When INEOS Britannia revealed the core to lead the British challenge for the 37th America’s Cup one of the most notable new additions to the team was the highly renowned naval designer, Martin Fischer.
Fischer, as was announced at the time, has moved over from the Italian Challenger Luna Rossa where he has spent the last two America’s Cup campaigns, to lead the design concept for INEOS Britannia’s 37th America’s Cup campaign as Chief Designer.
It’s been a long journey for Fischer to get to this point, whose marine background includes spending 14 years working on the design of hulls and appendages for numerous projects, including beach catamarans (F18, A-Cat, C-Cat), ocean racing multihulls (Groupama-2/3, Sodebo, Banque Populaire). He has also been involved in a Volvo Ocean Race campaign (Groupama-4). Fischer may be a keen sailor himself, but a career in the marine industry was not always what he had planned.
“I grew up in Germany and lived there for the first nearly 40 years of my life”, Fischer reflects, “my background is as a physicist. I studied physics with a focus on fluid dynamics and then after that I did a PHD in geophysics, which led to a career in climate research. I worked in that area for around ten years, but boat design always interested me and at some point, I made the decision to do that full time”.
Fischer’s interest in boat design no doubt comes from his own personal background. A keen sailor in his own right ever since he was a young boy, he’s always retained an interest in just what it exactly is that makes a boat go fast.
“I got into sailing in the classic way”, he explained, “my parents were sailors and when I was about eight years old, I started in an Optimist. I liked it a lot and continued throughout my youth. Then, when I was about 18, I started sailing in the A-class. The A-class is an open class, and that’s what sparked my initial interest in boat design.
“I was particularly fascinated by quick boats, especially catamarans. The speed really interested me. I thought it was amazing how fast one could go just with the power of wind, and I would always try to push that to the limit as much as possible. Where that fascination comes from, however, I don’t know!”.
After over a decade in the marine industry designing boats across numerous classes, Fischer eventually found his way to the America’s Cup, being a core part of Luna Rossa’s design team for two campaigns. It was in Auckland, New Zealand, after Luna Rossa’s 36th America’s Cup campaign ended, that Fischer first had the idea to look to move over to a new challenge with INEOS Britannia. As Fischer explains:
“I really liked the look of the team from the outside. I also knew a few people that worked in the team, and they were all very positive about the culture. It looked very attractive to me. I also thought their second boat was very interesting. It was radical and daring, which I admired. So, I phoned up Ben (Ainslie), and that’s how it started.”
Fischer’s role with INEOS Britannia is that of Chief Designer. With the organisation and co-ordination of INEOS Britannia’s design team led by James Allison and Geoff Willis, both of whom have come from a Formula 1 background with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, it is Fischer who will be ultimately responsible for the design concept of the team’s AC75.
“Yes, my role is Chief Designer, but that does not mean I am designing the whole thing!”, Fischer hastens to add. “It means after discussions with the entire team, it is my responsibility to determine the direction in which we want to go. It’s a job that really fascinates me and I am very lucky to have the possibility to work on these machines and push the limits even further.”
There are not many people in the world who understand the concept of the AC75, the revolutionary foiling monohull class which was used in the 36th America’s Cup and will be used again in the upcoming 37th America’s Cup, better than Fischer. During his previous role, Fischer’s team Luna Rossa were Challenger of Record (the same role that INEOS Britannia now hold in the 37th America’s Cup). This means that, together with the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa at the time came up with the rules that governed the 36th America’s Cup, including the brand new AC75 concept. Fischer, therefore, was one of the few who was involved in the very creation of the AC75 class, and it is a time he looks back on fondly.
“When we first heard that we were aiming for a foiling monohull I thought it would be quite a challenge. Then we looked at different options and Team New Zealand came up with this concept which looked completely crazy at the beginning, my initial reaction was that it was something really extreme and new. Then very quickly we ran through the numbers and looked closely at it and within two days it was clear that it was a feasible concept, and it was just a challenge to get there.
“The first time I saw these boats racing in New Zealand I was pretty relieved, I don’t think I was the only one! My initial thought was that we finally got it right. What we saw in Auckland was that proper match-racing is possible with these boats. It was the first time, I think, that we saw proper match-racing at 40+ knots. With the catamarans we had good racing, but it was different, there were no tacking duels and similar match-racing manoeuvres. Now, suddenly, we had boats with which we could do really close match racing at very high speeds, so we were all very happy”.
The Protocol for the 37th America’s Cup was signed and published by Emirates Team New Zealand and INEOS Britannia last month. Within the Class Rule, an updated ‘Version 2’ of which was published alongside the Protocol, the requirements to be compliant with the class rule were set out. Whilst there were minor tweaks from the previous AC75 class, particularly to improve light-air performance, the majority of the concept has stayed very similar. That means, in effect, that the AC75 is now a second-generation boat, a prospect which excites Fischer a great deal.
“Last time all teams were learning a huge amount and effectively ran out of time, as always happens in the America’s Cup. Now at least we already know the basics, so I’m very excited to have the possibility to work on these second-generation boats. Of course, there’s plenty of room for improvement, there’s lots of work to do and it’s a huge challenge, but now in this second cycle we can start from where we stopped last time and improve it even further.
Where exactly those gains can be made, however? That’s a secret Fischer is not willing to share quite yet.
“I won’t tell you where I think we can make the biggest gains because that’s our work for the next three years! All I will say is I think every single piece on the boat can be improved and we will work our hardest over the coming years to improve every aspect of it”.