David Glenn gets an extraordinarily close-up view of the 1851 Cup onboard BMW Oracle

As 18th man on BMW Oracle David
Glenn had an extraordinarily close-up view of proceedings as Ben Ainslie and
Jimmy Spithill tried to beat each other up on the first leg of the historic
1851 Round the Island race yesterday.

I’m still recovering from the fair-ground style ride aboard BMW Oracle in yesterday’s 1851 Cup Round The Island race, the first leg of which produced one of fiercest displays of match racing – indeed any racing – I think have experienced first hand.

I should also say that the grin is still fixed across my face as I paw over the video and re-live some of the moments in a five-and-a-half hour race which was a true thriller at times. If we needed a reminder that match racing in these big but heavy monohulls can produce an edge of the seat spectacle then this was it – it was a crying shame that a couple of errors and then gear failure saw the race descend into a shambles by the time they returned to the Solent.

As I scrambled aboard BMW Oracle from the tow boat before the start the mood was quiet and relaxed as the sailing team seemed to be anticipating a fairly benign eastabout race round the island following the same course sailed in 1851 to establish the America’s Cup.

This event, which has exceeded expectations in terms of a spectacle and certainly provided Cowes Week with a shot in the arm, is part of an on-going experiment being conducted by Cup holders BMW Oracle (BOR) to determine how the next America’s Cup will be conducted, so when the opportunity came for a running start this suited BOR down to the ground.

Not that a running start deterred the protagonists from have a serious crack at each other in the ten minutes leading up to the start. Sitting – well kneeling, crouching, crawling, balancing and generally being knocked about in the ‘back’ of these incredibly noisy, narrow boats provided a grandstand view of our crew at work and when I could get my nose above the parapet the giant Jaguar logo along Team Origin’s topsides came flashing into view as Spithill and Ainslie threw their 82ft, 24-tonne machines through the pre-start.

Standing in the aft ‘scoop’ of these Version 5 cup boats is not an option because if Jimmy slings the wheel over you’ll be knocked straight off your feet – literally. Mary Rook our onboard umpire who was there to call overlaps gripped the carbon gantry at the stern while onboard cameraman Dan darted between the two of us trying for the best angle.

In incredibly tight, fast turns walls of water rose vertically over the quarters drenching us as the boat span. Then came the moment when the two boats were careering towards each other, Spithill on starboard Ainslie on port with a collision looking inevitable as both boats went into a screeching furious turn into the wind to bring them alongside each other, the helmsmen eyeing each other with looks of uncompromising aggression. Up went the Y flags and Ainslie was given a penalty for a straightforward port and starboard infringement.

The duel continued until the gun with Ainslie on our weather hip and behind but still in a great position to roll over us which he duly did unchallenged it seemed by Spithill.

So began a long, fast and incredibly action packed run to No Man’s Land Fort in which our bow was just a few metres if that from Origin’s stern as Spithill went for an overlap in an attempt to take Ainslie out in a luff.

For this regatta the part of the rule which prevents a boat which is luffing from leeward to take the windward boat above it’s proper course to the mark was rescinded so in effect once an overlap had been established the luffing boat could take the opposition right up into the wind.

Spithill and John Kostecki called the first gybe onto port as we approached Ryde sands and although Ainslie was quick to follow we sailed over them putting Origin to leeward of us.

In an attempt to preserve the structure of these AC V5 boats, two thin, flexible poles with a blob of day-glo paint on the extremity extend from the transom of the yacht. They are called training sticks and are effectively an extension of the boat, coming into play when an overlap is being established. The idea is to preserve the hull if overlap turns into something more physical – ie a collision.

Ainslie and tactician Iain Percy may have made the move to get on our stern deliberately because the key to the next part of the race was to establish a lead at No Man’s Land Fort where we would start hardening up for a fetch to a mark off the eastern end of the island. That could become processional. This was the opportunity to overtake and put some distance between the boats.

Ainslie came at us from leeward calling us up and up. Ainslie was relentless as we were forced first head to wind and then almost to tack. Chaos seemed to ensue as both boats screamed at each other as fouls being called, the attendant umpires being pleaded with and all the time the boats just feet from each other, head to wind spinnakers in disarray.

Eventually Ainslie let us go and we were able to resume albeit with a spinnaker that disintegrated shortly after the engagement. Result – Ainslie penalised for not conducting the luff in a ‘seamanlike manner’ and not giving us enough room to drop our spinnaker if required. Basically, it would seem, a case of over zealous sailing.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Onboard BMW Oracle
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