A GenevaLunch feature on the new sailing marvel, Alinghi 5: the boat, the technology, the view for Lake Geneva area viewers
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Le Bouveret, Valais, and Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) - There are sailboats, and then there is Alinghi 5: at 90 feet (27 metres) far larger than anything else on Lake Geneva, technologically astonishing and a delight to the eyes, but also exciting in terms of the sailing challenges it presents. The catamaran, built at great expense and specially for the next America’s Cup race in 2010, was presented to a mostly-charmed group of international journalists Thursday 23 July, but the weather was not cooperative. “We took it out into the harbour Wednesday and hit 31-knot winds,” said Alinghi’s president, Ernesto Bertarelli. It was forced back to shore, where the Alinghi team then kept busy with shoreline duties for the next two days. “Lake Geneva is a challenging place to sail. Yesterday was a real test for us,” he said of the failed outing.
A heavy mix of high winds, hail, thunder and lightning made it impossible to hoist sails, but the weekend weather was decent Saturday and is predicted to be beautiful Sunday 26 July: sunshine and good breezes on Lake Geneva. (Ed. note: Twitterati can follow Alinghi on the water via Twitter at alinghiteam)
Lake Geneva area: Alinghi 5 now on the lake
For the next two weeks people who live along Lake Geneva or who are visiting the area will see the new America’s Cup Swiss boat as it runs tests and the team gets used to handling it, working first from the base in Le Bouveret, at the Valais/Vaud end of the lake, then from Geneva.
The Alinghi team will sail the length of the lake, from Lausanne near Le Bouveret to Geneva and its home port at the Société de Nautique de Genève for the first of August Swiss national holiday.
Bertarelli and his team are inviting all interested sailors in the region to accompany them in a public flotilla of pleasure boats, which should create a spectacular sight (cameras ready!).
A warning to windsurfers, boaters and anyone else on Lake Geneva: Alinghi 5 is accompanied by chasers and a police boat, for safety reasons, says Rolf Vrolijk, Alinghi’s head designer.
“People don’t really appreciate the speed of this boat, may not understand they need to move out of the way,” he told GenevaLunch. That said, the team emphasizes that while Alinghi 5 is fast and might prove to be the fastest boat around, winning a sailing race is not about speed: it’s about getting from point A to B as quickly as possible and from B back to A.
Alinghi 5 will remain in the area until 6-8 August, when it will be airlifted to the sea. A helicopter will fly it over the Grand St Bernard pass and down to Genoa, Italy, where it will be berthed until the next stage in its sailing career – which depends to some extent on the tumultuous legal developments that are part of America’s Cup, the sailing world’s biggest event.
Brad Butterworth, skipper, was not at the Alinghi press presentation because he was appearing in court in New York, where the judge insisted 21 July that Alinghi and BMW Oracle accept mediation in their fight over the rules for the next America’s Cup race.
Why all the hoopla for Alinghi 5
Alinghi 5 has provoked an extraordinary level of excitement, starting with its own sailing team. “This is the most exciting boat I’ve ever sailed – probably ever will sail,” said a clearly happy Murray Jones, recalling the first day out on the boat, 20 July. Jones is a member of the sailing team and responsible for the early trials. “We achieved so much in one day!”
Bertarelli, who called that first day out “one of the best days of my life” made it clear that much of the excitement centred around the fact the team had been able to make the boat fly (one of its two hulls entirely out of the water) so quickly. “The fact that we can fly a boat on the first day on water shows the confidence we had in it.” Alinghi 5 has initially more than lived up to expectations, performing close to computer simulations the first day out. The first stage of development work, building the boat, is done, but now comes an intense period of continuing development, with technical experts and sailors collaborating closely to refine the work-in-progress.
It wasn’t always so easy to believe in this boat. Bertarelli told journalists that “At one point we thought the boat was never going to be a reality. We stopped construction halfway through.” Alinghi 5 is such a one-of-a-kind craft that it carries no mention of class on its sails, as other boats on the lake do. There simply is no class for the boat, which has gone several steps beyond standard current technology for building sailboats.
There are three key developments, according to designer Grant Simmer, design team coordinator. “The power systems – that’s a development that’s just going to continue. The sail structures, sail shapes – the load rigging element with carbon rigging, which is very light and much more reliable. And load monitoring: being able to monitor load is a great safety feature – peak load, dynamic load.”
Where the design came from
The design team began work on the new boat in September 2007. “We started with a clean sheet of paper,” says Grant. We were trying to balance the very radical with how well we could design.” They ultimately went with a catamaran, a two-hull boat, because “we felt it was a much more stable platform” and the “Swiss have been racing catamarans on Lake Geneva for many years”, so rich experience in working with these boats would be available to the design team.
Grant points out that traditionally, the yachting industry doesn’t have the money for cutting edge research and it’s been boats that are designed to take racing to the next level that provide technological advances. The rest of the sailing world will gradually benefit from Alinghi’s new features as its technology makes it into mainstream boat building.
The technology: pushing the frontiers at EPFL
EPFL, the Swiss federal polytechnic institute based in Lausanne, has been very closely involved in the project nearly from the start, responsible for developing much of the technology. Key development work has included:
- composite materials: rigid, strong, incredibly light carbon-reinforced polymer sandwiches, with optical fibers embedded in the structure, make it possible to provide real-time feedback on how the boat is performing
- fluid dynamics analysis: numerical models are used to simulate the flow of air and water around a computerized version of the yacht in racing conditions, allowing testing of a large number of configurations
- video analysis for sail design: a process has been developed to analyze real sailing conditions video sequences of the sails’ performance and sail design improvements
- strategic route planning: researchers are developing a mathematical model that will give the navigator a rational method for plotting the fastest possible course for a given race, even with variable weather conditions.
Alfio Quarteroni is head of EPFL’s Computer and Scientic Modeling group, the official Alinghi partner. His excitement is as palpable as the sailing team’s, as he talks about the “discontinuity”, the break with past, that Alinghi 5 represents, technically, and the larger implications of the work done at the university. “This project involved a completely different kind of physics,” he told GenevaLunch. “It is very challenging, very uncertain. The design elements now are so diverse, and the new approaches are very creative, so we’re trying to use mathematics not only for shapes, but for functionality.
“This is like in economics, when you have a big discontinuity,” he says, referring to the global economic crisis. “We’re trying to envisage the possibilities for improvement. And then we try to translate this into other fields, cardiovascular applications or streaming events in nature such as earthquakes.”
Patrick Aebischer, EPFL’s president, calls Alinghi 5 “a real Swiss project” because of the involvement of numerous Swiss companies in developing and supplying new components.
In the end, this boat is an impressive technological advance and a scientific marvel, but it still needs excellent sailors. The team handling it says they love it, that it is beautiful to sail. “It’s been a long two years,” says Ernesto Bertarelli, of the legal wrangle with BMW Oracle, “Now we can focus on the boat.”
Background: America’s Cup and Alinghi versus BMW Oracle
BMW Oracle is the official Challenger of Record for the America’s Cup race, won by Alinghi in July 2007 in Valencia, Spain. The competition was an exciting and very close one, but not between these two teams. Alinghi defeated Emirates Team New Zealand, the Challenger, 5-2 in a series of races that was closer than the final score indicates. Emirates had won the Challenger slot by winning the Louis Vuitton series of races against several boats. Alinghi, shortly after the race, selected the Valencia yacht club as the official Challenger of Record, breaking with recent tradition. In November 2007 a judge in New York in the US, the legal home base of the America’s Cup, ruled against Alinghi’s club, SNG of Geneva, in a court challenge brought by BMW Oracle, a San Francisco-based team.
The legal wrangle is part of the 150-plus year history of the America’s Cup, where one of the strong traditions has been fights over rules, regulations, who gets to decide them and who will sail.
Ed. note: Obwoodman has posted a photo on flickr of the boat on Lake Geneva which shows its startling size, next to one of the large steamers that cross the lake. As we publish, the photo is on our home page, but if when you read it, the photo has been replaced by one from another contributor, you can find it here, large size