36TH AMERICA’S CUP . MOVING ON FROM DAY 1

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MOVING ON FROM DAY 1
36TH AMERICA’S CUP

In the build up to the first day of the 36th America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling was happy to acknowledge that the two boats seemed evenly matched. He also said that whatever the result, the first two scores would still only reflect the conditions of one day.

Now, with wins one apiece after the opening two races, his comments seem entirely apt.

With the wind speed hovering between 10-12knots, conditions were right on the crossover between the two teams’ favoured conditions. The Italians have openly stated that they have felt more comfortable in lighter conditions, while the Kiwis are thought to excel in stringer conditions. So, with yesterday’s racing conducted on the border between the two, perhaps we should not be surprised that the racing was so even.

We should also not be surprised that so much hung on getting the upper hand at the start. As crews have become slicker and more proficient at getting around the course and handling their machines at close quarters, so the pressure to get away cleanly and the odds of controlling the race have increased. Get in front and stay in front has been the first objective and in the first two races, we saw why.

But from here the game changes. For a start, the weather looks like throwing a few more challenges into the mix with a variety of potential conditions on the cards. With no more lay days until the Cup is won, the intensity of the daily routine goes up a gear for the sailors and the shore teams alike. While the AC75s are spectacular machines to watch, they take a physical toll on the crew, especially the grinders. For them, each race day is a full-on workout, many times more punishing than the average session in the gym.

Such power is not a limitless supply making crew rotation an important part of team planning. Injuries and illnesses need to be avoided at all costs but can never be ruled out. Plans for such eventualities have to be made. The boats are a little different. Highly complex and sophisticated machines it takes time and a big resource to keep these beasts race ready. Few would expect an F1 car to do a week or more of back to back racing, but this is exactly what will be required of these boats over the next few days. Boats that we now know can hit over 50knots in just 12-14knots of wind as they round the top mark. Speeds that would have placed them in the record books only a short while ago. Such incredible performances require a huge amount of technical expertise and management.

The previous two Cups alone have shown how critical things can get when gear breaks or a team trips up. Be it the Kiwi capsize in Bermuda or Oracle’s last minute reconfiguration in San Francisco, gear issues can change the fortunes of a team in a heartbeat. Responding to such crises is critical, putting pressure on teams to anticipate worst case scenarios and how best to react. So, while the bases seem quiet as the racing draws breath after the opening day, the activity behind closed doors is intense. Both teams know that this is the last opportunity they will get before the battle for the Cup resumes.

And from there it’s full-on in their quests for the 36th America’s Cup.