Coutts takes the wheel of the beast

We’ve all seen it haven’t we? The person who can carve gybe a board as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. The crew who perform an effortless gybe on a 49er in 20 knots of breeze and power out on the other side, grins all round. And the big boat crews who execute flawless gybe sets and jib drops at the top mark. How come these people make it all look so easy while the rest of us struggle, wrestle and often swim while trying to perform similar feats?

Well today I felt slightly better when watching the world’s most successful America’s Cup skipper take the wheel of his team’s monster multihull. His body language said it all.

Knees bent as if trying to grip the aft face of the aft beam. Standing on a carbon footplate barely any bigger than a door mat, 20+ft above the water’s surface and with no safety net or line, helming USA-17 is a daunting task. The look of concentration suggested that his physical predicament was very much on his mind, but so too was the task of getting to grips with a 118ft supercharged trimaran with a 230ft tall wing mast and a giant code zero to match.

With gusts that are impossible to see on the water’s surface when you’re doing 25 knots and a true wind direction that’s impossible to feel at speed, sailing one of these beasts must be like driving at speed with your eyes shut.

With each invisible gust of 1-2 knots Coutts tried to feel his way through but as he did so the boat lurched in both heading and speed and took on an uncharacteristic motion. Uncharacteristic when compared to the silky smooth and deft touch at the helm by USA-17’s regular helmsman, James Spithill.

It’s easy to underestimate the skill of both team’s regular helmsmen and easy to think that driving one of these beasts is a synch.

But it’s encouraging for the rest of us mortals to see that even the best have to start somewhere.