The name of the game today at the America’s Cup Race Management trials was match racing, and the AC45s proved nimble with blazing speed. More importantly, they showed that the game of match racing can be just as compelling in multihulls as in monohulls.
While the action was exciting to watch, it was a drain on the crews. The races lasted between 15 and 20 minutes around the windward/leeward course, and the crews rarely had a breather.
'It’s a really tough boat to sail,' said ORACLE Racing bowman Piet van Nieuwenhuyzen. 'Everything is big and the apparent windspeed is high.
'The hard jobs are grinding and pulling the sheets,' van Nieuwenhuyzen continued. 'A lot of different people are doing those jobs. Because there’s so much happening and the boat is so wide you can’t be in the right place at the right time, you have to do the job that’s in front of you. We’re all filling in for each other and that makes it more difficult.'
The dynamic movement of the AC45 adds another layer of complexity. A displacement monohull is predictable in its acceleration and deceleration, but not so for the AC45.
'The whole platform moves around so much that you struggle to stay on your feet,' said van Nieuwenhuyzen. 'If you take a tumble you have to get back up and finish the job.'
So what’s the telltale sign that all’s well on the yacht?
'If we’re hiking out that means all’s going well,' van Nieuwenhuyzen said. 'If we have a chance to sit down, we’re in good shape.'
Four crews took part in today’s action on the Hauraki Gulf, sailed in winds between 10 and 16 knots. The results weren’t as important as the action. There were lead changes, luffing matches and plenty of heavy breathing among the crews, who were sprinting the whole way around the track.
No boats capsized today, but coming around the windward mark in full-on hot mode with the gennaker drawing sent the leeward bow under water for a moment before it popped out and the cat sped off.
Two interesting notes: in one start sequence a crew tacked twice on the line within 30 seconds of the start and thanks to the wingsail got away in decent shape, if a tad behind. That would be impossible in a monohull, but once air flows around the wingsail the catamaran is launched.
Also, the AC45s seem able to live on the windward quarter of a leeward yacht. In monohulls, that position brought a slow death to the windward yacht. But today, the windward AC45 was able to live on the leeward yacht’s quarter for an extended time. Once again it seems due to the wingsail, which spills a lot of disturbed air to leeward through the slot between the front and aft element rather than off the leech of the sail.