In 2017, the year in which the 35th America’s Cup is scheduled in the Bermuda Islands, Luna Rossa would have been 20 years old: it started in February 1997. At the beginning of 2015 there was a very positive atmosphere in the base in Cagliari, perhaps this was it, in its this campaign, Luna Rossa rarely seemed ready to win the “Auld Mug”.
“This time we were the first to start, something that had never happened before,” says Matteo Plazzi, a veteran on board Luna Rossa and today Operation Manager of the team. “It’s well-known that participation in the 34th Cup was looking at the 35th, and that’s the way it was, we immediately started working on the design tools, anticipating the timing of the definition of the new platform, in fact the AC62 was defined later, in June 2014.”
But everything ground to a halt, Team Principal Patrizio Bertelli rightly withdrew the team from the competition in anger at the Defender, provoking a heated debate in the international sailing world. Everything started with a press release from the organisers headed “Big cost savings for the next America’s Cup”. With the excuse of reducing costs the Defender, Oracle Racing, decided to change the rules when the game was already underway: no longer 62 foot foiling catamarans but the smaller 48 footers, with many one design components to hold down costs. In short, design freedom would be reduced just of the design of the foils, spiting those who had already spent thousands of hours and big money on the 62 footer, like Luna Rossa. In almost two centuries of history, the America’s Cup has seen foul play of all kinds to maintain the Defender’s status, but so far nobody had dreams of rewriting the rules already agreed on. We won’t go any further into the ethical and political analysis: with the end of Luna Rossa Italy unfortunately loses a team that has contributed a lot not just in sporting but also in technical terms, training professionals and developing technologies that have had considerable influence in many other yachting sectors. In the hope that in the future Luna Rossa might rise again, we take a snapshot of the state of the design in this interview with the Chief Designer back when no one expected the worst, about two months before the worst happened.
When did you join Luna Rossa?
I had the first meeting in the headquarters of Prada in Milan just over a year ago.
What work were you doing on the AC45s?
As you know we have two AC45s and we applied foils to them. We use them as a platform for development in all areas, the aim is to learn as much as possible on the water to make the best choices for the entire AC62 package.
What’s the difference in the design approach between a 62 and the 72? Is there a basic difference between the old and the new rating rule?
The boats are similar, they’re both foiling catamarans, though I don’t exclude that the development of the 62 could take new directions. The big difference is that the AC62 is born to fly, while a lot of work was done on the 72 to get round a rule intended to prevent foiling.
How much room does the new rule leave to make one boat different from another?
A lot, it’s a new generation of foiling boats, there is new territory to explore. Every day we learn something new and the development potential is enormous. We have an enormous quantity of ideas and new concepts to study and try out. All the areas are involved in this process and my main job is to have an overall view of it all, to understand where and how much to invest, because our resources are not limitless even if we have all we need.
How useful is your experience in the old Cup with the ACCs?
From a certain point of view a boat is always a boat, in the end it has to go faster than the others. From another point of view we, and our opponents too, are all on new and partly unexplored territory, where we learn something new every day. Since there is so much to develop in all areas, new intuitions that have nothing to do with previous experience can produce significant increases in performance. Things change very quickly and you acquire specific experience day by day.
What characteristics are you aiming for in designing the new boats, seeing that they spend little time in the water?
In this new era the hulls are no longer the most important part of the boat, though they are very important in conditions where foiling is not possible, with light wind or during manoeuvres. So it’s important that they facilitate handling and takeoff onto the foils, while without offering too much aerodynamic resistance once the cat takes off.
How is foiling handled? How do you modify the angles of incidence of the appendages?
Rake control is in live manual mode with buttons controlled by the helmsman who must learn to control the longitudinal angle of incidence to maintain stability, they’re used like the flaps of a plane. The movement is handled by the hydraulics powered by the grinders. The elevators on the helms are controlled by the same system. The canting of the foils is adjusted on land. How much faster will the new boats be? We don’t know yet, they are smaller than the 72s but more efficient in foiling, so it’s difficult to evaluate now. Probably they will be faster downwind, and about as fast upwind. But we’ll see in the development phase, we can’t rule out that they will be faster than the 72s upwind as well.
Are you modifying the project now that Bermuda has been confirmed?
No, we’re not changing anything, conditions in Bermuda aren’t that different from San Diego, though they are on average more windy and variable. But even in Bermuda the wind can be very light and we’re ready for that.
How do you handle the difference in conditions between Cagliari and Bermuda? Do you have software that can simulate any location?
Cagliari has very variable conditions like Bermuda, we go out and test when the conditions are right and they often are. It’s important to have varying conditions to do tests in all situations, with the Mistral we have optimal conditions for a foiling cat.
offre condizioni molto variabili come Bermuda, noi usciamo a provare quando le condizioni sono quelle giuste e le abbiamo spesso. È importante avere condizioni diverse per provare tutte le situazioni, mentre con vento di Maestrale abbiamo condizioni meteomar ottimali per un foiling cat.
How much freedom is there in the design of the wing?
The rule imposes one design further shape and the moving components, but all the control systems are free and there’s a lot to do here to create the best shape when the wing is in use. The internal structure is free to and leaves a lot of space for evolution and the fundamental work of the structure designers. Those guys are under a lot of pressure because their work is fundamental also and above all on the structures of the platform, which must be as rigid and light as possible while guaranteeing maximum reliability against breakage.
How much can the wing affect performance?
It’s hard to say just now, more generally it’s the entire package that matters more than individual components. We must look further advantages in every area, just like the other teams.
How much remains of traditional design seeing that the boat no longer floats but flies? Isn’t it more like a plane?
In a lot of ways it is, and this is all very exciting, every time I go out I discover something new. It’s no accident that in the design team were using the experience of people from the aerospace sector.
Besides the specific know-how of the engineers, are you using technologies developed by the aerospace industry?
Yes, certainly. We have relationships with a lot of Italian and international aerospace companies, but these technological developments are very secret and I can’t say any more.