Even the most casual observer can see that the America's Cup has changed beyond recognition. The new boats are faster, more extreme and much more athletic. The foiling multihull now demands sailors with endurance sport capabilities; and with speeds up to five times quicker than the previous monohull designs the sailors need to be better protected from the extreme conditions.
All this requires a completely different approach to the clothing that the sailors wear Ė the traditional attire of foul weather jackets and trousers is long gone, now everyone has a wetsuit on. And not just any wetsuit, helmets and body armour have been added, with spinal boards to reduce impact injuries, and quick release knives and spare air in case of a capsize.
Sailors Matt Cornwell and Leigh McMillan testing the aerodynamic properties of their sailing kit (c) HarryKH/LandRoverBAR
All this equipment could end up very bulky and awkward, but the speed and athleticism of the new boats means that aerodynamics and freedom of movement are even more important than before. Nick Hutton is the sailor assigned to work with Official Supplier Henri Lloyd and Technical Supplier Spinlock to make sure that the team at the sharp end get what they need.
The result is a new Spinlock lifejacket, the BAR T2 Personal Floatation Device that will be combined with Henri Lloyd technical apparel to produce an aerodynamic, comfortable set of gear.
A sugar based vapour highlights the sleek design of the team's Henri Lloyd and Spinlock kit (c) HarryKH/LandRoverBAR
"We started with a traditional life jacket," explained Hutton, "and the first aim was to improve the aerodynamics. What we've done to reduce the drag is to weld the rash vest material onto the life jacket to eliminate any air gaps, and maximise the aerodynamic efficiency as much as possible. Then we reduced the foam so it was just above the amount required by the rules to keep the bulk to a minimum, integrating and recessing all the equipment to be as low profile and aerodynamic as possible."
The innovation and technology partnership with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) meant that the team then had the opportunity to test the new equipment in a wind tunnel normally used for automotive research. Two of the team's sailors travelled to the facility in the Midlands to see what they had achieved with the changes so far, and where the gains were to be pursued in the next design.
Land Rover BARís Chief Technology Officer, Andy Claughton commented, "In the wind tunnel we were able to do a lot of testing on the equipment that the sailors wear. What weíre trying to do is to optimise that as an aerodynamic package. Itís similar to the cycling teams where they are crucially interested in the texture and fit of the clothing. Itís very useful to do real testing on real athletes in real wind. The partnership with Land Rover lets us push far beyond the boundaries that we could imagine if we were just an Americaís Cup team working in isolation."
"We have integrated a lot of things, like the knife Ė itís literally just the handle sticking out," added Hutton. ďThe spare air bottle has come in for some work too, We currently use a helicopter crash bottle. Weíve put it on the back to keep it out of the way, with the pipe coming up over the shoulder to a low volume regulator sitting in a cut-away in the foam, so it can sit lower in the jacket." Hutton has plans for another improvement on the air bottle but heís not saying too much about it at this stage. ďWeíll do one more design before the Americaís Cup in June 2017."
The aerodynamic approach also had advantages for comfort. "The problem with the traditional life jacket when you are grinding is that because it is slipped on and not attached anywhere the jacket starts moving, whereas this is all tied in with the rash vest so everything is locked down and much more comfortable," explained Hutton.
When combined with the Henri Lloyd technical apparel the new gear can be worn comfortably in any temperature - and thereís quite a range of temperature from winter training in Portsmouth to racing in Bermuda in June. "We have a long john wetsuit, plus three choices of tops," explained Hutton. "Thereís a rash vest, then a 1mm, 2mm and 3mm wetsuit top for when itís really cold. By layering those you can end up with a pretty thick wetsuit for sailing in the Solent in winter.
A massive part of all this work with Spinlock and Henri Lloyd is to make it as comfortable as possible so the guys donít mind wearing it - everyone is happier if they are comfy. There are a lot of details that you wonít notice unless you are wearing it every day." Hutton cited an example of the kind of detailing that you canít see but you can feel. "For instance, we have kept a flat lock stitch on the seams of the wetsuits, and if you sit on it or if itís pressed against your body for a few hours, then you are going to know about it. So we had Henri Lloyd glue down the seam, so itís smooth and you donít even notice itís there. Obviously though, Bermudaís really hot, so we will be in Henri Lloyd warm weather pants and the Spinlock T2 jacket and that will be it."
One of the most technically innovative aspects of this jacket can be revealed though, and thatís the spinal board. "Itís made of D3O® material, itís flexible and soft when not under load, but then if you smack it on the table it will be as hard as a piece of metal." The D3O® molecules in their raw state flow freely, but on shock loading they lock together to absorb and disperse energy, before returning to a flexible state. "It was developed for motorbikes, for spinal boards and knee pads and things like that."
Other details include the use of dry coated materials to ensure that the minimum amount of water is absorbed by the clothing to keep weight gain to a minimum. Specific pockets have been provided for the communication equipment, with recesses cut into the foam to minimise bulk and reduce drag. And finally, if the boat should capsize, the team can remove and discard the jacket within seconds if they need to - sometimes, itís the flotation that can trap you. Nothing has been left to chance. "Itís been a lot of work,Ē summed up Hutton, "but these new jackets are a big improvement on anything else out there. Itís definitely been worth it."
About Land Rover BAR
Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) was launched on June 10th 2014 in the presence of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. The team was conceived by four times Olympic gold medalist and 34th America's Cup winner, Sir Ben Ainslie, with the long-term aim of challenging for Britain and bringing the America's Cup back home to where it all began in 1851. Ben has developed and will lead a British entry capable of winning the prestigious trophy, something Britain has so far never managed to achieve.
Land Rover BAR is a commercial sporting team, with a number of individual private investors alongside corporate partners. The team is made up of some of the best British and international sailors, designers, builders and racing support.
Sports teams represent key role models in society. This privileged position is not taken for granted at Land Rover BAR. The team believe our influence should extend far beyond the race course, and have put sustainability at the heart of operations since launching the team with Exclusive Sustainability Partner 11th Hour Racing in 2014.
The team have built a new headquarters in the centre of Portsmouth, the 74,000 sq ft. building houses all the team's activities, and will welcome the public into its Tech Deck education centre.
The 1851 Trust is the team's official charity, and HRH The Duchess of Cambridge is its Royal Patron.
Portsmouth will host a second Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series event on 21st - 24th July 2016. Almost a quarter of a million spectators enjoyed the action in Portsmouth in 2015, with 25,000 of them taking to the water - more are expected to come back in 2016 to watch the racing and cheer for the home team.