TEAM EMIRATES – Racing mechanics is a term often heard these days around the Emirates Team New Zealand base.
No one’s sure if racing mechanics should be defined as a science or an engineering discipline but it most certainly is the practical application of collective knowledge gained over many years of designing, building and sailing many different types of yachts. However it’s defined, racing mechanics is the sailing team’s voice into the design process. It’s a fundamental part of Emirates Team New Zealand’s AC72 programme. The racing mechanics group makes sure the AC72 can be sailed not only with 11 crew, but also sailed hard and safely.
Richard Meacham (pictured above), mid-bowman in the old days of monohulls, heads the racing mechanics programme: “The group was formed in response to the need to develop the systems required to ensure the cat could be sailed efficiently and competitively.”
He contrasts the AC72 with the monohulls: “We were on generation five the IACC class; I would imagine they when they were designing and testing the first generation a lot of people were thinking very seriously about how the systems would work.
“By the fifth generation systems were well refined and we were looking at really small incremental changes. “When the AC72 rule came out we drew the outline on the sail loft floor and then we built a very rough mock-up of it – a really rough and ready look at what the 72 might feel like in terms of its overall size and geometry. “From there a lot of computer modelling was done by Jamie France and shore crew built more detailed wooden mock-ups. “We did one of the full cockpit in one-to-one scale and had everything set up on that; then we went into different areas around the boat which all allowed the sailing team to define what it, the user, wanted.”
With the launch of Boat 2 looming, the racing mechanics group’s work goes on. “It will be a work in progress through until the end. “Every refinements will be balanced with reliability and practicality. It is still early days for this class. We learned a lot every time we sailed Boat 1 and those lessons have gone into Boat 2.”
The bottom line always: “Is the sailing team comfortable with what the boat and how it’s performing on the water? To date we are comfortable. We’re sailing and we’re learning and we’re making good changes. While he may have a desk in the design office, Richard is still a member of the sailing team and he was on the water – either sailing or observing – every time the AC72 left the dock.
“That’s an important part of the process. I need to have an intimate knowledge of the boat and how it performs.”