course you are always nervous with many aspects of the boat. The cycling is something which we have tested in the shed but you always wonder how it is going to work and you are always worried that something may break.
"The cycling is only one part of a lot of developments on the boat. We have put a huge amount of time in the systems to control the win and dagger boards and then the design of the dagger boards.
"There are tight limits on the number of spare components you can have, the wings are limited, the dagger boards are limited and that's always a worry for us and other teams as well."