In his role as Harken’s Global Director of Grand Prix and Custom Yacht Sales, Mark Wiss knows more about what happens behind the scenes of the America’s Cup than anyone at Harken. From the day a new Cup class measurement rule debuts, Mark lives in there learning the intent of the rule so he can anticipate the kinds of performance the teams will ask Harken to help achieve. After the 36th Cup, Mark reflects on what Harken delivered and what we learned:
- This Cup was different due to the pandemic. Where in past years we have placed Harken engineers as close to individual teams as possible, this time what was possible just couldn’t be as close. Can you comment on what that meant for our company?
Yes, the pandemic did disrupt our typical AC regiment for the on-site support prior to and during the racing period in New Zealand. Nevertheless, we had a Plan B which involved the Harken NZ office located in Auckland. We proactively shipped spare parts to be available to teams. We then continued to communicate daily with them; they provided necessary feedback for design improvements and performance gains. Direct communication and good relationships with the sailors, engineers, and technicians is imperative to support their expectations.
- What were some of the highlights of this Cup cycle technologically for Harken? Said another way, what did we supply to the teams that we hadn’t before?
Winch Systems: We developed a new 5.5-ton winch, the Harken Air® 550, which replaced the 1111 winch that we developed almost 20 years ago for the 2003 America’s Cup. We developed the True-Clutch which allows grinders to keep grinding and not have to pause as their output is shifted to winch drums or a different hydraulic need. That product is truly a groundbreaking piece of innovation. I wish we had it back in the IACC Monohulls pedestal system layouts! This first-generation product has a tremendous opportunity to optimize the layouts, simplify maneuvers, and enhance performance. I am eager to see how this product changes the boats for the 37th America’s Cup.
Hardware Systems: The Titanium CRX track and car systems we developed for traveler, outhaul, and athwartships jib systems provided the teams with a lightweight and efficient product that allowed them to pump the main and maintain flight. This system was a key component to flight control. Watch a video about it below.
Hydraulic Systems: Once again we developed an innovative 3-speed rotary pump that allowed the teams to optimize flow rates with various-sized piston kits. The technicians were able to assemble the pump to suit its function or the person using it. These pumps are the most efficient on the market. It would be interesting to see what markets or functions our Harken Industrial team could find that require an efficient human-input pump. Perhaps rescue market or confined spaces?
- What questions did the teams ask about immersion of Harken hydraulic cylinders or valves in salt water—either before the racing, as these boats can capsize—or after the American Magic incident.
We were in immediate contact with Am Magic after their capsize. Our products were not affected at all because they are designed to be wet and sustain the saltwater environment. The Harken winches, blocks, cars, rotary pumps, and cylinders were rinsed off and ready to go.
- What can you say about the equipment Harken supplied to the teams?
Harken supplied products to all four teams. We supplied three categories of product: Winch Systems, Hardware Systems, and Hydraulic Systems. Harken had a very strong market share position in each category compared to our competitors. In general, the AC75 requires twice as much winch system equipment as it does deck hardware or hydraulics. But, for perspective, the AC75 design does not require the volume of hardware compared to, say, the IACC 5th generation of the displacing monohull AC75 raced in Valencia before the Oracle vs. Alinghi Deed of Gift match. Why? There are fewer sails to control, fewer sailors onboard, and fewer ropes to pull and adjust.
- Did the teams evolve what they were buying from Harken as the cycle went on?
Once the AC Rule is published, Harken goes to work to develop new products to sail the first generation of the new class. Everybody is learning, especially with first-generation rules. How many people can say that they have ever designed or sailed a 75’ Foiling Monohull before this became a rule? Teams are all formulating their own theoretical load cases and theoretical playbooks for maneuvers, then designing to their expectations. Boat 1 is a true test project, including the equipment supplied by Harken. Sailing boat 1 is a very important benchmark to understand how well we do with our theoretical planning. Very quickly, teams collect data and start to adjust and formulate their designs and plans for Boat 2. This period is very important for us to meet and communicate with the teams so that we are able to revise designs or even start over! It’s an intensive period for Harken Engineering as the teams push the available time beyond the limit. This then puts enormous pressure on our manufacturing team to produce parts quickly without mistakes. Our machinists are truly artists and the best in the industry. Once boat 2 starts sailing, there is only limited time to make additional changes, which happens, of course. Time will always be the most valuable resource in any Cup cycle.
- In five years, what do you think you will remember most about the 36th America’s Cup?
We will remember this AC as the successful start of the Foiling Monohull generation era. I always link Cup cycles with innovations, so this will be the Cup where Harken introduced the True-Clutch, Air® winch 550, and TiCRX traveler as new products.
Photo © American Magic / Will Ricketson. Pictured is Boat 1, Defiant.