Practice day in San Francisco demonstrated that even the best will trip up. Matthew Sheahan reports from the water

If you’re going to sail an AC45 in 20 knots of breeze when the wind has turned against the tide and started to build a bit of an awkward chop, you’d think it would be best to pick a skipper and team with the most experience. You’d be wrong. At least today you would.

Ben Ainslie may have four Olympic Gold medals and a fan club that is growing at an exponential rate, but he has spent just a handful of hours helming an AC45. Among the eight teams that are here in San Fran there is just one, Ben Ainslie Racing, that hasn’t capsized – that record remained intact today. He knows he will take a tumble will at some point, he admitted it to the crowd that had gathered for the after show talk in the Marina Green venue, but the team is in no hurry to see their new skipper christened. As an AC45 capsize virgin myself, neither was I.


As it happened it was Dean Barker’s team, who are usually solid performers in a breeze, that managed to capsize at the leeward gate in one of their match races when their gennaker didn’t furl properly as they headed up onto the beat. The toppling was a graceful, almost elegant and certainly inevitable affair once the flogging gennaker had taken a hold.

The other boat to capsize today was China Team who tripped up when trying to gybe in between races. As they bore away the bows went down, the stern went up and launched a number of their crew through the delicate wing as the cat fell on her side.

But aside from the spills that were caught on camera, today was a reminder of just how fast and at times frantic this AC45 racing can be when the breeze is up. I’ve sailed on a number of these boats both during practice and racing, but today’s ride aboard Ben Ainslie Racing provided some of the most exhilarating yet. The closing speeds of these boats and their proximity at the windward mark and at crosses both upwind and down, is hair raising at times.

While Ainslie may be new to this game with a steep learning curve ahead, no one is underestimating how quickly he will learn.

“Sure he’s got a long way to go, he knows that, but he kicked my butt yesterday,” said Oracle’s Russell Coutts as he spoke of the previous day’s informal training. By
Monday afternoon and in our first match race of the day, Ainslie had done it again and overtaken the AC legend on the downwind leg.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) sees the match racing qualifiers get under way while Thursday sees the quarter finals in the match racing.

For European viewers the racing will be broadcast online from Thursday with match racing starting at 1405 local and the fleet racing at 1450 local each day until and including Saturday. On Sunday the times are 1145 local for the Match Racing final and 1215 local for the fleet racing.

The weather looks similar for much of the week with the breeze up and every reason for some more superb shots, such as these from Giles Martin-Raget.