The Eye of the Fish

September 9, 2013

Foiled again

It’s one of those blink and you’ll miss it sort of moments – after years and years of waiting and hype, the America’s Cup races are actually on, and already we’ve had 3 – no, hold it, by now probably – 4 races. And yes, Emirates Team New Zealand has already won 3 of them, giving “us” a lead of 5 matches (and since writing this, Oracle has now won one). Except is it really “us”? We could do this nationalistic thing for ages – how while we’re sponsored by a government, not a rogue billionaire, we are additionally sponsored by the unlimited petro-dollar oil-funding of an Airline of a Federation of fundamentally islamist Arab Emirates, not by a software giant’s ego; how even the bowspit transom-thingee is sponsored by Nespresso, not by Fonterra; we’re driven by Toyota, not Holden (or Trekka); wear Camper shoes, not Bata Bullets; drink Skyy Vodka, and not 42 Below! Ridiculous! And, let’s face it, no-one in this country can afford an Omega watch – we’re more of a disposable Swatch nation. I could go on, but I won’t, except to say that for the New Zealand government’s $36m sponsorship, how much better would it have been to have a giant koru of Air NZ up on that sail, or Anchor milk on the hulls….? Or even, cough cough, 100% pure… Still, as a branding exercise, New Zealand is still getting some excellent airplay in the AC72s.

While others are going to come out and say how brilliant the sailors are, how powerful are our grinders arms, how dashing and clever is Dean Barker, and how the mere fact that you have kiwis in your team gives you more of a chance of winning as if merely by being born in Aotearoa gives you Cook’s or Kupe’s legendary sailing and navigational abilities – despite all that (and I’m sure it must be true – I’m of course a brilliant sailor, at one with the sea, as well as playing rugby for the All Blacks – Jonah Lomu and I are just like that, they don’t talk about Jonah and the Whale for nothing) – yes, despite all that, I’m going to say that the cleverest thing out there on the water is the foil.

It’s the unsung hero of the piece – a Black Stick unlike any other Black Stick you have ever seen, and literally, the whole boat is riding on its success. In a race which is all about what is visible above water, it’s actually what is underwater what really counts, and crucially, the key to counting is to spend the least amount of time underwater as possible. He who foils first, foils fastest, and don’t you forget it. I have no idea what that magical material is that the magical foil is made of – all I can say with certainty is that it must be incredibly bloody strong. It can’t be steel – that’s just not strong enough. It could be nano-fibres, or sheets of graphene, or battle-hardened moon-rocks from planet Zubbety-Zub, but whatever it is, it is not distorting under stress, and yet it still seems to be able to bend. The entire, considerable, and extremely high forces of the entire boat are going through the vertical blade of the foil and bending round into the return thin fin that elevates the whole boat out of the water. 42 knots – over 80km/hr, on a piece of (probably) carbon fibre wing hidden below the water so that they can’t even see it – this is the same sort of dangerous brilliance as balancing on just one leg riding a skateboard while blindfolded, while someone blasts a water cannon at your face and someone else has bet $100 million on your ability to do this whilst televising this to the world.

I’m impressed.

It’s hard to tell while the race is on, but there are subtle – or in fact, quite large – differences between our foil and Ellison’s, if I may be so proprietorial as to say “ours” and “theirs” – and the boating forum is foaming at the mouth over this – Oracle has an L shaped foil, and Emirates has a more curvacious, almost V shaped foil. Doug Lord reckons that the kiwi’s foil may even be acting as a surface piercing foil, where the tip has rotated around so much that it almost extends back up to the surface – although I haven’t seen sight of it yet. And of course the damn thing has to be winched up and down each time by those hunky grinders (such a gay turn of phrase…) – which, when you stop and think about it, they’re not so much winching the foil down, as winching the entire moving, speeeeeding, balancing boat back up the greasy black pole that it doing it’s sub-surface magic.

Its the old Black Magic all over again.I’ll hold my breath until Wednesday now…

Postscript update:
I’ve just found a new photo, which I find intriguing and exciting – as you do… This is the first one I’ve seen where the actual rudder is out of the water as well – and do my great big bulbous Fish-Eyes deceive me, or is that a thin keel on the very end of the rudder? If so, perhaps that goes some way to explaining why they are so responsive to turn… have a look at the photo below:

and here’s the sneaky bit in question, enlarged a bit more…

9 - 09 - 13

I’m surprised the fish can keep up with the AC at a top speed of 50mph or 80kph only marlin and sailfish can keep up.
42 Below is not really NZ any more it’s owned by Bacardi, but I get your sentiment. I’m split on the whole is it a national team / corporate team. Emirates Team New Zealand is very good at selling it as a national thing, compared to the likes of Oracle where it is definitely Larry Ellisons cup not the USA’s. Most of the nationalist rules disappeared once Alinghi won, they got sick of having to make all the sailors they buy Swiss citizens. In some respects it is good that we get international corporations to pay for “our” team, it’s kind of a form of exporting.
Although I enjoy the drama of the competition and the amazing technology, like the formula 1, it is really just a billionaires pissing contest. Corporate mobsters legitimising their monopoly of resources by throwing loose change at the plebs too advertise at millionaires. Regardless when they are foiling it is pretty amazing.

P Abernathy
9 - 09 - 13

The thing that saddens me is that in a few days time, after this current racing season is over, these boats will be retired, probably never to be sailed again. As hunks of nautical marvels, they will have had their day, and they are far too fast and dangerous to be used as a corporate gin palace or to eek out their day in the upper reaches of the Waitemata. If they’re lucky, they’ll be strung up in full sail in a maritime museum somewhere, and if they’re not so lucky, they won’t even make firewood. Maybe they should be entered in a round the world yacht race, see if they can break the record.

9 - 09 - 13

P Abernathy – I’mpretty sure that they won’t have the strength to be able to tackle a round the world race – nor do they have anywhere to go inside and to eat / sleep / ablute etc. Totally not made for that. However, I did find a website called where it describes the boats as weighing over 13,000 lbs, which translates to about 5.9 tonnes – which is, of course, rather light for a boat that is 72 feet long by 46 feet wide (22m long x 14m wide) … powered by a wing sail that stands 131 feet tall and covers 2,798 square feet in area (40m tall x 260m2).

However, you have given me an idea for my next posting… thank you!

11 - 09 - 13

So, one more race on the books – but watching TV One this morning, they had an interesting bit of info about the hydrofoils – that they are normally under about 8 tonnes of pressure, from the boat plus rigging plus weight of the sailors – and that this goes up to 14 tonnes on the bend of the foil, which is of course a carbon-fibre composite. But the amazingf thing to me – and now it all makes sense – is that they can tilt the foil back and forward, to pitch the entire boat up or down. Just like flying! Cool….

14 - 09 - 13

It’s looking likely that NZ will win the cup so naturally thoughts turn to where to host the next one. Let me be the first to make a (not so) ridiculous suggestion – why not Wellington? Our harbour is a natural amphitheatre, there’s lots of wind, planty of vantage points, and Auckland has already had their turn. Maybe it’s time for us to have a go.

15 - 09 - 13

Sk – way ahead of you there. I’ve already suggested that to an Aucklander – and he looked at me as though I had just sprouted wings and started to fly. Apparently such a proposal is so ludicrous as to not even been deemed worthy of discussion. In Aucklanders minds, there is no other possible option but for more Auckland.

15 - 09 - 13

Holding my breathe…. there’s such a fine line between being up on one hull, and being all over, Rover…

Normal transmission (may) be resumed once racing is complete…

26 - 09 - 13

And actually, now that it IS all over, then thank god that it is over at last. That was getting painful to watch. Last word to Emirates Team NZ:
“It has been a long arduous campaign with absolute heart and soul put into it by not only the entire team but the whole country. Thank you for your support. Congratulations oracle.”
Over and out…

Seamonkey Madness
26 - 09 - 13

A bit late, I know; but did you read the piece in the Herald that Barker and Spithill have houses on the same street in Herne Bay?