America’s Cup - Sport

Practice makes perfect for pedal power – Ashby

  • Photograph by Hamish Hooper/ENTZ

Get on your bike: Ashby, the Team New Zealand skipper, second from right, hopes to go sailing on Saturday

Emirates Team New Zealand have made themselves at home in Bermuda.

The team are quietly and quickly assembling New Zealand Aotearoa their America’s Cup Class foiling 50.

According to Glenn Ashby, the skipper and sailing director, the team and their boat should be ready for their first sail in Bermuda’s Great Sound on Saturday.

The New Zealand crew have been to Bermuda before for the America’s Cup World Series, but this time they are here putting all the marbles in the ring for their chance to bring the America’s Cup back to New Zealand ... home, as the Kiwis call it: Home for them and home for the Cup.

New Zealand won the Cup in 1995 and defended that win in 2000, but lost to Alinghi in 2003 and in 2007. New Zealand lost again in 2013 in a crushing defeat.

The defender, Oracle Team USA, made the greatest comeback win in modern sports history when Jimmy Spithill and his team came back from down 8-2 to retain the oldest trophy in international sport. Team New Zealand want it back.

Glenn Ashby, the New Zealand skipper, talked with The Royal Gazette yesterday at their team base in the Cup Village in Dockyard. Ashby, who hails from inland Victoria, Australia, is one of only three non-Kiwis on the 12-man sailing team.

“We’re absolutely excited to be in Bermuda now,” Ashby said. “We’ve had a good, productive summer back in Auckland. The boys who came over to set up the base have done a stellar job. We’ve been able to come up here, step off the plane and go to work in a fully operational base. The boys are busy putting the boat together now. The trampoline went back in Tuesday night.”

“The team are spread around ... some in Southampton, some in Hamilton, some in Spanish Point. Some get picked up by boat and some scooter out and some take the ferry. We all come here to Dockyard and get stuck into the day’s work.”

Asked when he thought their first training day in the Great Sound would be, Ashby answered: “Hopefully, on Saturday we’ll get on the water. Re-commissioning the boat has been a lot of work.

“Getting all the electronics and hydraulics back together, and getting all the wiring and cabling done.

“We’ve had to change a few cable runs. Some little upgrades were added, but it’s mostly recommissioning.”

“The wing is back together. The bike grinding units have gone in,” he added. “There’s a whole lot going back together quickly.”

The Kiwis just flew their boat and sailing team a little over a week ago.

Pedal power has been a keen topic of debate. What are the problems with clipping and clipping out during manoeuvres? “It is like anything else,” Ashby quipped. “It just takes a bit of practice.”

The normal mountain bike clips have been redesigned to suit sailing and getting across the trampoline.

“We have different styles of apparatus for people’s different roles,” Ashby explained. “It is really no different from the standard way ... You still have to get from one side of the boat to the other.”

Pictures of the team have shown two grinders to a side and speculators suggest that crew will not be crossing over in the turns.

“In different situations we have two guys on a side,” Ashby said. “In pre-start we’ll be putting two guys on a side at times.

“When we tack or gybe, we’ll be getting people over early. For all the teams you see photos with guys on both sides of the boat. We’re no different”

Ashby explained that even in lighter air you need all the crew weight to windward to increase the righting moment and counteract the powerful fixed wing sail.

“The boats will lift a hull in six knots of breeze and foil pretty quickly after that. Keeping the boat flat and foiling will be essential,” he said.

Ashby said they still had some of their gear coming over from New Zealand. All of their foils [daggerboards and rudders] have not come in yet. When they launch on Saturday, they will still be using test foils.

“We’re still doing some repairs and bits and pieces on other foils. In the next few weeks, we’ll be having other equipment arrive just like other teams.

Speaking about team plans for the next practice session, April 24 to 28, when teams are allowed to practice match racing again, Ashby left the door open for a later decision.

“We’d like to do the next practice racing period, but we’ll still be doing recommissioning in the early part of the week. We may do our own thing for the first couple of days. We’ll see how we go later in the week. We’ll see how the recommissioning goes.”

Ashby is a multihull specialist with an impressive record — ten Australian “A Class” championships, 15 world championships across three multihull classes, including eight in the A class. He has raced and coached in the Extreme 40 class.

He was one of the first multihull specialists to be hired by Emirates Team New Zealand. His knowledge and expertise was instrumental in transforming the ETNZ sailing team into good performers on the ACWS AC45 circuit.

He said this background has prepared him for these fast foiling 50-foot speedsters.

“You just keep stepping up from being a kid sailing in catamarans to high performance,” he said. “You just learn more and more as you go forward.

The effort we put into the AC72 last time was a learning experience, too. You get a bit numb to the evolution of it when you are immersed in it yourself. You do get used to it.”

“The performance of these little boats compared to the AC72’s is quite special because they were designed to foil from the first.”

Ashby as the wing trimmer on “New Zealand” does not have a rope [main sheet] to pull. He says it is still much the same as trimming a conventional soft main.

“You have different controls, but you are trying to achieve the same sort of things ... either increasing or decreasing power based on the mode you are sailing. You change the wing based on the mode.”

“We never go more than a second or two without touching the wing, changing the trim. We are pretty much making constant adjustments. We use buttons [and hydraulic power] to adjust the wing. It feels kind of weird not holding on to as rope on a boat, but that’s the world we live in.”

Who will call the tactics between all of champion sailors, who will look up the course and say, “We’ve got a puff coming in two”? Ashby said: “I think including Pete [Peter Burling, the helmsman and recent Olympic champion] and myself we’ve actually got four guys on the yacht who will be involved in the tactical side of things.”

“We’ve tried to set the boat up so Pete can get his head out and have a look around. I consider myself in sort of a trimming role, focused on speed and the accuracy of the boat sailing. But I’ll poke my head out, too, and have a look around myself.”

Ashby thinks that you still have to sail these high-tech boats with a lot of feel.

“You definitely feel the vibration of the boat. You feel it in your bum, like a race car driver, you have to feel it to know how you are set up.”

What is most important to win is a big question ... is it line speed, crew work or reliability, keeping the boat together? Ashby thinks all of the above.

“Your foil design and controllability, how accurately you can foil will probably be key. Mechanics and crew work will be important but ultimately, I think, the fastest boat will win.”

Starts will be a major part of performance. “Getting the right position on the line so you can be inside on the first turn will be important.

“It is pretty hard to go around the outside, but it depends on the set-up of the line and how windy it is and how the pre-start actually goes. For sure you want to get the inside like motocross. You want to get the hull shot. You don’t want to get mud on your goggles.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be fast in a straight line.

“Your crew work has to be impeccable; but all will have excellent crew work by the time racing starts. It will come down to performance. I think the fastest boat will win.”