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Plastics, controversy surround America's Cup

By: Roger Renstrom

July 17, 2013

America's Cup racers feature a variety of plastic and composite components again this year, as designers continue to push the envelope to make the boats as lightweight as possible without sacrificing strength.

But this year, controversy surrounds the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series in San Francisco Bay. (The winning challenger will face defender Oracle Racing Inc. starting Sept. 7.)

In initial races July 7 and 9, Emirates Team New Zealand sailed the course and earned one point each time, after the Luna Rossa Challenge from Italy opted not to race. Both teams filed protests with the International Jury for the America's Cup after the regatta director belatedly imposed 37 safety rules that effectively change conditions for the racing class.

Also, the third challenger, Artemis Racing of Sweden, is scrambling to complete its second yacht, after its first was destroyed during a sea trial two months ago.

In February 2010, Oracle Racing won the 33rd America's Cup regatta in a massive trimaran off the coast of Valencia, Spain, and proceeded to create a new catamaran design class for this competition.

Costs and complications have led to fewer 2013 participants than organizers predicted.

For the AC72 class, design of hulls and wings are specific to each team.

Under a highly detailed, 39-page AC72 class rule for the 2103 America's Cup, hulls must be built in each team's country of origin, but the wing sails may be built in any country.

The rule restricts the surface finish of hulls, appendages and immersed components to "paint systems generically specified as two-component linear polyester saturated aliphatic polyurethane, two-component epoxy urethane or two-component acrylic urethane." Further, the rule specifies use of materials from the International, Interlux and Awlgrip marine and protective coating brands of Amsterdam-based Akzo Nobel NV or Resene Paints Ltd. of Upper Hutt, New Zealand.

The wing-sail catamaran box rule provides for a maximum waterline length of 72.2 feet, overall length of 86 feet, beam width of 45.9 feet and mast top-to-base-plate height of 125.4 feet.

The sails on these lightweight boats are huge. The allowable mainsail area for the wing is about 2,800 square feet. The maximum jib is 861 square feet, and the largest downwind gennaker is 3,444 square feet.

While designers seek to optimize performance, they tend to be conservative to avoid breakage. Each hull is wired with strain gauges, and teams take measurements constantly.

Key suppliers — North Technology Group LLC and Harken Inc. — have products on multiple boats in the fleet.

Operations of North Technology of Milford, Conn., manufacture sails for each of the four teams in the regatta. North Technology is a subsidiary of Windway Capital Corp.

Southern Spars and Rigging, one of the North Technology businesses, manufactures wing sails for both Emirates Team New Zealand and the Luna Rossa Challenge. Recently, Southern Spars has centralized its New Zealand manufacturing and office operations in 100,000 square feet of space in Rosebank, a suburb of Auckland.

Sailboat hardware and accessory manufacturer Harken of Pewaukee, Wis., is a major supplier to America's Cup teams of carbon fiber-reinforced racing winches and pedestals, gearboxes, titanium roller AirBlocks and sheaves and hydraulic valves, cylinders, manifolds and rotary pumps. Each AirBlock has inflexible, boron-powder, Hard Kote-anodized, polytetrafluoroethylene-impregnated side plates.

Core Builders Composites Ltd., owned by Oracle Racing, has built its team's three AC72 wing sails — and rebuilt another — in Warkworth, New Zealand, and produced the defender's hulls in a warehouse on Pier 80 in San Francisco.

Oracle Racing backers include product protection specialist Sealed Air Corp. of Elmwood Park, N.J.; epoxy producer Pro-Set Inc. of Bay City, Mich.; copolymer ethylene vinyl acetate maker SeaDec Inc. of Rockledge, Fla.; Professional Components Ltd. division Shockwave Seats of Sidney, British Columbia; and chase-boat power provider Yanmar Co. Ltd.'s U.S. operation in Adairsville, Ga.

Enterprise software entrepreneur Larry Ellison owns Oracle Racing. He is co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corp. of Redwood City, Calif.

Emirates Team New Zealand of Freemans Bay uses T.P. Cookson Boatbuilders Ltd. of Glenfield. Both New Zealand cities are in the Auckland area.

Cookson has built two boats for the team. The most recent was launched in February and has hydrofoiling capability.

The Emirates Group's airline subsidiary is the name sponsor for the New Zealand team. The investment arm of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, owns the group.

For the Luna Rossa Challenge, the marine division of Persico SpA in Nembro, Italy, builds the catamaran hulls. Southern Spars makes the wing sail, and Cookson Boats handles the assembly work, both at their respective sites in New Zealand.

Luna Rossa's main suppliers for composite materials include Gurit Holding AG's facility in Newport, England, on the Isle of Wight and Mitsubishi Rayon Group's Newport Adhesives & Composites Inc. operation in Irvine, Calif., for prepreg; Euro-Composites Group of Echternach, Luxembourg, for technical products; and M.C. Gill Corp. subsidiary Alcore Brigantine in Anglet, France, for Nomex honeycomb core.

Fashion label Prada SpA of Milan is Luna Rossa's main sponsor.

Artemis Racing's principal designer is Juan Kouyoumdjian, an Argentinian who heads Juan Yacht Design SL in Valencia.

Marine and composite specialist King Group of Alginet, Spain, near Valencia, makes most of the structure for Artemis Racing and sent a portion of its workforce to Sweden for building the hulls at the boatyard of Najadvarvet AB in Henan on the island of Orust. Najadvarvet is a subsidiary of Nord West Yachts AB.

Future Spars of Valencia, a venture of Persico and Future Fibres Rigging Systems SL, builds the wing sails for Artemis Racing.

Torbjörn Törnqvist founded, and is chairman of, Artemis Racing, which represents the Royal Swedish Yacht Club near Stockholm. Törnqvist is a principal owner of commodity trading firm Gunvor Group Ltd.

Artemis Racing's first AC72 catamaran arrived in San Francisco on Aug. 21, incurred damage to its front carbon fiber-reinforced beam during tow-testing in October and catastrophically broke apart under sail and sank May 9.

A preliminary analysis said a composite girder in front of the wing sail failed. The two hulls veered slightly causing one to snap, bringing down the mast and cart-wheeling the entire structure. A seasoned crewmember was trapped under the yacht for about 10 minutes and died.

The incident led to proposed safety measures, a review of whether to allow use of moveable winglets on rudders and an entrant's legal challenge.

On June 28, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a permit that incorporates 37 safety recommendations, which the America's Cup regatta director specified.

Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa protested some of the recommendations, an international jury began hearing the protests July 8.

To enhance television race broadcasts, the regatta organizers supply up to seven high-definition, agile cameras and 11 microphones for placement on each yacht. Satellite Information Services Ltd. of London supplies the hardware.

For various reasons including finances, several previous potential America's Cup aspirants are not competing in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series: Kim Dong-Young's White Tiger Challenge Team Korea Racing of South Korea; Chaoyong Wang's China Team of Qingdao, China; the brothers Loick and Bruno Peyron — organized Energy Team of Paris; the French Sailing Federation's Aleph-Équipe de France; and the sustainability-themed Green Comm Racing team of Valencia.

In part, their absences deprive America's Cup organizers of the opportunity to generate local interest from print and broadcast outlets that cover the respective markets in Asia and much of Europe.

After its 2010 victory Oracle Racing, through its organizers, moved to transition sailors to catamarans from monohulls. Oracle quickly created a one-design class of 45-foot-long boats with Core in Warkworth building all of the AC45 hulls and wing sails ? ultimately in quantities of 15 and 16, respectively.

Energy-drink marketer Red Bull GmbH of Thailand, Austria, is lead sponsor for Sept. 1-4 competitions, in which pre-qualified teams of young adults will race in some of those AC45s in San Francisco Bay. America's Cup organizers hope to stimulate interest in sailing through the reach-out program.

After purchasing or otherwise gaining access to the yachts, 13 teams participated in one or more of nine arena-style AC45 World Series events in the U.S., Italy, Portugal and England from August 2011 through April 2013.