Moving Parts

Meet Nat Shaver, Foil Designer

There are not many people more experienced in the America’s Cup world of foil design than Nat Shaver. A new recruit for INEOS Britannia’s 37th America’s Cup campaign, Nat brings with him a huge amount experience from five previous Cup campaigns.

Nat grew up on the east coast of Massachusetts, USA, learning to sail at a young age with his grandfather. Throughout school despite disliking mathematics, there was one subject which particularly appealed to him, physics.  

“The America’s Cup is a big deal on the Northeast Coast of the US, from the age of six years old, all sailors dream about racing for the America’s Cup. So naturally there was some interest there. Then, in school I began to discover that my mind works by thinking through how things work conceptually. It was  high school physics classes that inspired me to pursue Aerospace Engineering at university.” It was while studying this degree that Nat made his first break into the America’s Cup world. During his last year of university, he secured an internship at a yacht design company. From then on, he never looked back. 

Nat 'testing a new sail concept' in Maine, 2001.

“For me, it was very much the right place at the right time. That internship allowed me to be able to work on the Oracle Team USA’s boat in San Diego while the team was doing their testing ahead of the 33rd America’s Cup. I have been involved in the America’s Cup ever since then, I’ve never looked back!.”  

“I was 24 years old when I first walked into the Oracle base in San Diego. It was a massive tent with a 100 foot-trimaran in the middle of it. I was like a kid in the candy shop. The scale of the boats in that campaign, and how different they were to any previous boat in the America’s Cup Campaign was an amazing experience.” 

After he graduated from university, Nat started working with Emirates Team New Zealand in the lead up to the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. It was the boats during that Campaign that began to see a lot of early foil development and brought about a new way for boats to race around the course.  

“That was the beginning of my focus on foil design for me. It was one of the most exciting and creative times of my life. We were able to test a lot of concepts very quickly in an environment that enabled us to be as very creative. We were learning some first principles lessons and it has been an exciting adventure ever since.”  

20/09/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - Final Match - Racing Day 10
© ACEA / Photo Gilles Martin-Raget

“Foil design particularly has continued to interest and excite me, as it is where fluid mechanics, structures and system design all meet and work together to get the best result for the boat and the team. Over the years of course we have been getting better and better at foil designs, and we are seeing all teams shaving more and more performance out of the foils.” 

After being involved in four America’s Cup campaigns to date, one of the things that keeps Nat motivated is the continued drive to learn and improve. For the 37th America’s Cup particularly, it was INEOS Britannia’s tie-up with the Mercedes F1 team that was a big driver for Nat to join the British Challenger.  

“It is a relationship that hasn’t existed in the America’s Cup before. It is learning opportunity for all of us in the boat world as the resources at Mercedes F1 are unlike anything that exists in an America’s Cup team. Learning how to harness the power of this partnership and focus it in the right direction in order to be successful is going to be instrumental in bringing the Cup home.”  

For the 37th America’s Cup, the Protocol states that each team is allowed to test up to four foil designs, but only one final foil design is allowed for racing, with three copies of this final foil design allowed to be produced and used. This change in the rules, designed to limit costs for incoming Challengers, places increased pressure on the design team to ensure the final foil design is as optimised as possible.  

Nat Shaver discussing foil design during the AC37 Campaign

“This rule change is different to previous campaigns”, Nat explains, “as we are not allowed any iterations to our race boat foils. We have to ensure that the work is done ahead of time so the final design can win us races. This puts a lot of importance on our simulation tools and analysis before we go sailing. We need to start out on the water with a fast boat, which only allows for small modifications to help us achieve our goals. It also means, of course, that the early sailing days on the test boat will be focused on learning as much as we can from the different foil designs and translating that information into the final race boat foils.” 

For Nat, what keeps him coming back to the America’s Cup is the teamwork required to be successful and that everyone is very passionate about what they do. Foil design, especially, is very much a microcosm of the wider America’s Cup team. It is all the different groups within the team, fluid mechanics, structural design, system, boat dynamics, sailors and more coming together to produce a winning design.  

“The most rewarding task about the America’s Cup is taking on a really hard challenge with the team and working together until the end in order to produce something that will compete against the best of the world. The million-dollar question now, is how much performance we can still leverage from the foils. This will very much be a sprint for us, from beginning to end, and maximizing our relationship with the Mercedes F1 team will be key in optimising our foils through good procedures and processes.  

Nat discussing foil design with a colleague in Brackley.

If there is one thing Nat has learnt over his involvement in five America’s Cup campaigns is that winning the America’s Cup is not easy, it takes a tremendous amount of hard work. He is now looking forward to taking on that challenge with INEOS Britannia over the coming years.  

“Every team will be working so hard to win the America’s Cup. We will need to keep our foot on the gas through and continue our development until the end of the very last race of the Match to be successful. To come out on top through our own sheer determination and hard work at the end of the Campaign, would be hugely satisfying. We can’t wait for the Challenge ahead.”. 

“Great Britain has an outstanding history with the America’s Cup yet has never been successful. To win it with INEOS Britannia would just be incredible.”.