INSIDE AN AMERICA'S CUP CLASS BUILD WITH A BOAT BUILDER

SoftBank Team Japan preparing in Bermuda for the 35th America's Cup
© Matt Knighton

Behind closed doors at the SoftBank Team Japan base in Bermuda sits a new machine waiting to be unveiled – the team’s America’s Cup Class race yacht that will be sailed in the 35th America’s Cup. 

Having been delivered to the base in late October, the team has spent the past four months constructing the hull and putting it through an extensive refit process as they transition customized systems developed on their AC45 Sport testing platform plus some new surprises into the next-generation boat.

We caught up with boat builder Adrian Grey and Shore Team Manager Tyson Lamond to get their first hand inside take on what goes into an America’s Cup Class yacht build.

Walk us through the ACC build process since last October?

Adrian Gray: The boat arrived in two containers. We first had to assemble the pieces together and check it to make sure everything is the right size so that we could then get it signed off by the measurer. That was the first step.

We then have been going through and installing our own components we’ve been developing over the last year: steering systems, hydraulic systems, electronics, all the details that make it work.

Most of the parts have come to us Japan and New Zealand but there are several upgrades we’ve made here ourselves and we’re in the process of installing them.

Tyson Lamond: For us obviously, building a race boat – the final boat of the program – is a long process and really it started as soon as we started the team. The hydraulic and electronics were developed long term to end up on this boat.

Our boat arrived in October and that started the “fit out” stage, but this America’s Cup is so different to what we had in the past; I don’t think we’ll stop the development until the end. In past America’s Cup cycles we would have “lock down” periods where we don’t change anything, making sure we could have a reliable boat on the racecourse and I think that was a luxury. In the modern America’s Cup we’ve got five teams who are competing for a chance to be in the finals and for us to be there we’re going to have to develop right up until the end. 

Our boat and other teams boats have changed from what we thought they were going to be even last October to what they are now. I can guarantee there will be no team that launches the same boat in February that they’ll race in the America’s Cup. 

The team has been sailing the AC45 Sport during this time as well, how labor intensive has it been to build the ACC simultaneously?

Tyson Lamond: Retrieving the AC45 every day, maintaining it, repairing it and also keeping the ACC build going on is a juggle. This is the biggest thing. The guys in the shed, the main thing they think about is the race boat. The sailing team, all they’re thinking about is time on the water and with any program this is the juggle: how much do you do on the water as opposed to in the shed.

All along our program has wanted to keep both boats going and be on the water learning and still developing rather than having 6 weeks where you’re in the shed not learning so we’ve structured our processes to make that possible.

Even the practice race session we just completed, every race there was a different winner. The races were decided by seconds and that really means it’s still a development race and will stay that way until the end.

What about the machining and fine-tuning that goes into the build? Is it all custom or prefab?

Adrian Gray: The biggest thing for us is the steering system, which has a lot of custom parts, and then the hydraulic and electronic systems. There’s quite a lot of machining and fine-tuning that goes into the build.   Everything in theory fits and looks nice on the computer but when you get the pieces together there’s always some fiddling to get it all to fit. 

How much secrecy are teams employing over their ACC at the moment?

Adrian Gray: There’s spies everywhere taking photos and video of the AC45 Sport boat but there are some developments from that to the new boat that they can’t see. We just need to make sure our doors stay closed.