Ray Davies: “The America’s Cup will be a real sailors regatta”

Proud Kiwi Ray Davies has a long and storied sailing CV including winning the Volvo Ocean Race in 2001-2 with Illbruck as well as six America’s Cups campaigns. He played a key role in the development of the victorious Emirates Team New Zealand boat as well as being back up helmsman and coach. He has been involved in bringing the new America’s Cup foiling monohull class from concept to reality. Ray remains a sailing team member but more and more enjoys his coaching role where his brief is wide ranging. Tip & Shaft caught up with Ray at the 52 SUPER SERIES where he was taking time out to sail on Sled….

What is your schedule now then? You’re saying that you are relatively quiet?
I am personally quiet at the moment. We have made a lot of our big decisions on design and now we’re in a construction phase but there is always stuff going on. We have got other sailors covering other things back home and seeing as we all get our foil arms the boats will be launching and sailing as quickly as we can.

Do you expect to be as early as some of the other teams?
No, it will be a little bit later. It’s hard to know what their schedules are but we’ll be getting on the water as soon as we can and I would imagine most teams will be launching some time in August.

How close are the scaled down test boats to the real thing?
They’re a wee, way off. I think a couple of the teams had to scramble pretty quickly to get something on the water but what we are seeing is those boats are performing really. I know the Ineos guys were pretty blown away by the boat when they first started sailing it, they were pretty excited.

Do you talk to them directly at all? 
Guys in our team have before, they were in touch. You could see from the videos and their comments they were pretty excited about that type of boat.

And how does your simulator compare?
It’s good, we’re happy with it. It’s performing well.

How does it work, who does what and when?
We keep that pretty internal (laughs) but the sailing team are all involved with the simulator and sailing it and learning about the boat.

Do you expect the boats to be fairly similar? Have you any indications?
No indications, on our side we have pushed our developments as much as we can and we don’t know what the other teams have done so it will be exciting to see what actually hits the water in a few months time.

What is the scope for further development? Is there as much as the previous boat?
Yeah I think we are just at the bottom of the triangle again. It’s a new type of boat, I think all the teams will have learned a lot already before they have even launched their first boat. Everyone had to make decisions a long time ago and so I think there’s going to be a very big development curve.

More so than before?
Yeah, the AC50s developed a lot during the last campaign but I think the rules are pretty wide open for hull design so I think it’ll be really really interesting to see what comes out of the sheds.

Are we still expecting some of the late teams to get in?
We are holding on, it’s a pretty uphill battle for them now. Like every week that goes past it gets harder and harder but they are still trying, they haven’t pulled out yet. So fingers crossed, it’s the sort of campaign that I think if you have a good design package you’ll be really solid.

So they could still be competitive if they get in?
Yeah, for sure. It is getting harder with the America’s Cup you need money and if you don’t have funds it tough.

Presumably that’s frustrating from you’re point of view, in the big picture.
We would love to have as many teams as we can but the fact that there are three strong teams, it’s going to be a fantastic event.

In terms of your original visions, you are going to have fewer teams than you originally perhaps hoped for?
We’ll see how many teams we end up with. I think it’s hard to fit too many more in. In Auckland as well but it will be great if we get to six, that would be fantastic.

Is there a long term future for this boat concept?
Yeah, I think so for sure. I think it’s going to appeal to- not everyone- but there will be a type of owner that is wanting to go fast and come in and put their boat in a normal marina.

So you see a trickle down into this  (TP52) type of grand-prix racing?
I think so. It would just be absolutely amazing. A harbour racing boat that someone could take out a few of their mates and just go tearing around the harbour.

That’s basically the same kind of things as the guys have as scale models just now?
You would do them differently. You would put auto-pilots on them and have it all automatic with batteries and so forth, so that you don’t need many crew and you can still control everything quickly. A small version concept would not be much slower than the big boat and it’s an incredible amount of fun, but you can sail to a destination and easily drop the sails.

How do you develop that?
I think that’s just going to come out over time. Let’s just get this Cup going and get excited and I’m sure all the teams will come out with a crack at a one design boat at some point in time.

What do you see the skillsets as in the cup itself, in terms of what it will take to win compared with previous cups?
Not too different to the last one. It is going to be a very difficult boat to sail like it was on Bermuda but Bermuda was very flat water and pretty nice conditions, well incredible conditions really. Whereas Auckland is going to throw more dynamic conditions and there’s current and there will be more waves and the wind will be shifting so it will be a real sailors regatta. You’ll have to pick wind-shifts, which side and where to go, whereas Bermuda was pretty much a sprint.

Are you happy about that? That’s what you’re aiming for?
Yeah, I think it’s going to be incredible in Auckland but there’s lots of venues that it would be amazing but the fact that we can do it in front of all the spectators.

So where are you in terms of the world series then?
Yeah, the first event is going to be in Cagliari in April and then hopefully a couple more. Hopefully two or three more, we’re aiming for three next year.

Is that realistic?
Yep, it is. It’s looking good at the moment but until it gets announced we’re just keeping it quiet, it’s all under negotiation but it’s looking really good.

Is it an essential part of the big picture?
I just think it will just be good to start showcasing those boats. All the teams are prepared to send their first boats on that circuit so that’s certainly the intention to have up to three events.

You personally know the guys in each of the other teams so well and have sailed with a lot of them over the years how do you evaluate them? 
I think the English team is going to be really strong at the moment just because they’re an established team that rolled on from the last cup with a big budget and have just been able to focus on sailing. Whereas Prada, like us have been involved in the event and they’ll be really strong and then of course the Americans are incredible individual sailors with plenty of experience. They are a new team getting going but most of them have done it before, so they’ll be really strong as well. It’s just going to come down to who has designed the fastest boat and we’ll know pretty soon.

What is the pressure like at home compared to prior to previous cups, as defenders?
At the moment it’s pretty quiet and everyone is behind us and just trying to make an amazing event but for sure there is a huge expectation and passion to keep it there so the pressure will mount. They’re all behind us, it’s great to have such an enthusiastic hometown support there.

You’re visibly not putting your sailors out into different circuits and different events?
No, I don’t think any classes translate to this future Cup boat. I think it’s in a class of its own. So I don’t think we would gain much at all from sailing GC32s, TP52s or RC44s. I think the Olympic sailing is good for them just to keep the pressure side of their sailing going. They have to perform under pressure but I think this concept of boat is throwing it out there again and it will be a whole new beast to manage and learn about.

Tell us about the rigs a little bit.
It’s a one design, rotating mast, which is a really big D section mast and then the sail is made up of two elements. Basically two main sails that go up the side of the D and form a much more efficient wing than a main sail does. Certainly, much more in the light air it powers up and gets very efficient and powerful. As soon the boat is up range and getting windy then the gain from that kind of concept is not as big but it’s still a very efficient sail. We had to go for something super efficient in the AERO package just to get the performance in light air and this concept of boat. We needed to keep the centre of effort quite low on the sail with this type of boat as well because as soon as you get foiling you don’t need huge amounts of sail area again. It’s an efficient, small amount of sail area. I think when people will look at the boat sailing they will think that’s not a lot of sail, not a lot of mast height but, you know, it’s going to be fast and they will soon get over that. They will understand why.

Is there a lot of development potential in the rig?
There is a bit in the rig, there is a lot on the sails because you are allowed to have control of the head of the sail, you can do whatever you like in the top four meteRs of the sail to mechanically manipulate the shape of the sail, so that is a huge space for people to play with. Also on the bottom section, teams have the option of having a boom or no boom.

What are you having?
Wait and see. It’s wide open there so it will be interesting to see.

What are the pros and cons there?
Well boomless is obviously very light but you may not have the same control. The boomless system probably gets a little more complicated but there are a lot of classes who are doing it now so theres a very strong argument to go that way. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see people in both camps booms or no booms. It’s a pretty tough call. When the boats are launched it’s wide open, you can make both work.

So you’re looking forward to sailing on the boat…..
Oh yeah, I can’t wait! Good to finally see this thing up and ripping around. It’s going to be pretty exciting for sure.

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