Thursday, February 11, 2010

America's Cup: More delays

Race 1 scheduled again for Friday

Friday should see a third attempt to get Race 1 of the 33rd America’s Cup away. The prospect of a window of suitable weather to allow the windward-leeward course comprising two 20-miles legs is anticipated tomorrow although Valencia has been subjected to some brisk, chilly northerly winds through today Thursday.

A postponement was signalled in the early evening which means no start sequence will be before 1154hrs (LOCAL)

Even around the Marina Juan Carlos 1 the flags were stiffened by the wind through most of the day. The cool February breezes reached more than 30 knots at times.

Hopes are high that Race 1 will start tomorrow, but for all of the waiting that has already been part of what promises to be an historic 33rd America’s Cup match, neither the premium placed on patience nor the bracing temperatures have cooled the sense of anticipation, nor made any clearer what might happen when the two giant multihulls finally meet up.

Debate ebbs and flows about every aspect of the Race 1, from the simple binary answer – who will win, right through to the detail of changes to the match racing rules to accommodate these giant speedsters.

The hiatus has allowed crew members from both the defender Alinghi (SUI) and the challenger BMW ORACLE Racing Team to drip feed technological information as well as their perception of how Race 1 might develop.

In an instructive media seminar Ed Baird (USA), helmsman when Alinghi won the America’s Cup in 2007 for the second time, said today that a close race in these multihulls might be one with somewhere between three or four minutes at the first mark, and such a margin could be easily won or lost on the downwind leg.

Factor in the fact that so much ground is lost in manoeuvres, that conventional covering (blanketing your opponent with the wind shadow from your sails) is not really possible, all-in-all a ‘whole new mentality’ he warned.
Baird in effect said that, downwind is the new upwind.

Downwind these giant multihulls are sailing so quick that the apparent wind they generate is only 5-6 degrees different to that when they are racing upwind.

Dirk De Ridder (NED) who is in charge of the trim of BMW ORACLE Racing Team’s huge 223 ft (68m) wing which took 150,00 man hours to build, explained some of the differences between his job with the solid foil and the equivalent soft sail. He controls the wing with a conventional traveller system which is lead to a winch, and a hydraulic systems powered by a small engine which controls the shape of the wing. The two element wing is comparatively straightforward, he explained, with nine hinges between the main wing element and the aft flap.

The construction of the wing itself is especially high tech, but De Ridder revealed that his controlling key pad system is nothing more or less than an ‘idiot proof’ off-the-shelf garage door remote operating system.

Sir Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur who last year made an attempt at the Transatlantic Record was a visitor to the America’s Cup site, touring the Alinghi base, meeting up with Mike Sanderson CEO of Britain’s TeamOrigin America’s Cup syndicate.

Quotes of the day:

Harold Bennett (NZL) Race Director and Principal Race Officer:

“There is a strong wind overnight which the models are saying will probably drop during the early morning. There may be a window for us in the afternoon. We may see the seas flatten out a lot earlier, but we will be out early to have a look and we will give it a fair chance tomorrow.”

Ed Baird (USA) sailing team member Alinghi:
“ We have met with the umpires. They are amazingly impressed with the equipment and they recognise the limitations on being able to manoeuvre the boats in close quarters situations. They don’t want to see close situations, like we saw before, where the boats were two metres apart. They don’t want to see that.”

“Honestly we expect that the boats will not be together very much. The important part is the start, that the umpires can see what is going on but on the open course it would be a real surprise to see engagement. It is a different mentality of sailing because the boats slow down so much when they tack. Your covering option is not effective like it is in monohulls.”

“The teams have agreed that it a team member accidentally falls off the boat they can be picked up, the umpires are there, the security boats are there, our own chase boats are there. And any of them can pick him up. The sailboat communicates with the chase boat and the committee boat and decides if they want that person put back on to the sail boat. He is put back on by the team’s chase boat and there is no penalty.”

Matthew Mason (NZL) mast BMW ORACLE Racing:
“There are probably going to be two different philosophies about it pre start. I know that Jimmy (Spithill) is pretty fired up about it. The five minutes is going to go very fast. They have the offset entry for the port entry boat. But there is a chance that starboard entry boat could catch the port entry even though they have that offset. And using a downwind sail on the entry is an option. And I know that if we have the chance we will be entering with a downwind sail and trying to get a piece of them and engaging pre-start. That’s our plan.”

Dirk De Ridder (NED) wing trimmer BMW ORACLE Racing:
“I have four functions on hydraulics to operate the wing and the traveller which is on a winch. We started off high tech with a high tech with a remote wireless fittings, but there is so much carbon between me and the receiver that it did not quite work. So we ended up Mark Sheffield (GBR) went in and bought a stock standard garage door opener which is now hard wired to the computer and is now pretty idiot proof. It has eight buttons, four on and four off and so far so good. It was an example of something where we could spend an enormous amount of time and money, say, flicking on a fancy screen but this is idiot proof and it works really well.”

“ I think if you ask every designer of ours that has worked on the wing they will tell you the same thing, in theory. The wing we have built is basically a very simple two element wing, although the way they have built it and the materials are very high tech. The actual concept is relatively simple.”

“ It has a front element which also holds the structural mast and we have the flap element and by offsetting those two you get an angle of attack on the front element and camber over the whole wing which gives you the driving force and lift coefficient that you need to go forwards.”

“I think, is it more high tech than Alinghi? I don’t think it is more high tech than Alinghi. It is a different way of achieving the same goal. We took a gamble going with the wing and it has come out extremely well. We put it up and two hours later we were flying a hull in San Diego.”

Richard Branson (GBR), British entrepreneur, founder of the Virgin brand:
“I love all kinds of sport and the America’s Cup is one of the greatest sporting spectacles. There are two giants going to be battling it out over the next few days and obviously it is great to see the boats, incredible boats. And it is great the courts are behind them and we will finally have a battle at sea.”

Asked if the thought there would be racing tomorrow he said:
“ If not tomorrow definitely Sunday. With these kind of boats, very fragile high speed boats then the weather is very important because they could break up.”

Asked if he would be seeing both, he smiled:
“Ernesto for lunch and Larry for dinner…it is great to see them both.”
“I love sailing, sailing small boats. We did try to break the transantlantic sailing record last year with my children and on that occasion we hit big bad winds and the mainsail broke and we had to limp home.”

“ I have just had lunch with Mike Sanderson who is team captain for the British team and he is a great friend. And fortunately they seem to have funding for a British attempt. And so hopefully after this we will see eight nine ten teams particiapating and we will get the America’s Cup team back to how it should be with lots of different nations participating.

“We are not at this moment planning to be involved in the America’s Cup. We are here as interested bystanders. It would be good, of course it would. But the British team have got funding drops out who’s to know?” -

Photos: Carlo Borlenghi, Guido Trombetta/ALINGHI