SOFTBANK TEAM JAPAN LAUNCHES NEXT-GENERATION BOAT DESIGNED TO WIN AMERICA’S CUP

© Matt Knighton

CHALLENGER SEEKS TO BECOME FIRST JAPANESE TEAM TO WIN TROPHY

A historic day today at the Dockyards in Bermuda as SoftBank Team Japan unveiled their brand new America’s Cup Class race yacht, Hikari, the next-generation boat designed to win the first ever America’s Cup for a Japanese flagged challenger. 

Hikari, meaning “flash of light”, was selected from over 430 names submitted by fans in Japan through a nationwide contest held by SoftBank Corp. in the lead up to the unveiling.

After pouring a ceremonial “masu” (a traditional measuring cup made of Cypress to serve sake) of Hakkaisan Sake over the bow of the new yacht, Tatsuro Kurisaka, Vice President of the Communications Division of SoftBank Corp., revealed the name to the public for the first time. 

Despite the rain and with the crowd looking on, Shinto Priest Kai Guji, who travelled from Kagoshima, Japan for the naming, performed a Japanese Oharai purification ceremony for the new boat using special talismans collected from several different Shinto shrines to bless the sailors, the yacht, and the weather. 

Hikari is a 15-meter long carbon fiber foiling catamaran evolved from the same test design the team has been training on and developing for the past year in Bermuda.

Capable of reaching speeds of over 50 knots, it’s wing sail – similar in design to the wing of an airplane – stands over 25-meters high.

This new class of boat – the America’s Cup Class - has been compared to a Formula One racecar on water. 

“We established this team in May 2015 and in less than two years we’ve achieved a massive milestone with this launch”, said Bowman and General Manager Kazuhiko Sofuku.

“I want to say thank you to our shore crew and their families for all the hours they’ve put in and sacrificed and also give a big ‘thank you’ to all our supporters in Japan that have brought us this far.”

First conceived over a year and half ago when SoftBank Team Japan was formed, the team has labored more than 187,000 man hours honing the technology present in the new yacht.

Twelve-hour days and six-day workweeks have been the norm since they moved into their Bermuda base back in 2015.

Seeking every performance gain, the crew has been testing their design platform on the same course the America’s Cup races will be held on later this year – an advantage several competitors may have missed out on.

“It certainly helps to have a year of sailing in Bermuda under us and at the Cup it’ll feel like we’re sailing at home”, said Skipper and CEO Dean Barker.

“We’ll have a much better understanding of what to expect and the three teams who were based here will hopefully have an advantage over the other three.” 

That game to win an advantage is ongoing – spies from all the teams have been busy the past several weeks attempting to measure profiles of dagger boards and other appendages from a distance.

However, many of the biggest advantages continue to be out of sight, installed on the inside of team’s boats where the high-tech mechanisms required for sustained flight are installed.

“I think we’ve seen differences in all the boats – the biggest unknown is what’s hidden in the hulls – how do the control systems work and how well will the boats operate”. 

“That will be the untold story and the biggest determiner of success. We’re very happy with our systems but we know there’s still much to do until the start of the Cup.” 

Designed with certain one-design aspects, the America’s Cup Class allows teams to customize their appendage, control, and aero packages, focusing the technological development of the class towards the art of foiling and fast, continuous flight. 

However, in keeping with America’s Cup rules, the hydraulics required to drive those systems must be human powered.

That has ultimately meant building athletes capable of exerting extreme power outputs for long durations of time.

Grinders Yugo Yoshida and Yuki Kasatani are those weapons, picked out of an intense Japanese crew trial in 2015, the two have put on more than 15 kg training, at minimum, twice a day.

They will join veteran Kazuhiko Sofuku in the crew rotation for the America’s Cup Qualifiers marking Japan’s return to the race after a 15-year drought.

Having already sea trialed the new yacht earlier in the week, the team will now continue their on-water testing program tomorrow, counting down the days until their first America’s Cup Qualifiers match against Artemis Racing on May 26th.

“Coming out of the last America’s Cup we never imagined the development curve on the mechanical and human side would continue as steep as it has and I think right up through the Cup you’ll see development”, commented sailor and Chief Operating Officer Jeremy Lomas.

“No team will stop. The boats will change from what you see here today.”