The days racing may be on hold, but BMW Oracle is still competing 24/7 Matthew Sheahan reports
While the rest of the Cup circus stands down for an enforced day off, BMW Oracle are still racing and will continue to do so day and night until the Cup is over. At least, that must be what it feels like in a team where the weather is crucial, whether they’re sailing or not.
For the Cup challengers, watching the weather and making tactical calls is a 24/7 operation thanks to the demands that their giant wingmast places on them. Today is a perfect example of the extra pressure that the 230ft mast brings.
The forecast for tomorrow (Wed), when racing is supposed to resume, looks pretty spicy at present with current forecasts suggesting a 24 knot average by 9am and gusts to 30knots. At present the forecast also suggests that the breeze could drop to 15 knots or less by 3pm on Wednesday providing a chance, admittedly slim, that the racing could kick off.
So what do you do if you’re BMW Oracle with full sail up on the mooring?
As we saw on the opening day of the event, weather models change and local effects can throw a spanner in the works too. If there’s even just a slight a chance that racing might take place they can’t afford to be in a position where they can’t leave the dock because the wing is in the tent and not on the boat.
Leaving the wing in the boat would ensure that they could always get out on the water, but leaving the wing up is not that appealing if it’s going to blow, especially if it’s through the night.
Imagine leaving full sail up on a super maxi, or any boat for that matter, on a mooring in 25-30 knots. Now imagine doing it with a super efficient wing that has all the patience and composure of a Springer Spaniel puppy in a playground. This thing wants to sail.
Add to this the problems of simply getting the wing up and down in an exercise that takes between 2-4 hours and you have a major planning operation on your hands and some very tricky calls. Forget the ducking and diving on the race course, raising and lowering the giant wing is the most precarious manoeuvre that the team undertakes and could easily spell the end of their Cup campaign if it went wrong, something they’re very aware of after a lifting strop broke a few weeks ago and dropped the wing on the dock. That time they got away with it.
According to those that are involved with handling the wing, the team is still wary in even a gentle breeze. It is a wing after all, and it doesn’t know or care when it is lying down.
When racing was binned on Monday the team had to decide what the weather had in store for Wednesday and the likelihood of racing. At that time Wednesday looked like a racing day but with the hurdle of strong winds on Tuesday to overcome. Indeed, the breeze wasn’t forecast to decrease until a few hours before dawn and even then there would be enough to worry the ground handlers. So it was decided to keep the wing up and ride out the night.
Today, Tuesday, all’s well and the wing remains up, but the forecast is not looking good for tonight and tomorrow. On the other hand there doesn’t appear to be a light weather window between now and Wednesday afternoon in which to take the wing down. Whatever happens now requires a gutsy call.
As team meteorologist Chris Bedford put it yesterday, “Being a weather man on a team with a wing sail is very different to making the calls for a team with a normal rig. “It’s a 24/7 job.”
And then there’s the issue of looking after the boat when she’s not on the race course. For those hours and sometimes days, the responsibility for keeping the beast under control lies with C-Class world champion Magnus Clarke.
“I’m in charge when Jimmy Spithill’s not on board,” he says with a wry smile. Clarke and his team have spent several nights on the boat trimming and handling the boat through the night, a job that requires special care, not just in keeping the wing feathered, but in the pitch dark on a jet black boat!
“We had one night recently when we had 30 knots come through for two hours. It was pretty spicy as there were 40 degree shifts to deal with as well. In order to handle the boat we need to know how to sail it and that includes knowing how to trim the wing as well as when to lift or lower daggerboards, when to cant or rake the rig and so on.”
That night saw him calling out reinforcements for the normal three man overnight crew.
“Usually we have three on the boat and a minimum of four on shore,” he continued.
“The worst case scenario is coming off the mooring. We keep her on a short leash otherwise, on a normal long line, it’s easy to get to a situation when the boat starts to swing and you end up sailing at 20 knots! Sometimes it feels like keeping a leaping stallion in the paddock.
“You also have to be very careful when moving around the boat in the dark, especially when going down below. There are a lot of things that you could knock off or damage.”
But the wind won’t be the only worry for the team over the next few days. With Mistral conditions forecast for France, the associated swell often rumbles its way around the coastline to Valencia. When the waves are coming in from the north east, the sea state can become quite lively. Something, as it happens, that could cause Alinghi some grief. Getting out of the harbour in a NE swell caused the old version 5 Cup boats some stress – doing the same with a fragile 118ft cat would be pretty hairy too.
The bottom line is that even though the boats are at the dock, the stress of competition continues.
Race 1 is scheduled to start at 1006 CET on Wednesday.
LIVE ONLINE COVERAGE
OFFICIAL AMERICA’S CUP ONLINE COVERAGE
PJ Montgomery, Andy Green and Cam Lewis will provide live commentary on the racing which will include Virtual Eye live animations.
LIVE RACE COVERAGE
Will be streaming live coverage with expert commentators Martin Tasker and Peter Lester, starting with the preparations for docking out. The coverage will then switch to the official feed for the racing. After racing BMW Oracle will switch to their live coverage back to the dock.
ESPN360 Free online coverage
LINKS & INFORMATION
YW PREVIEW SPECIAL
Check out our previews to the Cup as published in the January and February 2010 issues of Yachting World now available in pdf format and available free online.
CLICK HERE -AC33 PREVIEW – THE BOATS
CLICK HERE – AC33 PREVIEW PART 2 – TEAM TALK
CLICK HERE – AC33 PREVIEW PART 3 – COURSES AND CONDITIONS
YW VIDEO CLIPS
Official 33rd America’s Cup Site
AERIAL VIEW OF THE HARBOUR
Aerial view of Darsena and commercial harbours
FOLLOWING THE CUP – TV & ONLINE
More news on this as it comes to us but at present:
ESPN 360 has acquired the internet rights for the free live online coverage.
ESPN360 Free online coverage
WEATHER – FORECASTS
Wind and Waves Valencia – Puertos del Estado
XC>Weather Spain – Current National conditions
HOW TO GET TO AMERICA’S CUP VENUE
To Valencia by Air:
The easiest way is to fly to Valencia and then take a taxi. Approx cost of taxi to harbour, €20
See www.valenciaport.com for more information
Unfortunately, at this time of year there are fewer direct flights to Valencia than during the summer season. Therefore an alternative route is to fly to Alicante and either take the train or hire a car. Driving takes approx 2 hours and car rental is cheap.
To harbour from Valencia train station:
A taxi from the train station is about a 20-minute ride.
Heading to Valencia on the A7 toll motorway, connect to the V-15 or V-30 to the port, which is signposted.