Jobson's AC34 Notes

Note 3: On to the Louis Vuitton Cup Final

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

August 13, 2013

    The biggest question in every sport is who is going to win the contest? On paper, Emirates Team New Zealand looks like an easy victor against Italy's Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger trials. In July, New Zealand defeated Luna Rossa in every head-to-head race by over one mile. Last week, however, the Italian crew improved each day against Artemis Racing in the semi-final match. Did the competition help Luna Rossa enough to possibly defeat the powerful Kiwis?

    Before addressing Italy's chances, there are some important points to note about the upcoming regatta. The first two races will be on Saturday, August 17. The winner is the first boat to win seven races. It could be a long series. The first race each day is scheduled for 1:10 local time. The race should last about 30 minutes. After a 30 minute break, the boats will start again for Race Two at 2:10. Over the past month we have seen the wind here in San Francisco build later in the afternoon. There is a 21 knot wind strength limit for this round. The wind limit is adjusted for the current. If there is a flood tide of 1.5 knots, the wind limit increases to 22.5 knots. If the tide is ebbing at 1.5 knots (flowing out of the bay), the race committee will reduce the wind limit to 19.5 knots. For the first week the tide will be ebbing. This could be helpful to Luna Rossa because the races will be sailed in somewhat lighter wind. On the other hand, the downwind legs will be longer, which will help New Zealand; they seem to excel when sailing to leeward. Adding to the equation is the fact that each team is allowed to postpone the second race of the day. This allows for a breakdown or some other problem. Like any sport "time outs" are generally held until the end of the game. We might learn that one boat is faster in lighter winds, and may use their time out to avoid racing when the wind is heavy in the afternoon.

    In the semi-final races last week, Luna Rossa seemed to be a little faster relative to Artemis Racing when the wind was lighter. New Zealand, on the other hand, seems to be very fast in strong winds. If it was up to them, New Zealand would rather see a higher wind limit. In the America's Cup the wind limit goes up to 23 knots. But, we have a lot of sailing ahead of us before the Cup. This gets me back to the big question. Can Italy win?

    Italy and New Zealand met in the America's Cup match before in 2000. That year, Russell Coutts was the skipper for NZL. In the last race of the best of nine series, he passed the helm over to his young protégé, Dean Barker. New Zealand defeated the Italians in five straight races. Barker has been at the helm of every NZL team since then. Let there be no doubt the New Zealand crew is really strong. They have far more time on the water than any other team. Oracle Team USA lost four months last year when their boat capsized and broke up. The good news for the American team is they have two boats sailing now and are on the water training every day. To my eye, NZL is ahead of Oracle now, but in one month the situation could be different, thanks to all of Oracle's in-house racing.

    Italy does have several strengths. First they showed well against Artemis Racing. As Luna Rossa's skipper Max Sirena pointed out after the racing, "All our time racing was helpful." Skipper Chris Draper is becoming more comfortable at the wheel. He and tactician Francesco Bruni seem to know how to sail the boat efficiently at all times. Luna Rossa now stays on its foils through jibes. They were unable to do that in July against New Zealand. The Italians also have a second wing that was damaged in practice before the semi-finals. This second generation wing will improve their speed in the next round. There always seems to be less pressure on the underdog in any sport. Luna Rossa is the underdog. To win, Chris Draper needs to win the starts. Against Artemis Racing Draper had one win on the starting line, a draw and two losses. Soon after the first leg of all four races, Luna Rossa took control and stretched out their lead to win by an average of two minutes. At 30 knots this is about a one mile lead.

    Luna Rossa is managed by Patrizio Bertelli, head of the Prada fashion house. Bertelli has been in the America's Cup game now for 15 years. He will be a steady hand behind the scenes helping them make good decisions. Luna Rossa also has a strong coach in Steve Erickson, who is an American Olympic Gold medalist, and six-time veteran of the America's Cup. This is his fourth campaign with the Italians. Several members of the Luna Rossa crew are also Olympic champions. These include Spain's Xabier Fernandez, who has a Gold and Silver medal in the 49er class, and helmsman Chris Draper, who has a Bronze in the 49er class. The team also has a strong design team that includes 13 engineers working hard to find improvements.

    Emirates Team New Zealand had their boat in the shed for the past ten days. It is likely that their boat will be faster too. The Kiwis have to be careful to focus on the current match and not look too far ahead to the America's Cup. Sailing is a sport where strange things can happen. A breakdown, an injury to a crew, or a series of mistakes can get a team out of balance. This is certainly true of an NFL team. The competition will certainly be a benefit to the Kiwis who do not have their first generation boat in the water. I am told it is about 90-percent ready to go if they have an emergency.

    The Louis Vuitton Cup final and the America's Cup will feature short, 30 minute races. The crews will be tested every second. Calling good tactics will be crucial to success. We are learning that the swift currents of San Francisco Bay are a big factor even in the speedy AC72s. In every race, the leading boat seems to stretch out. There are not many passing lanes. You can bet that the tacticians and coaches of all teams have been studying the currents, wind patterns and strategic possibilities very carefully. Finding a way to pass another boat after an initial lead is established will be a huge task.

    Luna Rossa has its work cut out. Winning 7 of 13 races against Emirates Team New Zealand will be hard. Everyone loves an underdog, so Italy will have plenty of support. After this match, the playoffs will be over and the big show will be on the world stage — the 34th America's Cup.


By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

August 2, 2013

    When I arrived at Pier 80 on the San Francisco waterfront for my day of sailing aboard Oracle Team USA's AC 72 catamaran, the first sailor I met was the tactician, John Kostecki. His first words got my attention, "When they give you the safety lesson, pay attention!" Later that morning I got the safety briefing that included how to wear the wet weather gear, use an oxygen tank, strap on a helmet, and know what to do in case of an unscheduled problem. Luckily, for me anyway, the day went smoothly. Sailing on an AC 72 is an eye opener. I have been on many boats over the years including huge catamarans, tri-foilers, every America's Cup type yacht that exists, the speedy A Scows, windsurfers, kite boards, maxi ocean racers, 49ers, Moths and just about every major one design class. Very cool. But sailing on the AC 72 was a quantum leap beyond any other sailing I have done. These boats are really fast, exhilarating, at times scary, and yes, dangerous.

    I think it is the first time in my career that I did not offer to steer. Being at the helm of an AC 72 is an intense job. The helmsman must be focused at every moment. Keeping the boat and the crew safe is a big responsibility. Jimmy Spithill is tasked with the job for the USA team. Kostecki told me that Spithill is fearless. For nearly five hours I watched the crew practice maneuvers, run speed tests, and sail four practice races. Even as a guest it was exhausting. The hulls are 46 feet apart. The eleven crew run from one side to the other on every maneuver. It takes four seconds to shift sides. Some crew pass in front of the 130' high wing sail, and the others run behind it. At the training compound the crew does exercises on a trampoline to work on balance. I used a safety harness attached to a line stretched across the aft cross beam. It was a comforting piece of equipment. I spent my time totally drenched either in the middle of the beam dodging the spray, or tucked up under the windward hull next to Kostecki and strategist Tom Slingsby. It was fascinating listening to their conversation as they endlessly spun the grinder handles. Of the 11 crew, 8 grind a winch, 2 trim sails and 1 steers. Everyone is in constant motion. The boat feels big. The hulls are 72 feet long on the water line, and somewhere around 85 feet in over all length. The crew spends most of the time squatting in the cockpit of the windward hull to reduce windage. When they run across during maneuvers they literally slide on the trampoline for the last few feet just like a baseball players sliding into home plate.

    I asked if anyone had fallen over during a turn. Kostecki sheepishly admitted that both he and Spithill have fallen in. They were quickly retrieved from a following chase boat, that includes a fully outfitted diver at the ready for any problem.

    While sailing it was all business. Spithill speaks in a microphone and the crew reacts. Wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder and Spithill work the boat and wing with great precision in every puff of wind and through every wave. The most intense moment is bearing off at the windward mark. The AC 72 approaches the mark at 22 knots and quickly accelerates to 38 knots during the turn. The leeward hull lifts out of the water thanks to the wing foil at the bottom of the dagger board. Spithill has a series of knobs inside his steering wheel that he uses to adjust the angle of the wing. He actually took flying lessons to understand how wings create lift. The foils are analogous to wings on planes. Coordinating the use of the hydrodynamics of the foil and the aerodynamics of the wing mainsail is a fascinating scientific exercise. At the bottom or foot of the wing there is a solid endplate that helps use the wind flowing over the sail for additional power. Both Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand have spent considerable time developing their end plate systems. During our television broadcasts the aerial images will show just how the wing and the endplate generate power. I asked several questions about how the system works, but answers were not forthcoming. It is clear this is an area that could give one team an edge.

    When the leeward hull is up on its foil two things happen: the first is the boat becomes remarkably stable, and the second is the sound of the water rushing past the hull disappears. At high speed the dagger board and foil did seem to vibrate at times. This was an issue that was discussed at length throughout the day with an engineer that was aboard from time to time. When the foil on the windward side of the hull hits the water there is a loud clap that sounds like thunder. It gave me an idea how big the loads are on the equipment. The fastest speed I witnessed that day was 41.2 knots. Most the time we sailed between 36 and 38 knots downwind, and somewhere between 20 and 22 knots upwind. On most tacks we passed through 90 degree angles. At these speeds San Francisco Bay seemed like a small body of water.

    During the races Kostecki moved all over the boat to get a clear view of the race course, the current and the wind. A four knot gust of wind allowed the AC 72 to sail eight knots faster. While I was on board the true windspeed ranged from 14 knots in the morning to 21 knots later in the day. When the wind started gusting to 25 the practice session was called off for the rest of the day. For me, the five hour sail was exhausting and fascinating. I was mighty glad to head back to the dock but I now understand how powerful and exhilarating the AC 72 are for sailors and spectators alike.

    All day long we passed close to ferry boats and small sailboats. I think Spithill likes to give fans a show. Cameras clicked and people cheered as we sped by. These boats are a compelling sight when you see them at close range sailing at speed. For me it was a rare treat to sail on an AC 72. I was a guest thanks to my job over the next two months commentating on the Louis Vuitton Cup and America's Cup for NBC.

    During my time here in San Francisco I have spoken with many of the sailors. They all have a profound respect for each other knowing just how hard these boats are to sail. At this writing it is unclear which team will ultimately win the 34th America's Cup, but you can bet the winning crew will have earned it.  



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