SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — With a traditional splash of champagne, defending America’s Cup champion Oracle Team USA christened and launched its new 72-foot, wing-sailed catamaran on Tuesday.
Then, with the wind blowing 27 knots on some parts of San Francisco Bay, the syndicate canceled the fast cat’s maiden voyage, deciding it didn’t want the shakedown cruise to potentially become a breakdown cruise.
“There’s plenty of time to shake it down,” syndicate CEO Russell Coutts said by phone.
Oracle will sail its new catamaran in the 34th America’s Cup match beginning Sept. 7 against the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers.
Judith Sim, Oracle Corp.’s chief marketing officer, smashed a bottle of Moet across the bowsprit and christened the boat Oracle Team USA 17 in a ceremony at San Francisco’s Pier 80.
It’s the second boat built for this America’s Cup campaign by Oracle Team USA, which is owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison. Ellison was not at the christening.
Holding off on the maiden voyage was a good idea, considering that Oracle’s first boat capsized in wind of about 25 knots on Oct. 16 and was swept more than four miles past the Golden Gate Bridge by a strong ebb tide. The churning motion of the waves destroyed the 131-foot wing sail. The syndicate wasn’t able to sail again until early February, after a new wing sail had been shipped from Auckland, New Zealand.
Coutts, a four-time America’s Cup winner, said the syndicate will try to get its new boat onto the bay on Wednesday morning.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill said in a phone interview that it’ll probably take a few days of sea trials to check all the systems before the crew can begin pushing the boat.
“It’s completely different,” Spithill said. “Everything we learned from boat one has been incorporated into boat two. These are incredibly difficult boats to sail. They’re physically demanding. These boats are a handful, but they’re also very rewarding. It’s incredibly thrilling to sail them.”
Coutts and Spithill said Oracle has made advancements in both the wing sail and the hydrofoils the catamaran rides on as its hulls lift out of the water.
The wing sail looks and acts like an airplane wing, improving the yacht’s speed and maneuverability. The wing sails on the AC72s are an offshoot of the radical 223-foot wing sail that powered Oracle’s giant trimaran to victory over Alinghi of Switzerland in the 2010 America’s Cup off Valencia, Spain.
The wing sail on Oracle’s new boat is the one the syndicate has been using on its first boat. Coutts said the syndicate is almost done building a new wing sail.
This America’s Cup could be won or lost depending on teams’ ability to foil, which is when the boat develops enough lift that both hulls are out of the water and the seven-ton cat is skimming along the waves on foils on the rudders and on a daggerboard on the leeward hull. Foiling reduces drag and, as a result, increases speed.
“What’s so amazing about this boat is it’s suspended on these tiny pieces of engineered carbon fiber,” Spithill said. “That’s why these boats are so cutting edge technologically, and we’re pushing them right to the limit. The other big advance is we’re trying to stay on them while maneuvering, like through a jibe. It’s a handful, something the sailing team has to come to grips with.
“Once the boat foils, it’s like hitting a turbo button in a car and off she goes,” Spithill said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Oracle had its first boat going faster than 40 knots, making it hard for the chase boats to keep up.
“This one will be even faster,” Spithill said.
Oracle will be trying to squeeze more speed out of the catamaran right up until the last race of the America’s Cup match.
“Oh, mate, honestly, you go home at night and go to bed, and you just cannot wait to come to work in the morning and get on that boat,” Spithill said.
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