America's Cup: Kornreich gives big tick to Alinghi on Engines

Alinghi’s engine - provides hydraulic power for vital onboard systems
David Lenoir

In the New York Surpeme Court, Justice Shirley Kornreich has released her decision which permits the use of engines to sheet sails and perform other sailing functions in the America's Cup.

She has also called a hearing for 10 August (allowing six hours) to hear submissions on the question of BMW Oracle Racing being required to produce their Customs House Registry document 'as soon as possible' and the meaning of that phrase.

If BMW Oracle do intend have as second yacht underway, to be named USA, then the team will be in the clear, however if it is their intention to re-use and re-name BOR90, then it would seem they may have problems in the light of Kornreich's earlier ruling and threat of disqualification.

Alinghi 5 - with what some believe could be a ballast water pipe highlighted with the red arrows. To our eyes the pipe diameter appears to be too small, however the water would be fed under pressure, rather than gravity fed as with other ballast systems.
David Lenoir

The full text of the Decision can be read by http://premium.fileden.com/premium/2006/7/3/105858/Justice_Kornreich_Order_30-07-2009.pdf!clicking_here

The ruling on the engines was not unexpected, on the basis that provided the vessel is propelled by sails, then there are no restrictions on the technology used.

It would seem that the engine technology is not refined to be reliable (since most supermaxis use their primary diesel and not an auxiliary hung off the stern). Sail-World's information is that the grinder system is lighter (even without the engine) - the weight saving in the engine/hydraulic option coming from the reduction in crew - which some point out are moving ballast anyway. We will examine these issues in an upcoming article on Sail-World.com

The decision flowed from an Hearing initiated by Golden Gate Yacht Club, the Challenger for the 33rd America's Cup, in which the San Francisco based club filed Motions with the New York Supreme Court relating to rules for the conduct of the Match.

Societe Nautique de Geneve, has the right, as the Defender of sailing's oldest trophy, to set the rules for the Match. GGYC and their team BMW Oracle Racing, believed that certain rule changes were imminent, but were not being disclosed for the time being in order to give the Defender maximum advantage. In the Court Hearing in front of Justice Shirley Kornreich, Barry Ostranger, counsel for SNG and their team Alinghi, disclosed that six racing rules were planned to be deleted for the match, and confirmed this in writing to the Court two days later.

The effect of the deletion of these rules would allow Alinghi to use an engine to provide power for winches, on their recently launched 90ft catamaran. Normally all sails would be sheeted using manual power, and BMW Oracle Racing has a team of eight grinders aboard their 90ft waterline trimaran for this purpose.

Rumors of the use of an engine had been around for some time. The first inkling that one was going to be used came about when Alinghi made many of their grinding team redundant. Even so, at the unveiling of the new 90ft catamaran were met with the answer that its purpose was to drive cooling fans for the hydraulics, however it was subsequently admitted that it was the primary power source for the winch systems. The engine is believed to also be used for pumping water ballast to provide additional stability and control trim of the giant multihull.

While most racing yachts do carry engines these are to provide motive power when not sailing, and supermaxis occasionally use engines to provide winch power. However they have not been used int he America's Cup previously and are usually outlawed in the rules that govern yacht racing.

While the decision will be seen in some quarters as a big plus for Alinghi, the fact is that the technology is unproven in the context of using a externally mounted engine to provide power for sheeting and other onboard systems. Supermaxis and the like do use engines for the same purpose, however these are located below decks and are reliable and known diesel technology.

Alinghi 5 close up of hydraulics cooler motor on after crossbeam
Philippe Chaplin

Further the decision permits the use of such engines in the America's Cup, in the style of the 33rd America's Cup. However there is a lot of ancillary technology required, or that can be applied, such as the use of PLC's (process logic controllers or very small programmable computers to control various functions, and with a technology partner such as BMW, it may be that BMW Oracle Racing are in a better position to make use of Kornreich's decision than Alinghi.

Kornreich's decision opens the way for the use of computers on am America's Cup boat which can sail the boat in the same way that on-board computers can fly a plane, with the crew having more of an oversight function than direct control.

The use of PLC's and the power they can control, generated by the engine, in can obviously be used for both safety - monitoring fibre optic load sensors, and performance optimisation - replicating settings that have proven to be the optimum from hours of test.

Alinghi 5 showing winch control buttons in trimmer’s cockpits
Philippe Chaplin

In many ways it is similar to a Formula 1 car which can effectively be driven at its optimum from the pits, via the use of onboard computers and wireless systems - with the driver really in an over-ride role. And from this perspective BMW can bring a very useful source of proven technology to the BMW Oracle Racing campaign.

Of course, from Alinghi's viewpoint, the decision by Kornreich is crucial as their design has been moded around the used of an auxiliary and it would be very difficult to retrofit grinders into the yacht, had her decision gone the other way.