The America’s Cup is the ultimate sailing contest – the spectacular racing is set close to the shore with the 75ft hydro-foiling boats flying around the course at speeds over 50mph. It attracts the best sailors and engineers in the sport; all competing for a trophy that was first contested in 1851 with a race around the Isle of Wight in much more stately yachts organised by the Royal Yacht Squadron.
The speed of the AC75, the new America’s Cup boat has completely changed the game, and not just for the sailors. The team’s support boats must also go significantly faster if they are to do their job; carrying the engineers and equipment required to keep the AC75 running at its optimum and the eleven crew onboard safe. It’s not an easy design brief; demanding that high speed performance be combined with close quarters manoeuvring ability at low speeds, while still maintaining a load carrying capacity.
Honda has developed a partnership with leading marine manufacturer Ribquest to take on the challenge set by INEOS TEAM UK. The Hendy Group are supplying the team with two new, technologically advanced support boats developed and built through the partnership between Honda and Ribquest. The boats are Ribquest Velocities, 11.6 meters long and 2.9 meters wide, weighing just 3.5 tons and capable of speeds in excess of 70 knots when powered with three BF250 Honda Marine Outboards.
The first boat is working in its role as a close quarter support boat with INEOS TEAM UK; the first responder in an emergency. The second boat was recently launched for sea trials in the resort town of Torquay in south-west England – the trials being a critical part of the process of delivering the team what they need.
INEOS TEAM UK Chase Boat Driver, Jake Bishop has said
V1 has been on the water here in Cagliari since the first day of sailing and has performed brilliantly during every training session. It’s main role is as a close quarter support boat for Britannia and the crew onboard, we have space to carry the spare sails and support equipment, whilst also maintaining high speeds in excess of 50Knots to keep up with the race boat in case of emergencies or instant support requirements. It’s done a superb job!”
Graham Lawton, Managing Director of Ribquest explained,
Velocity 2 is like Chase Boat One for INEOS TEAM UK. She has a slightly different deck layout. She's purposely built with a very, very narrow console for only three persons onboard so that she's able to carry spare sails either side of the boat. She's going to perform a slightly different role. The sea trials involved testing many different aspects of the performance that this role will demand. These included stability tests run by the boat’s naval architect.”
Bruce Sexton-Barrow attended the sea trials and was responsible for the structural calculations and engineering of the boat, while Norwegian based Petter Martens did the hydrodynamics and design. The trials measured the boat’s attitude; the angles of heel and trim achieved in manoeuvres, and with weight loaded in different places on the deck. “We need to know that the boat is capable of the operations -- and especially the towing operations -- that she's due to carry out,” commented Graham Lawton.
The boat incorporates a particularly powerful jet thruster to enable it to manoeuvre the race boat when tied alongside – the first such installation that Lawton is aware of for this kind of boat. “It's been a huge technical challenge for both us at Ribquest and Honda to be able to power that. It's very important that the boat is able to actually manoeuvre whilst tied alongside INEOS TEAM UK's sailing boat Britannia. They need to be able to move Britannia sideways to port and starboard, without moving forward or aft. Hence, the need for such a powerful system; eleven kilowatts powered by three outboards. It's been quite the challenge for us, but we're very happy today. It's working perfectly.”
The precise manoeuvring ability is required to get the AC75 in and out of narrow docks, like the one at the team’s home base in Portsmouth. The testing also included a full assessment of the complex systems installed aboard the boat, used in the safety and towing operations for which the boat has been designed. The objective for Lawton was clear. “So we know that everything that we have planned between ourselves, Honda and with the sailing team will work.
“The safety equipment onboard is vast, but it's also really important that all the systems; man-overboard systems, rapid deployment of divers and the large amount of lifesaving equipment onboard is always in the right place and that it's working properly. That's what we've been doing with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency surveyor today. Then going out and actually performing sea trials, not just sea trials of how fast the boat could go, but her manoeuvrability, her stability at speed and the various aspects of carrying out those roles that she needs to do.”
Once sea trials were completed, the new Ribquest and Honda collaboration was to be returned to Ribquest for quality control checks, before a thorough clean. And then; “She's being completely shrink-wrapped and loaded onto an articulated lorry where she'll head down to Sardinia to meet the team,” said Lawton.
INEOS TEAM UK used V1 during their recent winter training camp in Cagliari at the southern tip of the Italian island of Sardinia. It was the perfect place, offering great sailing conditions through the winter months. V2 will now join her stablemate as an essential part of INEOS TEAM UK’s daily sailing operations once the team are back sailing at their home HQ in Portsmouth, UK. It’s been a very successful partnership between Ribquest and Honda.
“For us at Ribquest it's really important to work with a partner that understands how we want the boat to perform. They need to understand what the client requires when we're building a boat. And it's that partnership -- having someone that can actually take that into consideration and give you the product that you want – that’s hugely important for us,” concluded Lawton.