Team New Zealand launches 1st America’s Cup defender

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              America's Cup defending champions Team New Zealand lowers its revolutionary foiling mono-hull sailboat into the water at its official launch at the Viaduct Basin in Auckland, New Zealand, Friday Sept. 6, 2019. Auckland will host the 36th America's Cup in 2021. (Michael Craig/NZ Herald via AP)
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — America’s Cup defender Team New Zealand has ushered the 168-year sailing contest into a new era by officially launching the first of a new generation of Cup sailboats, a 75-foot foiling mono-hull capable of speeds of up to 50 knots (57 mph).

The broad but low-slung sailboat features cavitation foils that will make it rise up to to ride above the water during races, a concept that was first unveiled two years ago. The finished boat had not been showed in public until Friday morning local time, when it was lowered down into the water outside the team’s Auckland base at a dawn ceremony and christened Te Aihe — or Dolphin in the language of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori.

Te Aihe is the first of two AC75 racing yachts Team New Zealand will build as it prepares to defend the America’s Cup against challengers from the United States, Britain and Italy on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour in 2021.

The Italian challenger Prada is expected to launch the first of its two boats early next week while the American syndicates Stars and Stripes and American Magic and Britain’s Team UK will soon follow.

Te Aihe will probably first race at the ACT75 World Championships in Italy in April.

The boat has a broad hull about 67 feet in length and almost 20 feet at its widest point. Its mast rises 90 feet above the deck.

The crew of 11 will huddle in cockpits set deep in the hull to ensure their heads don’t project too far above the deck to add to wind resistance.

“It rained (at the launch) which I’m told is good luck,” Team New Zealand general manager Grant Dalton said. “It’s pretty low key which is the way we wanted it. We’re not an organization that sings too loudly.”

Team New Zealand first won the America’s Cup when it was raced in traditional mono-hull sloops off San Diego in 1995 and defended it in the same 76-footers off Auckland in 2000 before losing the trophy to the Italian syndicate Alinghi three years later.

When Oracle Team USA won the Cup from Alinghi they exercised the holder’s prerogative to choose the type of boat in which the trophy would be contested, opting for high-tech foiling catamarans.

Team New Zealand came close to regaining the trophy off San Francisco in 2012, leading Team USA 8-1 in the finals series before losing 9-8 in an historic turnaround.

At its next challenge in the Bahamas in 2017 it beat USA 7-1 in a one-sided series.

Team New Zealand decided to return to mono-hulls but to retain the foiling technology, launching the Cup into a new technological era.

“We wanted to go back to mono-hull because that’s more understandable and more traditional,” Dalton said. “But then we couldn’t leave the foiling generation behind. … It’s a wide boat that doesn’t weigh very much and when it lifts up onto the foils there are trim tabs on the back of the foils just like an airplane and when it lifts off those will be leveled out and it will then start to fly on its rudder as well.”

Dalton said the current rules allowed some flexibility in design approaches and that rivals could opt for some different solutions.

“We’ve left it quite open with the rule on the hull and you’ll see some quite big differences there,” he said. “When teams go to their second boat I think they’ll come together because you get a bit of a herd mentality but we want innovation.”