Bold Protocol

Rewriting the Playbook

Head Performance Coach, Rob Wilson discusses the development of the AC37 Protocol

Head Performance Coach, Rob Wilson discusses the development of the AC37 Protocol

Bold Protocol | Rob Wilson, Head Performance Coach

The third in a new series published exclusively on www.INEOSBritannia.com digging deeper into the Protocol for the 37th America’s Cup. To read the second part in the series with INEOS Britannia Chief Technical Officer Dave Endean, click here.

On this episode of a ‘A Bold Protocol’, an INEOS Britannia series breaking down the changes in the new America’s Cup Protocol, we are joined by Rob Wilson, Head Performance Coach at INEOS Britannia. This is Wilson’s third campaign with the British America’s Cup Team as Head Coach. Wilson's responsibilities are split between the development and performance of the sailors; analysing data that is coming off the boat during sailing, as well as preparing the sailors for race mode through team strategy and course manoeuvres.

Learnings:

Writing the sailing playbook this time will be an evolution as opposed to a complete rewrite. Last campaign, the boat was a new concept which meant that the team had to start with a blank piece of paper of how the boat was going to be sailed. It proved to be a fantastic, but very technically challenging, boat. In order to help the class move forward and overcome difficulties, particularly those seen in the lighter airs, there have been several key changing made to the Protocol.

“Taking on the learnings from last campaign” Wilson states, “key changes that the AC75 is going to see are crew numbers being reduced from 11 down to eight sailors, introduction of a self-tacking jib, cyclors, boat weight reductions along with subtle control changes.”

With the changes coming onboard the AC75 and the boat going into its second generation, racing is expected to be closer than ever before in the 37th America's Cup. That is not to say, however, that the teams won't be taking onboard all the valuable data collected during the 36th edition in New Zealand. Reflecting on the development of the team's racing strategy, Wilson added:

“The learning curve during the 36th campaign was very steep, so most teams now have a good understanding of the boat and have seen how it races. For this campaign, we will see more incremental changes and further refinement. Fortunately, that means we do not have to rewrite the playbook, but instead are able to analyse how we can do things better, alongside reflecting on what other teams did as well.

"One of the areas that particularly worked well in our last campaign was the communications between Giles (Scott) and Ben (Ainslie). That contributed to good decision making and will be an area we will look to develop this time round too."

The AC75 foiling in Auckland during the 36th America's Cup.
© Harry KH

Biggest Challenge

Wilson, who has experience coaching across both the Olympic Games and America's Cup, has been able to bring his experiences from one into the other. There is one significant difference between the two, however, that he is quick to highlight: 

“During all these [America’s Cup] campaigns, time is at a massive premium. Depending on what point you are in the cycle, the requirements for the coach and the team completely change. When we are in the concept stage, there is a lot of communication regarding which direction the team should go, a phase mostly led by the design team. The design team is then also responsible for testing the equipment and making sure you can get the most out of it. All these steps are hugely important as they allow for the team to improve onto the next iteration of the boat. The deadlines are compacted into a very short time frame. The whole team has to be very organised between stages.”

Boat Changes

The introduction of the AC40 is seen as a huge learning tool heading into the America’s Cup. “If you look at your playbook, there will be lessons from the AC40 that we are going to be able to take the AC75.” The racing playbook consists of starts, tactics, strategy rolls and boat handling. In order to get the most out of the AC75 racing boat, there will be important lessons that the team take from the AC40 to aid success.

Another change will be that the jib sheet will be moved onto an automatic track. This will take pressure off the grinders during tacks who used to have to manually load the jib sheet. “This has implications on how we power the boat, and what is required from a sailor standpoint", Wilson adds. 

In the AC37 Protocol, teams now have the option in how they want to generate power for the boat. “We now understand the power requirements of the boat, and what cyclists can generate over arm power. The design team and sailing team are currently figuring out how to create the fastest boat that we can handle and race. Our athletes are already training and exploring new ways of generating power."

Looking to the AC37, racing is expected to get closer and designs will likely be tighter with all teams aiming to develop the most efficient aero packages. As a second-generation yacht class, it means that the differences get smaller and racing margins get tighter. Wilson’s role is to help weigh those decisions and understand the benefits and negatives of all possibilities.

Coach Rob discussing maneuvers with Giles Scott and Ben Ainslie during training.
© Harry KH

Wind Limits

The wind limits from the AC36 have stayed the same, six and half knots lower wind limit and 21 knots as the upper wind limit. Wilson see’s this lower limit as sensible, “as now the boats are lighter, therefore more effective in the light winds.” The top of the wind limit is 21 knots, which “on paper might not sound that windy, but the wind could be peaking at 25 knots”, Wilson reassures.  While fans might like to see boats crashing, “close racing is exciting racing, but seeing boats crash and teams getting put out of competition due to damage and repair team is not what we are hoping for.”

The wind distances are measured at five and a half meters, while the rig of the AC75 is 26 meters. This increases the strength of the 21-knot wind limit, as the wind at the top of the 26-metre rig will be much stronger than 21 knots.

Shared Recon

During a typical America’s Cup campaign, every team has a recon team that they send out to see what they can learn from what the other teams are doing. As all teams are of course keen to learn from each other, recon in the America's Cup has always been very important to the development of the boat. “However, it can be a massive distraction if you are not careful, paying more attention to other teams than to what you’re doing.”

This campaign, the Cup has mandated a shared recon programme. This means that all information is open to all teams, but also for the fans and spectators. “They are going to have much more insight into what the teams are doing a year out from the Cup.” Within each America's Cup team, there will be an embedded independent recon team provided with their own chase boat. They will also be allowed on the pontoon to take photos of the boat and given interview time with the sailors and designers. Wilson see’s this an opportunity “to access of information to teams that we haven’t seen before.”

Robbie’s Favourite Phase

Wilson described the three phases of the America’s Cup as a concept phase, testing phase, with the last phase being racing. “I really enjoy the testing phase as its fascinating to have time to understand how you’re developing techniques. Everyone is learning a huge amount about the boat and how much more speed can be developed.” “However”, Rob adds, “as a coach, designer, and racer, you really want to see your team racing and competing alongside the best teams in the world. That's the ultimate dream; seeing the campaign in the final stages, competing alongside the best teams in the world.”

“While this is a Bold Protocol, it also allows the class to continue to progress. The evolution and refinements that we are going to see in the boats are going to yield some very exciting racing.”

Coach Rob in his element during AC36.
© Harry KH