They knew it was coming but Alinghi Red Bull Racing and INEOS Britannia were determined to get what they could before a rapidly deteriorating weather system shut down the racecourse of the 37th America’s Cup with seas that are predicted to rise to 3 metre swells later this afternoon (Thursday) and winds into the 30-knot mark.
It was a super-early morning for the shore crews and sailors, both going to work long before the sun rose over the horizon and amidst spotlights and mobile arc lighting, the AC75 ‘BoatZero’ of the Swiss and the AC40 ‘Athena’ of the British were assembled, craned in, tested and docked-out before much of Barcelona had finished their morning coffee.
Initial conditions out on the racecourse were almost un-sailable with around 3 knots of Garbi south westerly breeze filtering up the Mediterranean and an ominoulsy lumpy sea-state but dark clouds over Montjuic signalled something rather different about to happen. With the new front coming in fast, both the seaway and breeze steadily built to something quite unmanageable and it was a day for sharp calls on sail selection with one eye on the horizon. Sensibly the Chase Boat teams both called it at the same time and both boats were towed-in line astern just after midday.
For Alinghi Red Bull Racing it was another confidence-inducing session and the old America’s Cup adage of ‘time on the water’ that goes back to the days of Dennis Conner’s ‘Freedom’ campaign in 1980, is so apt for this young, keen, dynamic team that are doing everything they can to bridge the experience-gap with those teams of the 36th edition in 2021. That gap is closing, and it’s closing fast led superbly by the ever-presence of Arnaud Psarofaghis, skipper, point-man and focus of the group. Mixed in with the experience of proven Cup winners through the team like Yves Detrey and Nils Frei (coach), the Swiss are increasingly looking very much like the real deal.
Launched just before 7.30am and docked-out at before 9.30am, Alinghi Red Bull Racing were flying their big J1 jib initially alongside the slightly smaller M2 mainsail and the first thing they encountered when leaving the base was big swell and a very light wind – the calm before the storm. In those conditions it was all about power generation with the AC75 losing flow in the troughs of the waves and it was clear that an assisted tow-to-fly would be required. After nearly half an hour in displacement mode, with the boat dropping off foils post-tow, the Chase Boat team decided to head towards the November Buoy situated off the beach east of Barcelona for better conditions which they duly found but still only around 9 knots of breeze.
A couple of quick laps up to the north and again the wind dropped as the swell continued to build but it was a false dawn and wisely the team decided to drop their big J1 headsail, skip a code, and go down to the J3 before a couple of quick up and downs with the breeze now thundering in across the sea. On a gybe heading back towards Barcelona, ‘BoatZero’ was noticeably surfing the waves and it was clear that conditions were only worsening. However, a sign of the team’s confidence was a round-up and a long final beat into 19 knots of breeze that topped out at some five nautical miles but by the end of the upwind work, the right and experienced call was made to lower sails and tow back to the base.
Arthur Rozand, one of the key VPP Performance Analysts in the Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team summed up the day saying: “The forecast was exactly what we were expecting, and this is why we were out quite early. The goal was to obviously see how the boat was behaving in these conditions and have the full range of wind up to the limit we can sail within safely… I think the main conclusion we can take from these days is that compared to what we were doing in those kind of same conditions a year ago we have improved a lot and also the crew swapped and changed compared to usual so it was a way for us to test it, test them, to train them and I think compared to the roughness of the sea today they managed pretty well.”
Arthur’s role is key to the Swiss delivering a first-class platform for the 37thAmerica’s Cup and on the design of the new AC75 and what will be optimum for the conditions in August to October 2024, he said: “When we will know exactly how to do it I will let you know! It’s a tough job but you cannot do a perfect boat for every condition, so you need to find a good balance between all the conditions, using the statistical data of the weather has big gains for us but we need to go on the water and test it.”
With the Swiss team’s ‘commitment to the commitment’ (to quote another Dennis Conner phrase), their testing programme has made big leaps in the recent days. Another tough but productive day for Alinghi Red Bull Racing and by all accounts the tow-in today was something rather spectacular according to the recon teams on the water.
Out in Cagliari, Sardinia meanwhile, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli were back in their LEQ12 with switched foils for the ultimate A/B testing with the team running Wings 1 and Wing 3 ahead of the introduction of what they call their “last card” Wing 04 in the coming weeks. Also featuring were some changes to the mainsail clew on their big M1 mainsail with different attachments noticed between skins. Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni skippered today on a short session affected by the swell and a sensor issue that eventually curtailed the day.
Gilberto Nobili, the highly experienced Operations Manager for Luna Rossa gave his usual terrific interview after sailing saying: “We have been on shore for a few days so we had to get any opportunity to go sailing, we know that the forecast was not amazing, as usual, so we tried to go out anyway but the waves were almost double what was forecasted so we had a short day and little bit of an issue on a sensor so that was end of it and tomorrow and the next few days are worse so probably we will not sail until Monday – but that’s life.”
Talking about the foil configuration, Gilo added: “As you know we have a limited card and before we play our last card, Wing 04, we need to be sure what we have been doing so far. So, it’s been a little bit of back and forward with Wing 02 and Wing 03 and now it’s Wing 01 and Wing 03.” On the sail front he also added: “Obviously you keep playing on sails and it’s part of the normal development. Today was quite tough on the water because the wind was super shifty, so I don’t know if we got any good information from the day but at least if you are trimming the sail you get some information so if you need to recut or do some small stuff, so every hour in the water is counting and we’re here for that.” (Magnus Wheatley)