Oracle Racing CEO, Russell Coutts, attacked those who do not believe it will be possible to have match racing in multihulls in the 34th America’s Cup.
He was speaking at a media conference arranged at Oracle Racing's temporary base in the Viaduct Harbour. The event was attended by local media, with international media online via a conference link.
'The modern multihull is a lot more advanced than even those of 10 years ago', he said. When I say it is a lot better - it is different universe!'
'A lot of people have commented on the pros and cons. I had a good discussion with a keen sailor at Key West recently, who assured me that multihulls would be terrible for match racing – even though he had never tried a modern multihull. There are a lot of fixed ideas – there are even people who believe that multihulls aren’t tactical!
'There is no real justification for that. When you go racing in a multihull fleet with a lot of very good sailors, it is very tactical', he added. 'There are presumptions made that are false.'
For a time the media conference devolved into quite a technical discussion about the difference between tactics in a displacement boat and a high performance boat.
'In heavy displacement boats you only really see passing in heavy airs when there is a crew error, or in light winds when they become more like high performance boats. '
'In a heavy displacement boat, if you are calling a layline and get it wrong going into the bottom mark you just turn into the new course. You may go slower, but you won’t get passed because the speeds are not that different. In a high performance boat, if you get that layline wrong, you can’t simply change your course down to the mark. Tactically, the boat behind will make it very interesting for the boat in front to defend a lead because they, to some extent, call the shots.'.
'In my opinion, it is much harder to defend', Coutts added. 'When you get changes in windspeed there are big performance differences in high-performance boats. If you, for example are behind and are carrying a gust down the course, you can ride it a lot better than you can in a heavy displacement boat, relatively speaking.
'In a Melges 32 for instance, if you have a good upwind leg you might gain two of three boat lengths, but if you have a good downwind leg, you’ll gain two or three hundred metres!'
'I think you will see a different style of racing in the next America’s Cup. With the high performance boats even though they appear to be well separated, the opportunities to pass will be that much greater.
Responding to a question on pre-start tactics, Coutts deferred to USA-17 skipper, Jimmy Spithill, the youngest helmsman to ever win an America’s Cup, who said that he felt the current prestart game was way too boring. 'It goes on for way too long and the dial-up isn’t exciting. Anyone that doesn’t know much about sailing seeing two boats sit alongside each other, head to wind in light airs for most of the pre-start, can’t be good. We will be looking at ways of eliminating the dial-up, changing the start box configuration and keeping it tight.
'The beauty of the wingsail is its maneuverability. We have seen it before on the trimaran, and we are seeing it now in the AC45. Also you will see in starts something that hasn’t been seen before - which is boats sailing at over 30kts.
Coutts chimes in.
'Don’t forget that in a monohull you can go pretty well anywhere. But in a catamaran there are sailing zones, that if you sail in those in San Francisco, you’ll capsize!
'The catamaran brings a lot of dimensions into the prestart that I think will be very interesting', the four times America’s Cup winner added.
Coutts was asked why they were even bothering to have a pre-start, and maybe it would be a better game just to have the boats line up at an assigned end of the line and start – given the race was going to be less than an hour long?
Coutts' response was that a prestart was still required to have boats fight for their preferred end, but that the prestart period might be reduced to just a couple of minutes.
He noted that in America’s Cups sailed in old match racing system yachts, the winner of the start went on to win the race 60% of the time. 'It’s not a good statistic to have, as a sport', he commented.
'You want to establish that one boat will win the start and the other will lose, otherwise you are really just doing it by coin toss, but we don’t want to make that win so advantageous that it will determine 60% of the racing.'
That led into the next issue of the seriousness of one boat obtaining a penalty on the other as happened in the first race in February 2010, in Valencia. Clearing off the turn could be a race pre-determining event.
Coutts and Spithill almost spoke as one. They quickly jumped in saying: 'What’s the penalty system going to be?' asked Coutts rhetorically.
'That’s up for discussion,' added Spithill.
'That’s a classic example', Coutts continued. 'The penalty in the next America’s Cup is probably going to be something that is less severe than what it currently is.'
'You can’t have a situation where in a pre-start there is a penalty given and the sailors know that the race is virtually over, and have to spend the next 45 minutes just sailing around the track. The fans also know the race is over – and that’s not how it should be.
'If we can just put the boat that was fouled back ahead of the offender, then the race is back on again', said Coutts.
'If you look at the course configurations and have a long first leg, the race is virtually over – if boat that winds the start pushed the other out the wrong way. There is nothing that says we have to have a long first leg. Why not make it shorter and open up the rest of the course for a proper sailing duel?'
'I think that would be good for the sailors and good for anyone watching,' Coutts concluded.
He did note that the course configuration for San Francisco would have to be sorted out in the near future as teams would have to start a design process running and needed to know the course configuration. There would be some trialling of different course configurations while the AC45 fleet were in New Zealand.
Coutts commented that reaching legs would probably be employed. 'Probably yes, because on a multihull the reaches can be incredibly challenging. But the length of those reaching legs is still to be determined'.
(As an aside, a quick exercise undertaken by Sail-World during the week showed that it was very possible to use an old style Olympic course in San Francisco with a start and finish half way up the windward leg and two reaches, that would give a sailing length of about 22nm – which would probably take the yachts just under an hour given the speeds achieved by the AC45 in similar windstrength.)
It was revealed that although the designers and organisers had Velocity Performance Predictions for the AC45, they did not, as yet, have instruments on the boats and had not co-related these to actual boat speeds. There are a couple of load cells on the AC45’s to check some key loads.
At this stage it was not really possible to predict the speeds of the yachts. 'We did over 40kts in the trimaran', Coutts noted, 'and I don’t think a VPP will ever show you that sort of number. But eventually they will!'
Coutts doesn’t believe the speeds and characteristics of the high speed, highly maneuverable multihull will change the tactics too much of America’s Cup racing. 'I don’t think these boats will change the game much in a tactical sense. I think the good sailors will still be the good sailors. Look at what has happened with the sailors, like Jimmy Spithill and Dean Barker, that have stepped off the keelboats and into the A-class catamaran and done very well.'
'I think you will see the good sailors adapt – it is just going to be a bit more challenging.'
Spithill said that over the past week they had sailed the AC45 at four knots to over 25 knots and was confident that they would be able to sail in winds of 30kts. 'We need to have a boat that is capable of sailing over a big range of conditions so we can sail these yachts successfully at different venues.'
In terms of Challenger numbers Coutts said they had six already, was confident of getting eight, and maybe 10 team entering. He alluded to the expectation of another entry being announced (now expected to be Team New Zealand) in the next few days or week. ‘Ten teams will look very impressive on the San Francisco waterfront', he added.
Delivery of the AC45’s was slightly ahead of schedule, by about week, and the rotation period at the end of February would be determined by ACRM in order of entry.
Spithill commented that Team New Zealand (despite not having their entry confirmed/announced) had a slot at the end of the second week, followed by the other of the group of four initial challenges, Artemis Racing. Oracle Racing and Mascalzone Latino would have the first sessions.