Nick Holroyd: “Everybody is watching everybody is watching everybody”

INEOS Team UK launched their first AC75 Britannia last Friday at their base in Portsmouth, another fascinating variation on the theme which seems to fit somewhere between the Kiwi and American Magic design philosophies. Their minimalist bow sections give way to a relatively flat sided beast. Sir Ben Ainslie revealed that Britannia 1 required 90,000 design hours and 50,000 build hours. Tip & Shaft caught up with the Head of Design Nick Holroyd who joined the team in January last year. Holroyd is a previous America’s Cup winner with Team New Zealand where he worked for 18 years. He was instrumental in bringing foiling technology to the America’s Cup ahead of AC34. 

An exciting moment for you today Nick…..
Yes, but the boat touching the water triggers an avalanche of paperwork because every single component part of the boat has to be registered with the measurement committee and so that for me is the next 24 hours.

Tell us about the process, starting from the beginning and the publication of the rules for this new concept getting to where you are today?
You read the rule, from nothing more than intuition and experience you draw what you think might be a solution to that and then you can just developing data off that. First thing you are saying is ‘how much panel area does it have? how much is it going to weigh? You have to start developing a weight sheet for it, start looking at the aerodynamics and the hydrodynamics and then it evolves from there. Typically you might run half a dozen hull shapes for each design iteration. But the class rule came out April 1st and we ran six weekly iterations for 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 and then 1.0 because we had just five months from the class rule published to signing off the designs. That is very, very short compared to other Cups.

What are the biggest complexities and challenges with this boat?
If I went back to designing AC72s they were hard because we simply did not have the tools at our disposal to really model and so we had to invent the tools as we went along. That was the difficulty of those campaigns. Compared to any other boat I have worked on, because you change the cant of the foil arm through the operating range, then the righting moment changes. The catamaran the beam was fixed, the foil was fixed and once it was up that is the righting moment you are fixed with. You have a fixed righting moment and after that your job is to try and remove drag from the system. Here you are varying righting moment you are constantly making trades, do I take more power or do I try and reduce drag? So it is a very complicated boat.

Where are you on that equation?
You are trying to get the best of both worlds. The way the boat sets up across the wind range is quite different. That is the hard part of this. The level of systems. If you go inside this boat the level of the wiring looms, hydraulics complexity is a step on from what we have done before. What is fun about the Cup world over the last ten years or so is the way the whole project has become much more multidiscipline. Twenty years ago you had two naval architects, a sail designer and a structures guy and that was is. Now you are doing machine learning, you are doing all the simulation work, you are designing custom electronics, you have embedded software to run the hydraulic valves, and all of those components have to fit together. From my perspective running the design team, the canvas keeps getting bigger. It is a lot of fun.

How useful has T5, the 28 foot test boat, been in design and validation terms?
The first thing is the way you pick up a common language between the sailing team and the design team. On the systems side, because we only had two people on the test boat at any one time, everything was powered, electro-hydraulic, so the whole systems programme was incredibly complex for a 28 footer. And all of that has stood us in very good stead for scanning that stuff into the big boat. There are some dynamics side of it, you start to understand that side of it in a good way, but probably top of the list is this team we have had to build simulators and infrastructure things along the way, and being able to validate the behaviours, the guys can go out and do a dozen manoeuvres on the real thing and come back and do it in the simulator and say this is right and this isn’t. Given that you base almost all of your design decisions for the big boat on what the simulators and the VPPs are telling you, it is a very important validation tool. 

Give us some examples of the ‘language’?
Using aircraft language the boats have a certain stability mode, in aircraft they have ‘dutch roll’ which is a coupling of a longitudinal and a trip instability and so these things have the same thing, handling characteristics. You develop a language around these things, the way the foils have issues like ventilation and so on, it is about being happy with the foils and the way we manage them.

How has the accuracy and scope of modelling evolved from the last Cup and where are you in terms of strength in this field?
Hugely….the complexity in terms of the number of factors you include in the model. If you look at something like the sail model, you have half a dozen trim parameters which you are then modelling across apparent wind angles, ride height all the other state parameters of the boat. Stop and think of that and if you have a ten or 12 dimensional experimental space and I need to have enough data spread across these 12 dimensions you end up with enormous matrices of data to describe this accurately, all the possible operating conditions. That is an insight into the number of parameters which we can include to grow.

The Kiwis still have an advantage here, do you think?
I was involved with some the development with the Kiwis last time so, yes, they came into this Cup cycle with a more mature set of tools, they did a lot of simulation through the last campaign and that stood them in good stead.

But you have caught up?
Very much so. Always there is an upside in starting afresh and being able to rethink the problem. But that has taken us all a certain amount of time to get up to speed. Where we are going is having the performance simulator also becoming the effectively development environment where all of your control systems, all your crew interfaces, everything gets introduced into the simulator as it’s the hardware in the loop, so the ability to literally build an entire boat’s worth of control software prior to the boat hitting the water and to have ‘sailed’ it and tested it for many hours that is the level we are getting to now.

That is part of the reason these boats are up and flying from day 1 or 2 as we saw with ETNZ and American Magic? 
Go back to T5 and the foiling catamarans…with the foiling cats we launched in 2011 and a foiling tack was achieved in the early Bermuda days – so early 2016 – so that was five years…literally this time it is two days. You know that is the target you set out to hit. There is a change in expectation.

Your thoughts on the three boats which have been launched? 
Everybody is pushing. Really pushing. There are a lot of ideas, quite new and novel ideas. It is very hard to go past the Team New Zealand boat for two reasons. There are few bits of information to which we are not privy to, like the wind limits might be etc., and two, we had five months from class rule to launching boat 1, they undoubtedly had this concept in their simulator a lot longer than that, I was taking to them in October the year before so they probably had six months more.

The bustle on the Kiwi boat?
It is very smart. Theirs is a very clever boat.

Does it worry you?
We are on Boat 1 right…(laughs)… No, not at all. What worry me is if I could not see the reason for it or understand the purpose behind it or the logic. Digging one layer back what are the cards they are holding which drags them in that direction….? They have had longer and know the conditions. I would pick their boat as one which has to some extent disregarded any floating races. (NDLR That is what Guillaume Verdier was saying last week in Tip & Shaft…..Holroyd jokes…..’Yes, Guillaume was first on my phone…..’He said why on earth does it look like that?’……he is watching and we all watch each other…). American Magic is probably closest to us in terms of a boat which will perform well in the floating condition. It is a nice boat, very well executed and they are on the water early and learning. It is a good programme. Luna Rossa is quite an extreme boat, their foils are very, very small. There is learning for us to take from them. Like I said, every one is pushing hard. Which is great. There is never any expectation on our side that we slow down, we back off or get conservative.

What did you learn from the last Cup cycle that you take forwards?
I started with Team NZ and finished with Japan. There is a life outside of Team New Zealand, having been with them for 20 years. The challenges here are more organisational, building a team very quickly in an environment where the pressure is on immediately. There is no time to sit back and practice your art. As I get older I enjoy that more and more.

So the design took 90,000 design hours, how big is the team and how do you operate?
We have around 40 people on the design team, about 34 of them full time. Some are contractors doing very specialised things around foil design for example or handle specific bits of hydraulics for example. Geographically we are diverse, some in the USA for example but every third week we have everyone on site. About 50% of the team work remotely.

Foils? Where are you in terms of size and shape compared with the ‘fleet’?
Ourselves and the Kiwis have built different foils for different sides of the boat. American Magic seem to have a very similar foil on both sides of the boat. Likewise Luna Rossa although I think their actuation mechanism is different port to starboard. That has been a huge amount of hard work because you double up your engineering, because everything that goes inside there is custom. Our smallest foil is about as small as anyone in the fleet, down there with Luna Rossa in that sense and our bigger foil would be roughly midfleet – compared with Team New Zealand in terms of area.

There is plenty of time to change things for Boat 2 then?
Yes, for sure. Look you develop a library of engineering solutions, what the cant structure looks like and you have now tested that, the load testing and so on and we are comfortable with that. So there is a lot of engineering solutions across this which are now in the Library that weren’t a year ago. Because you have these building block in place you have a lot of flexibility in the way you run the timeline to design the second boat.

Will your second boat more radical?
It will be different…even if you think you are right you would not build another one the same. I am not arrogant enough to think I am right. And there is a lot to learn from other people, to put resource into different places in the design cycle. There are some easy wins…these guys have put a lot of effort in there, what did they find and we incorporate? And I am happy to be shameless and copy of that gets you ahead?

Tell us about the level of ‘intelligence’ you are all gathering…. what can you do in terms of modelling and learning?
Everybody is watching everybody is watching everybody. Drawing another person’s boat from a library of photos is a very straightforward process. Then you put into your own tools. We cant tank test or tunnel test in this cycle, but you understand that inherent in your design tools is an assumption bias, so when you run someone else’s boat one of the first things I look for is what does it expose in our tools which might be incorrect. These guys are all smart. They are not going to make blatant errors. But in due course we will have all the boats and have pretty comprehensive models of them and understand everything about them.

What’s the planned schedule now?
First we need to tow test it. That is about checking all the flap actuation mechanisms are solid and working the systems debugging.

If you are out with the boat on the Solent presumably you would rather be earlier in the year?
Yes October and November on the Solent is not my favourite sailing grounds. The Solent to be fair is not an ideal testing ground. One of the things we found taking T5 (the test boat) down to the Med was the absence of tide, suddenly the data lined up with the simulation much better for us, so the real testing for us is Cagliari from January through the end of April.

Photo : Harry KH / Ineos Team UK

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