Riding the rear tramp is starting to feel more natural……ish
It takes a few rides at least to settle down and take in what’s really happening on the race course, such is the frenetic pace aboard an AC45 in a 20 minute race. Even in a light sub 10 knot breeze and having little more to do as 6th man than hang on and switch from side to side, getting used to the stop/start motion of a powerful catamaran that can go from stable platform to bucking bronco in seconds, takes some getting used to.
But with a few rides now under my belt in a range of conditions, I am at last starting to get my head around the racing.
Today’s ride was with Dean Barker’s crew for the last race of the day, courtesy of Nespresso. Having sailed with Artemis yesterday in similar conditions, I could now start to feel the difference in the way that two of the top teams manage the boat and themselves.
Both are clearly hugely talented with Artemis finishing the day at the top of the fleet race table having dominated the racing with four firsts a second and a fourth. Yet Barker’s operation is generally a much quieter affair where he and his tactician Ray Davies appear to have an understanding that is almost telepathic.
Time on the water clearly counts and it is of little surprise that when the conditions get lively, as they did last weekend, it is the two crews that have had the most experience, Barker and Spithill, that frequently hog the front end of the fleet.
Having said that, today’s last race was a disappointment for Barker and Co. who after nailing the start and rounding the first turning mark in the lead, picked the less favourable gate mark and sailed into a hole. For seconds that felt more like minutes we sat there, struggling for breeze as the rest of the fleet took the favoured opposite side of the course. And while I could feel the frustration and tension, outwardly at least the crew kept calm, making the best of what little they had to play with.
Once we had got the breeze, we plugged our way up the left hand side of the course but it was clear that we had to dig ourselves out of a mid fleet position and even take a transom in the process. If nothing else it was encouraging to for to see the amateurs among us that even the pros get buried.
Further confirmation came when we were bounced back out to the port layline by Artemis after we failed to get enough pace to cross them on port. Only then did Barker’s frustration bubble over, an outburst that would have no doubt been bleeped by the TV director ashore as Barker’s radio mike threatened to tell the world how he felt.
When it came to the way that the Kiwis sail their boat, the motion is very different to others I’ve sailed with. Smoother turns, less aggressive acceleration and deceleration and far less emphasis on flying a hull high above the surface. Instead, wing trimmer Glen Ashby, who knows a thing or two about these types of boats, kept the hull floating just above the water’s surface to achieve the maximum righting moment and hence max power. While it might look simple, I suspect that it as easy as holding a wheelie on your bicycle just inches above the road instead of hurling the front wheel above your head. Perhaps in time this more level approach will become one of the defining moves of those that have the touch.
By the end of the race, hauling ourselves above fourth proved to be too big an ask, a disappointing day for the Kiwis. But it was my best race yet.
They may have been out of sorts, but I was starting to get in the groove.