AUCKLAND (Reuters) - The decision to use pedal power to work the hydraulics on Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup yacht is just another step in the way the country has shaken up the world’s most prestigious sailing event, team boss Grant Dalton has said.
Team New Zealand launched their AC50 foiling catamaran in Auckland on Thursday, with the most obvious talking point the four cycling grinding stations -- dubbed ‘pedalstals’ -- on each hull.
Manual winch-operating grinders have typically used their arms to turn the handles that provide hydraulic pressure to allow the sailors to control the enormous wingsail and dagger boards.
“From its beginning with Plastic Fantastic in 1987 to the introduction of foils in San Francisco, the team has always reshaped the America’s Cup and the boat we are christening today is introducing revolutionary concepts once again,” Dalton said at the boat’s launch.
“This is a really proud day for the team collectively. The campaign always just gets real when you launch the actual boat that you hope will be the one to win the America’s Cup back for New Zealand.”
The radical design was first spotted on Tuesday, creating a minor media storm in New Zealand and sparking the interest of the other challenging syndicates and holders Oracle Team USA.
Former Team New Zealand helmsman Dean Barker, who now heads Japan’s challenge, and Oracle’s James Spithill, however, played down the significance of the design.
Both said their teams had also considered it but discounted the option because the additional power generated would be negated by the need for the grinders to move quickly, and constantly, across the boats.
Team New Zealand design co-ordinator Dan Bernasconi said they had been working on trying to overcome any issues.
“When we sat down to think about the overall design of this boat three years ago the benefits of cycling opposed to regular grinding were obvious, but certainly not without issues and difficulty with functionality, and this is what we have been working incredibly hard on overcoming,” he said.
Team New Zealand’s history of radical innovations in the event is well known and they were even accused of cheating when they produced a fibreglass, instead of aluminium, boat for the 1987 regatta in Fremantle.
Prior to the last event in 2013, they were also the first syndicate to lift the larger AC-72 catamaran’s hulls out of the water allowing it to ‘foil’.
That revelation, however, was several months before the regatta, allowing other syndicates to modify their boats and learn how to control them, most notably when Oracle produced a remarkable comeback from 8-1 down to retain the Cup 9-8.
The team will spend the next month testing in Auckland before the boat is shipped to Bermuda ahead of the first race in the challengers’ series on May 26.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Napier; Editing by John O'Brien