speed freaks

With just 10 days to go to “THE MATCH” in Auckland rumors are rife with regard to speeds of the boats, who is going to get in bed with who depending on who gets to the required number of race wins first – which is 7 by the way. 7 is the number of races that could be enough to win or it could take all 13. 

A few weeks ago it was ‘leaked’ that ETNZ had broken the 100kph barrier – that’s 54kts. Then in the past few days figures of 58; 60.3 and 62 knots have been reported as achieved by the Kiwi boat then earlier today I saw a figure of 57 quoted for LRPP.

Then there’s the talk of who the AC37 Challenger of Record will be – give me a break, let’s get this one done and dusted first, and that’s at least 2 ½ weeks away and could be almost a whole month away.

There is talk of talks between Dalton & Ratcliffe – just talk mind you and on the other foot perhaps the Italians may go with their neighbor and former America’s Cup combatant just across the Swiss border.

So what of the boats? Back in 2017 Bob Fisher (Mr America’s Cup) was not impressed. He called them ‘pond skaters’ but even he came round to how impressive they were and sadly he wasn’t with us quite long enough to see the completion of AC36.

Fast? Well, that’s without question. Their speed meaning a closing speeds at crossings (sorry trig wasn’t my strongpoint) must be in excess of 60 or even 70 knots at times.

 Maneuverable? Certainly more so than their predecessors in AC24 & AC35 and the speed they spin through tacks while staying on their foils and it is so pleasing (for a traditionalist like myself) to see elements of match racing tactics and strategy coming back into The Cup but without the electronic umpiring in the booth the on the water umpires would be spending so much energy hanging on it is doubtful if they would be able to make meaningful calls.

Are they dangerous as some lesser mortals have claimed? Well thankfully the sailing world has become a lot more aware of the risks since the demise of Andrew (Bart) Simpson although it must have been a scary moment for those team members on the low side when Patriot, the American Magic boat flew, then landed on the wrong part of the boat.

As an aside, that incident’s silver lining of all the teams support craft dropping everything and going to the American’s assistance was a great display of the honor that still exists in our sport. It was reminiscent of Ben Ainslie immediately calling his support boat to go to the Kiwi’s aid when they pitch poled in Bermuda.

So what of the teams? Fitness of the grinders and failure to maintain hydraulic pressure such as caused the near capsize of the Kiwis in San Francisco is unlikely to be an issue. I get tired just seeing the heart and respiration rates of these guys and they are so fired up I am sure they would grind to the death. 

In terms of helms Spithill is known for his aggression, he hasn’t earned the nickname of Pitbull for nothing. He would likely win more of his protest shouts if he re-read Rule 16 as two of his 3 shouts against INEOS were disallowed as he was altering while calling protest and the 3rd was so obvious it was a given.

Burling on the other hand is a real speed merchant and comes across on the water as completely unflustered and in control and is in a multi-year relationship with his sailing partner and tactician Tuke. He also is no slouch in the pre-start area and it will be an interesting confrontation between these two guys at or near the top of their game.

In terms of the boats’ relative speed, bullshit apart, a top designer once said to me that a good boat design fools the water into thinking it is not there. A strange expression perhaps but ETNZ just looks faster. There appears to be less noise coming off their foils and noise (spray) is at least partly a result of turbulence which is a contributor to drag. This is at least partly down to the Kiwi foils being up to 30% smaller than the challengers. Less drag – more speed. Will that make the Kiwi boat more vulnerable in marginal foiling conditions particularly if they drop off the foils at any point?

Bottom line is nobody really knows but a recent video reminiscent of ducklings following their mother would suggest that the opposition don’t yet know all they want to know about the New Zealand boat.

LRPP improved dramatically over their sailing so far but nobody knows just how Team New Zealand is also improving. The only thing for sure is they will not have been standing still on the development curve either.

Bottom line as far as the public are concerned, well at least those who are not from Italy or New Zealand, is the question “Is it exciting?”. If so they will come back for more which is good for sailing. The INEOS v LRPP 9 lead changes race was exciting for me but as a sailor, once one boat was well in the lead the finish line could have been plonked in front of them after a couple of legs and it would have made no difference to the race result.

I think we will have a very good idea after just one race whether it is going to be one sided one way or the other or we are in for a ding dong all the way to the wire.

Certainly the interest here in China has already been generated with up to around 200,000 watching the round robin and other rounds racing so far. Come the main event that figure could be elevated even higher.

It’s not perfect, nothing is, but one thing is for sure, this year, the fastest racing boats on the planet will be racing on the waters off Auckland from the 6th March. – SS.