When the flag drops… the BS stops

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The 2024 52 Super Series season will start with two new boats, a new Alegre and a new Platoon, both recently launched and set to debut at PalmaVela. Meanwhile, a brand new Provezza is in build for launch in the summer.

All three new boats are from Valencia-based King Marine. Andy Soriano’s new Alegre and 2023 champion Harm Müller Spreer’s new Platoon Aviation are hull sisters to a new Botín design, while Ergin Imre stays with Judel-Vrolijk who also have a new hull design.

In March the shiny new Alegre was being readied for sea trials out of Valencia followed by a training week early April with the 2023 runner-up Provezza. The first 52 Super Series event of the new season, 52 Super Series PalmaVela from 27 April to 2 May, will be the final regatta for the outgoing Provezza under its current owner.

‘But don’t get us wrong, we may have a new boat coming but we have worked hard in the winter to further optimise the existing boat and we are going to PalmaVela to win,’ cautions Provezza’s Guillermo Parada.

‘At the same time we will be out to learn all we can about the new boats and their performance improvements as we see them.’ The new Provezzawill be ready by early August for trials and training; so Imre’s team will sit out this summer’s Newport RI events and debut the new boat in Puerto Portals and Valencia as the build-up to a big push for the 2025 52 Super Series title.

Main picture: Provezza owner Ergin Imre’s passion for sailing is truly a thing of wonder. He is a big backer of youth sailing initiatives at home in Turkey and his TP52 team came within a final tie-break of winning the 2023 Super Series outright. Now at the start of the 2024 series Imre will continue campaigning the existing Provezza through to the PalmaVela in May, before a new Provezza, also designed by Judel-Vrolijk, debuts in the autumn at Puerto Portals in Majorca

The first new Botín TP52 hull design since 2017, Alegre and Platoon share the same hull shape and appendage packages, but from the mast back their deck mould and layout are slightly different. Secrecy is at the levels of the America’s Cup of old before the caring, sharing generation came in. As lead designers at Alinghi Red Bull Racing, Botín have drawn heavily on their Cup design and modelling tools, which does not necessarily speed up the design process but it does open up many more options and helps to narrow down the answers. Botín’s Adolfo Carrau explains, ‘100 per cent there has been a real benefit from using technology which has grown exponentially since the last time we did a new TP52.

‘The big thing is we now use dynamic simulations not only to design the hull but also the appendages. We can simulate a starting line – for example, if you need to hold your lane or want “go fast” mode. For teams to select the right appendage package, for instance, there are many of these informed decisions to be taken.

‘It actually takes more time than ever to design the 52s because accessing the new AC technology offers so much more scope to investigate new solutions. Plus there are so many small decisions to be taken… jib tracks, runner chain-plates, pedestal number and locations. Every hardware item is a choice: spi retriever, hatch shapes. That is why it takes time to design these boats.

‘It is our first brand new hull since 2018 and as the hull is the biggest source of drag it is rather important to do it properly! I cannot give away our new shape details, but the brief never changes: be first to the top mark but never slow downwind.

‘Look across the whole package and the changes have not been minor. We had not changed much since we designed the Interlodge that became Gladiator, which triggered six new boats in 2018 – which were all faster than the previous 2015 designs. But we have made changes that we will hopefully see on the water.

‘No one wants sharp crossovers, no one wants a boat that is good in 7kt and slow in 14kt so we try to improve everywhere. Also flat water versus waves, there is so much modelling to do. But personal judgement still plays a big part, it is not the computer that makes all of the final decisions.’

After 20 years of designing, building and refining the perfect TP52, the deck layouts and more especially the internal systems have all been further refined to the nth degree, all minutely planned around each team’s playbook. ‘At the end everyone wants to achieve the same thing, but it is slightly different how they change gears, for example, and playbooks are exclusive to each team. It is so intrinsic to each boat. But it is measurable.

‘Consistency is not only repeating things in the same way but you need to have the systems and the hardware that allow you to be consistent. It is a big job to have systems that are reliable and light which allow the crews to do their job efficiently all the time.’

The first boat in the water is Andy Soriano’s Alegre. Seb Tenghage, Alegre project manager, explains what he feels they have: ‘The deck shape and hull are substantially different from before, it already looks a more powerful boat and we have also refined and fine-tuned and tweaked most of the systems.

‘We have been trying to make the boat easier wherever we can, so many controls now have more than one function. For example, winch buttons on the deck which will do two if not three things simultaneously. Or hydraulics, there is a button you step on that selects the right pump and disconnects everything else.

‘Everyone is also now cross-sheeting. But if you look back at it, last year Provezza were more extreme keeping everything as outboard as possible. We have the option of cross-sheeting, but we are also well set up to sheet “regularly”.

‘But everything has a consequence, for example, pushing everything outboard affects the laminate lay-up of the deck. The keel is different, refining what we had before; the new rig can live with even more headstay load and has stiffness exactly where we want it.’

The new Platoon is close behind and Harm Müller Spreer’s team will test and train going into PalmaVela. Strategist, Doyle Sails’ Jordi Calafat notes, ‘We have looked more at cross-sheeting again, it is super important, for example in the swell of Mahón and at other venues where winds are generally over 10-11kt. But most of the teams are now thinking the same way!

‘I think in general we are still seeing the two design studios converging in terms of hull shape and rocker. It will be interesting as both the first and second-placed boats last year were Vrolijk. We had the biggest fin last year and in some conditions that made a difference but we really improved the boat over the last two years.

‘The key is going to be learning a new boat and getting it up to speed as fast as possible. By the second event if you are looking for speed it may be too late. We have some very smart guys, but even smart guys can’t change much between events.’

Micky Costa has designed the systems and managed the fit-out of nearly a dozen TP52s, including the championship-winning Azzurra, and he has been busy on both Platoon and Provezza. Costa observes, ‘In the end the functionality is the same, but for example the Platoon guys want simple, they don’t want complications, they want a boat to get on and race…

‘Platoon is quite dinghy style. All crews want to make things work and not waste time on things that are too complicated, but each has their own views. The Platoon guys have been very precise, we do a full deck mock-up and they come and sit and mark things up.’

Looking at how the build has changed he adds, ‘The structure has changed slightly but mainly in the bondings, the number of elements is much the same as in 2018 but we just try to improve the integration without adding weight. Maybe the longitudinals have changed width slightly or angle but honestly they are very similar to before!’

The new Provezza boat, the third to be built at Valencia-based King Marine, will be ready in the last week of July for early-August trials and training and so Imre’s team will sit out this summer’s Newport events and debut the new boat in Puerto Portals and Valencia, really as the build-up to a big push for the 2025 Super Series title. But of course they will still be out to win individual regattas.

Tobias Kohl from the Judel-Vrolijk studio explains the new Provezza: ‘It has a little bit more power, with more righting moment from the hull shape. ‘At the end of the day we went with slightly bigger modifications; in the final analysis the biggest gains should be mainly upwind.’

King Marine were the yard of choice for all three new boats. Obviously building back-to-back hull sisters makes sense but capacity, location and experience helped Provezza join the party.

Pablo Santanciero, King Marine CEO, explains a few of the improvements this time around. ‘Changes to the structural design with this new generation increase hull stiffness, which of course will improve upwind performance. But indirectly it also adapts the structure much better to different mast positions.

‘The incorporation of CAD and CNC cutting in the production of carbon reinforcements helps to significantly reduce material waste, saving money and minimising environmental impact.

‘CNC machining has obviously improved the manufacture of moulds and parts and now 3D printing is also on stream as a very useful tool to produce prototypes, custom tooling and even some functional parts.’

Both Alegre and Platoon also have the latest Stayinphase systems. Stayinphase founder Jon Williams is excited… ‘Our new Blackstar-3 winch is set to make its TP52 debut on both Alegre and Platoon. We have been running continual development of Blackstar in partnership with the Fox 52 team in America. Below deck we have also moved ahead with better mechanical automation controls and with new M-Class gearboxes – which are again somehow shrinking in size… We’ve also added the Star clutches proven with American Magic and on the MOD70 Argo.

‘It seems all the boats are now looking for driven runner winches in pursuit of ever more headstay load. But it’s also very interesting to see moves back towards driven pit winches, three pedestals and high-speed traveller drives.’

Looking ahead to PalmaVela eyes will inevitably be on the two new boats, but all the teams will bring upgrades. In November Tony Langley bought the previous Alegre as his latest Gladiator, before giving her a complete refit in Valencia for training in Palma with stablemate Quantum Racing. ‘We have kept the boat very much as it was as Alegre as they had some very good set-ups and ideas. We have always liked the boat and saw it as one of the quickest on the water,’ says Gladiator project manager Feargal Finlay.

Doug DeVos’s Quantum Racing team has also been busy training in Palma. Quantum have modified their appendage package and have another new group of young sailors coming in for 2024.

Quantum racing director Ed Reynolds maintains, ‘Essentially it is still all a continuation of what we did last year, to keep evolving while giving more opportunities to younger sailors. However, you’ll note that we have kept the speed team pretty much intact for 12-14 years which is gratifying.

‘Last season was such a big unknown, introducing new people while losing other people we have had for years – I was really nervous about it. But I would challenge anyone to do what we ended up having to do in 2023… and still finish on the podium!

‘We had four different navigators, three different tacticians – none of it our fault. Yet the team hung in there and still made it to the podium. And I expect nothing less this year.

‘It is great too seeing a “new” Gladiator on the stocks. I am sure Tony Langley is having much more fun than anyone else on the circuit – good days or not so good he is just always having fun!! I suspect there’s a lesson in that for us all!’

Among those incoming to the ‘Quantum Racing powered by American Magic’ crew this season are Ian Liberty as the new spinnaker trimmer, Evelyn Hull navigating, while ex-49er sailor Nevin Snow comes in as strategist. Victor Diaz de Leon will be tactician and lead the team. Harry Melges IV will steer the boat.

And so the 2024 season will open with more unknowns and more variables than we have seen for years, making it more difficult than ever to predict who will finish up on the top step in Valencia at the end of the year. Surely it couldn’t get any better?!

  • 52 Super Series PalmaVela Week, RCNP, 27 April-2 May
  • 52 Super Series Newport Trophy/GL52 Invitational, 10-16 June
  • Rolex TP52 World Championship, Newport, 15-20 July
  • Puerto Portals 52 Super Series Week, 27 August-1 September
  • Valencia 52 Super Series Royal Cup, 23-28 September

Andi Robertson

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