Just four days after the news of the alleged 'major structural failure' I went to the team's current base in Genoa
Chasing a 100ft catamaran in a 180hp RIB was tough as the apparently lame cat clocked 16-18 knots upwind. Even with the true wind speed of just 10 knots at best and a sea state as flat as you could wish for, we still had to cruise between 25-30 knots to keep pace once we’d stopped for a few brief photos. Shooting at speed with a long lens is virtually impossible.
With the windward hull flying clear of the surface, it takes little extra breeze to see her accelerate and even then it’s only the additional revs required on the RIB that give away such an increase in Alinghi’s speed, the wake from her hulls no sign of the change in pace.
With her gennaker set she topped 27 knots in a wind speed of around 15 at the top of her giant wingmast, at least that’s what the crew told us afterwards. We didn’t see it, we were already 20 miles offshore by then but I can well believe it.
If the Swiss team did suffer a setback last week, it certainly hadn’t destroyed their confidence in pushing the boat just days later.
Naturally the team is saying little about the incident other than that the boat had come out of the water for maintenance, a statement that seemed as equally implausible as the rumour that she had suffered a major structural failure.
Yet, what many in the team are saying is just how nervous they are at any unusual noise. Indeed, in the two days that I spent careering around the Med in hot pursuit there were a number of occasions where frightening noises, not dissimilar to mortar fire, were heard above the racket generated by the snowmobile engine and the complex hydraulic pump system that hangs off the back of the boat. On one particular occasion a loud bag followed by the jib clew leaping skywards saw the crew running across the trampoline to investigate. When I asked what the problem was once the boat was back at the dock several hours later, I received an amusing number of answers, none of which seemed to tally.
But so what. Of course Alinghi are going to be tight lipped about the work up of an extraordinary machine that is doubtless going to experience teething problems. Of course they are going to play things down. The entire team is on tenterhooks every time she goes out and after all, this is the America’s Cup where technology and boat speed are king.
“Every time we hear a bang we sh*t ourselves”, confided one crew member. And he wasn’t the only one, others were more forthright.
Talking to ‘Mr Multihull’, Loic Peyron who is just one of the highly experienced multihull superstars to have been hired by the team, leaves you in no doubt as to how far outside the normal design envelope this boat is.
So did Alinghi break? Probably yes. Is she fundamentally flawed? Doesn’t look like it to me, but then I haven’t ever seen such a large, lightweight, high performance cat before.
Few people have, even in the team.