It wasn't so much the breeze, but the sea state that made for some spectacular sights on day 2 of America's Cup Act 8
On the face of it, 20 knots shouldn’t have presented too much difficulty for the teams. In Malmo a few weeks ago we saw the breeze get closer to 30knots than 20 at times, but that was in flat water. Here, off the western coast of Sicily, the fetch in the northerly breeze stretched right across the Mediterranean and resulted in a 2m swell outside the entrance to the harbour.
As spectator boats and the official armada hobby horsed nover the long swell outside the harbour entrance, most of the AC teams chose to hoist their mainsails inside Trapani’s small harbour before venturing outside. But within a few minutes, even some of the big boys had turned tail and run back for shelter, at least until they were sure that racing was going to take place.
“After going out first thing, we came in and made sure we were all sorted in case we had any breakdowns,” said Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Terry Hutchinson. “We got all our spare pole equipment ready down below, because the weather had a pretty knarly feel about it.”
But while the team slipped into heavy airs mode, there was still room for a little anxiety at the prospect of sailing in what was appeared to be boat breaking conditions
“These boats are not designed for this and in these conditions I always feel a little puckered up,” he continued.
For Tim Kreuger, aft grinder aboard Shosholoza, conditions were a reminder of those at the team’s home port in Cape Town.
“It did feel a bit like sailing back in Cape Town,” he said. “Conditions today were tough, but having said that, my first ever sail with the team was in 28 knots aboard the old RSA48. That was really scary.”
Training in such boisterous home waters seems to have paid off for the South Africans today as they put in a confident performance and another well deserved point on the board. To look at the score in isolation though doesn’t tell the whole tale. Their opponents, K-Challenge had to retire after their headsail blew out of the luff groove, damaging the foil as it did so. Winning against a retired boat could be considered as a hollow victory by some, (although it didn’t seem to trouble Alinghi or anyone else other than the Kiwis a few years ago), but the impressive fact was that the South Africans had won the start, put a penalty on the French and had led them from the word go.
Clearly in the mood and despite sailing in a one horse race, the South African’s went on to fly a kite on both downwind legs and throw in a few well executed gybes in the process. Shosholoza might not be up for a full on match against the big boys, but they’re learning fast.
“Make no mistake, this point means a lot to us,” continued Kruger. “Things are starting to come together in many areas of the team. Our new afterguard [Dee Smith} is helping too. I’ve known Dee for many years, he’s a tough guy and that’s good. He pushes us very hard and that’s good too.”
Others were having a less rewarding time.
“There was a lot of wind and a lot of sea, and these boats are not made for these conditions,” said Thierry Barot, the runner man aboard the China Team. “In a tack during the pre-start, the runner passed behind the GPS dome, and got caught. The dome was broken by the runner, and we couldn’t pull the runner on properly, which was why the mast was leaning forward so much. Later in the race we broke battens during a gybe, then the genoa came out of the Tuff Luff, and the gear box on the utility winch broke.”
For Jeremy Scantlebury, a grinder in the Victory Challenge, the conditions reminded him of Fremantle back in 1987.
“Conditions today were similar in some ways to Fremantle. A similar kind of seaway, a similar ocean swell rather than a shorter chop,” he said. “In these kinds of conditions you need to switch into heavy air mode. You do things sooner and try to anticipate things at the mark roundings.”
For some, the real damage happened between races. Iain Percy’s 39 broke their boom between races but then went on to saw a large bite size chunk out of their bow when they overran their tow line.
“Oh, we do that every other day,” joked tactician Ian Walker. “It won’t take much to fix it. It was the tow line that knocked that off. It shouldn’t happen, but it’s easy to do, you just have to run slightly over the tow line and it can happen. It was a function of everything else that was going on. People trying to fix booms, swap sails, normal America’s Cup stuff!”
Elsewhere, the normal America’s Cup stuff was that Alinghi, Team New Zealand, Oracle and Luna Rossa all won their matches easily. But for the spectators, today wasn’t really about watching close nip and tuck. Seeing 24 tonne boats pounding through the heaviest conditions that we’ve seen in years was a spectacle in itself. It’s not often you lose sight of an AC boat, rig and all, behind a wave, but from my vantage point in a RIB, water, spray and bows launching into mid air characterised the day.
By mid afternoon, the conditions showed little sign of abating and flight four was postponed for the day.
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