Watching the new Hutchinson/Percy combo from the aft netting of their AC45

The last time I stepped aboard Artemis there was 20-25knots of breeze and driving rain as we headed out into Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf for what turned out to be a true white knuckle ride. We blasted upwind at 18 knots, before turning downhill to clock up 29knots in a ball of spray.

Today, in Plymouth conditions could barely have been more different with 8-10 knots of breeze, sunshine and flat water for the first day of fleet racing. But once we were underway, one similarity remained, the drama and tension that you experience riding as 6th man at the back of the boat during the racing is the same whatever the weather – at least that’s still how it feels to me despite several guest rides on the new AC45s this season.

Hearing skipper Terry Hutchinson’s urgent shouts, almost screams, for the wing to be dumped as we were luffed on one of the downwind legs reinforced the urgency of the situation as our windward hull lifted to an alarming height above the water’s surface. When the sound of the water rushing past the leeward hull disappears, you know it’s time to worry.

In the event we slipped around our aggressor’s bow, flipped in a gybe and took the advantage around the leeward mark. But while the pace of the action may slow down as you head back upwind, the vocals don’t as the crew struggle to make themselves heard. One thing you notice in particular is how difficult it is to hear someone down to leeward. Hardly surprising perhaps given how wide these cats are compared to a monohull.

Also of interest today was the way in which Hutchinson and new Artemis recruit Iain Percy worked together. While the American has spent a great deal of time learning to sail these multihulls, Percy comes into this particular world with very little experience. Other than the breezy weekend, this was the first time the pair had raced together in anger.

“He brings a level of confidence that we had to a certain degree in Cascais, but when he says stuff you don’t really question it,” said Hutchinson of Percy. “He’s very proactive with asking the questions. One of our problems is that I don’t usually talk very much as we’re all very heads down in the boat.”

Certainly from my perspective the pair appeared to click, a contribution perhaps to their two wins today and their overall lead after one day’s fleet racing.

And then there’s the level of fitness that is required to sail these boats. As the word gets out you’ll hear more and more about how physical these cats are to sail. Given that this was said of the America’s Cup monohulls you may feel like taking this with a pinch of salt. But having sailed a great deal as a passenger aboard the old boats I can safely say that I never saw Percy utterly speechless through exhaustion on those boats as I did today after just 18 minutes of racing.

These boats are brutal for the five crew and demand a serious level of fitness.

The AC World Series is intense, fast moving and frequently disorientating as the pace of the race challenges all your normal preconceptions and/or experiences. At times the crew felt the same.

“There are parts of the races that I just don’t remember,” admitted Hutchinson.

You and me both – but the experience is one I’m unlikely to forget.