The French challenger for the 34th America’s Cup, ENERGY TEAM has its base set up just ten miles from Cascais, near the Belem Tower at the entrance to the Tage, close to the Vasco da Gama Bridge.
The team led by Loïck and Bruno Peyron has been in possession of their AC45 since 20th July and have been out training each day preparing for the first leg of the AC World Series, which will take place from sixth to 14thAugust. Over the past week, the crew has regularly been out sailing, getting to grips with the one-design rigid-winged catamaran and optimising the multihull, which already gives an idea of the future AC72 aboard which the next America’s Cup will be raced in the summer of 2013 in San Francisco. Time for an initial appraisal after a week of sailing and with ten days to go to the first battle out on the water.
First impressions at the helm of the AC45
Loïck Peyron : Getting used to her was fairly quick, but rather tricky, as for our first sail out of Lisbon, there was quite a lot of wind. On the first day it blew at more than 20 knots all the time with gusts up to 25 knots. For a first outing, it was a bit close to the edge as far as the wind was concerned. And the real problem was finding out how to cope with the powerful wing sail, especially to start off with. It is fairly big, and we didn’t really know how it worked before getting used to it and being able to control it fairly well, as is the case today. Even if we have managed to run through everything in general, we’ve still got a long way to go to get it just right and be efficient. We’re starting to carry out series of manoeuvres, but haven’t got much further. We’re about to embark on our seventh day of sailing and the preparation of the boat is going well, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Safety first ?
LP : Yes, safety is paramount. We’re trying to keep as calm as we can, even if we feel like pushing harder. After all, this boat is a catamaran, and the overall impression is what you expect from any multihull. The only real difference is we have to get to grips with the wing, so that means identifying al its secrets, and the way it can be moved. It’s all falling in place fairly quickly. What we have here is a classic aerodynamic question, just like with any sail, except this one is rigid. Sometimes it is a bit more powerful, with a lot less drag, which is really the most important revelation. In fact, this boat never stops. It’s strange, but even heading straight into the wind, we continue to make headway, as the giant wing sail generates much less drag than a normal sail and so we never stop. On the first day, we sailed with just the wing sail up and we changed tack without any problem in spite of the absence of a headsail, which would be nigh on impossible on the sort of multihull we’re used to. On this boat, you just keep sailing into the wind, which is something new and is a bit unusual for us.
Room for progress ?
LP : A huge amount, even if we are starting to come to terms with the boat. There aren’t any problems concerning safety, even if we had a few scares along the way, but we are managing to carry out manoeuvre after manoeuvre. Now, it’s going to take us much longer to work on the power, trimming her just right according to the point of sail, the headsails, the bearing etc. It’s all down to the nearest millimetre and degree. We’re beginning to note down all the adjustments on the boat. For the wing sail, there are three important types of adjustment: the curvature, the rotation of the whole system and the twist at the top of the wing sail.
Which other teams are you doing battle with ?
LP : We’re going to start today to battle it out with our Korean friends on some race courses and engaging in some match racing. They will be our sparring partners for the day. In fact, there are only three boats sailing here (Team Korea, Aleph and Energy Team), with the three others, the Top Teams (Oracle, Team New Zealand and Artemis) beginning their sailing tomorrow in Cascais.
The crew ?
LP : The lads are taking it in turns to train in various positions. There’s an excellent family-like atmosphere in the team, even if we’re not yet all here. The crew includes Peter Greenhalgh, Nicolas Texier, Arnaud Jarlegan, Jean-Baptiste Levaillant, Jean Sébastien Ponce, Devan Le Bihan and Yann Guichard, who will be arriving here tomorrow to take the helm, which will mean I’ll be able to take a look at how things are going from the outside and focus more on getting the best performance out of the team and working as an external coach. For the first races, we haven’t yet fully decided who will be lining up. The real problem is the weight, as the boat is not very wide and the wing sail is fairly powerful. We need to get the maximum weight on board and we’re not up there.... In fact, you need to be really heavy, which is not the case for us, so we’re going to have to find some other solutions.
The wind in Cascais ?
LP : We’re still training in Lisbon and the wind in the Tage is very irregular. We may go to Cascais tomorrow to discover the site and do some sailing out there. Having said that, the wind is set to ease off and we’ll be sailing in light winds, which is good. That means we’ll be able to get our work done more easily and cleanly.
Is a fortnight of training enough ?
LP : We’re bound to be three months behind or maybe more... but it’s going to be OK for a first attempt. We’re making a huge amount of progress each day. We know exactly what we would like to do. We’re one of the smallest teams in terms of the number of people involved and the means available to us, but certainly not in terms of our determination and our potential, so we’re not at all worried. We must not forget that the main goal remains the Cup in two years from now and that is what we’re aiming for. So we must not get too excited and need to take things as they come, taking it easy and carrying out manoeuvres smoothly... No need to worry. We’ll be ready!
What about the race programme ?
LP : The format of this first event is rather unusual, but it means we’ll be able to try things out with a lot of people coming aboard. On the first Saturday (6th August), there will be several fleet races. On Sunday, there will just be speed runs, strangely enough over the same race course. Monday and Tuesday are lay days. From Wednesday to Saturday (13th August) there will be match racing. Finally, on the last Sunday (14th August) the big race which counts for the AC WorldSeries. So Sunday 14th August is going to be the most important day, and I shall not be taking part, which means the pressure will be on the shoulders of my friend Yann Guichard, who will be replacing me at the helm.