The Portsmouth America’s Cup World Series event kicks off the 35th America’s Cup cycle, but it is also a new start for everyone from organisers to sailors and spectators. One skipper thinks it’s like going to the moon

“We would like nothing more than to spoil the dream that Ben [Ainslie] and his team has,” said Oracle Racing’s skipper Jimmy Spithill on the eve of the practice day here at the AC World Series in Portsmouth.

In print, such a comment looks rather harsh, but Spithill is well known for his sharp, quick witted, tongue-in-cheek comments. Had Ainslie been in the room, I’m pretty sure he would have taken such comments with a smile, perhaps even with a quick retort himself.

Less than two years ago the pair were not only team mates at Oracle Racing, but were both helmsmen in the same team, sparring partners which then led to the last minute powerful combo that won the America’s Cup for the American team. Among the long list of highly accomplished sailors that make up the six teams in the opening event of the 35th America’s Cup cycle, Ainslie and Spithill are two of the best.

But aside from the light hearted, yet serious comments, Spithill is always good for a quote or a different, innovative point of view. And at a press conference that was intended to announce engine manufacturer Yanmar’s further involvement as sponsorship partners, Spithill not only acknowledged the support but made some interesting points that left you thinking about how far this Cup chapter has moved on.

“A lot of people think that money is the most valuable commodity in a team’s campaign, it’s not, it’s time,” he said. “If you miss a day you can’t get it back and that’s why reliability counts.

“Our support RIBs need to do 40knots all day, every day when we’re training. We can’t afford for them to break down, we need those RIBs for safety, data collections and for servicing the needs of the boat throughout the day.”

Having recently spent a day chasing Ainslie and his crew in one of their support RIBs I had seen exactly what he meant

But Spithill had more when it came to describing how different this Cup cycle is to previous ones when he was asked about the crew’s training regime.

“It’s not just about the gym,” he said. “Sure, we probably spend about two hours a day in the gym but sailing the new Cup boats is also about nutrition, recovery and being in the right frame of mind to make the right decisions.”

Certainly when the breeze gets up and boats start to hit 30+ knots downwind the speed with which decisions have to be made ramps up significantly. And even then there still more to come.

“The fact is that when it comes to the boat speed, 30-40 knots is already here, 50 knots is coming and possibly more.

“There is no text book for the new Cup boats, we’re all doing this for the first time, it’s like going to the moon. We’re at the cutting edge and it’s very exciting.”

Which pretty much summed up why there had been so much media attention focused on the opening day and why the anticipation for the practice day was so high.

But when it came to Friday’s opener the weather did it’s best to throw a spanner in the works. For starters, the low pressure system that was working its way up the English Channel swung the breeze from its normal south westerly direction, (and for which the venue was best set up), to the east reversing the order of play. Then came the shifty, dying breeze that caught all of the teams out, bar Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR, as the five other teams decided that the forecast conditions would be for too much breeze to carry a code zero for the downwind legs.

They were all wrong, but Ainslie was right as he smoked his way ahead of the fleet in the first race of the day with his large code zero deployed. Indeed so big was his lead that even those of us on the course questioned whether this was actually a race or a training session. I’m not kidding. I have rarely been quite so disorientated in the radio commentary RIB. If you were listening and couldn’t make sense I apologise!

Come the second race, the breeze had dropped to significantly under 10knots and got fluky with it. Everyone had now put their code zeros on, but the bullets of breeze that scattered across the course dished out random fortunes for the fleet like a Saturday night lottery draw.

Fluky though it was it did make for several amazing comebacks and lead changes with the Kiwis winning the race having started last.

So while the practice day didn’t deliver the blistering speeds or wall to wall foiling action, it was a reminder of how far the game has moved on since the last ACWS and how everyone, from organisers, to sailors, commentators and spectators needed a day to get their heads around and style of racing that is evolving faster than anything we’ve seen before.

As Spithill says, it’s like going to the moon, although I doubt that it rains as hard.

Saturday sees the first of the real ACWS action.

Racing 1300 – 1530

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