In order to prepare for the second leg of the AC World Series, which is due to start on Saturday in Plymouth (England), Loïck Peyron and the crew of Energy Team have been training since last Thursday in Plymouth Sound, which is famous for hosting the start of the transatlantic race.
The French challenger has been through five busy days of training in conditions that have often been quite rough. In fact, yesterday, the crew was forced to remain ashore. Time for us to look at how the preparation is going with five days to go to the start of the contest with some strong winds forecast.
- What differnce is there between Plymouth and Cascais?
Loïck Peyron: In Plymouth, the sea is bound to rather choppier. This is particularly true when the wind is from the south in spite of the breakwater, because that doesn’t hold back the sea completely, so we’re looking at conditions that are rather more like the open sea. But this is a great place to race, and offers a good view to spectators from the famous Hoe with its green lawns. This is the place where the legendary transatlantic races begin (Ostar). The sailing area is rather tricky with currents and extremely unstable winds. For the moment, we’ve been training in windy conditions in general. There have been quite strong winds to the extent that yesterday we weren’t able to go out sailing.
- How does the AC45 behave in such winds?
LP: The boat is designed for that, so that’s not a problem. Occasionally, it means taking it to the edge and the precise limits are not that easy to find. When there are windy conditions, the only tricky manoeuvre is bearing away. Everything else is easy enough to deal with sailing downwind and indeed upwind, especially in courses set up in the direction of the wind. But bearing away at the windward buoy requires you to find the right moment, the crew has to be in the right place, and you have to know whether it is risky or not to bear away and not accelerate too fast, which means that it becomes fairly complicated… As soon as there is too much wind, you reach a critical point. You have to be really careful, as the slightest mistake is hardly ever excused. We saw that on Monday with the Spaniards capsizing…
- Are all the members of the team there in Plymouth?
P: We’ve been sailing since Thursday, but only since yesterday with the whole crew. From now on, we’ll be changing over Peter Greenhalgh and Yann Guichard. They’ll be taking it in turns to do the wing trimming and Yann is due to stay here until Sunday evening carrying out this role on Saturday and Sunday. In the end we decided to talk French on board and Peter is doing OK and understanding well. This is a way for him to make good progress and that means it is easier for us to communicate, which was one of the problems we had in Cascais. So this weekend, we’ll be speaking French aboard Energy Team, which is quite a major change. It’s important that Yann Guichard gets some sailing time in, even if he isn’t at the helm, so that he can get ready for the San Diego leg, where he will be at the helm. In Plymouth, the line-up will be the same as in Cascais: Peter Greenhalgh and Yann Guichard as wing sail trimmers, Christophe André (Bowman), Devan Le Bihan (trimmer) and Jean-Sébastien Ponce (trimmer).
- How do you feel about this second leg after what you experienced in Cascais?
LP: We’re feeling more and more at ease as we train. It’s less and less a question of discovering the boat. Five days before Cascais, we had never sailed in windy conditions, like we encountered yesterday when out training. So obviously we have moved forward and we’re still learning a lot. We worked on the headsails with Incidences, all of the little details about propulsion, manoeuvres… Learning is still an ongoing process. We’re still a long way behind the three top teams in terms of sailing time, but we shall have fewer and fewer excuses…
- Any changes to the sail configuration?
LP: Yes, we have a new headsail, a medium-sized jib, a number 2, which we were lacking. So now we have all three stages of the rocket. The problem is always going to be to choose the right one, as we can only use two sails. This is a decision that needs to be taken from the first race for the week or so of racing, unless there is any damage. In theory, looking at the weather that is forecast, we’ll have to decide between the medium and small jib.
- Do you think it is better facing the top teams in the windy conditions that are forecast?
LP: That’s obviously the case, as it becomes more a matter of good sailing. You have to avoid going over, plan ahead much more and watch out for the others. However, there is still room for mistakes. But this is when experience should pay off. I am rather conservative and will be careful not to break anything. Yesterday and indeed over the past few days, we’ve felt more and more at ease in this weather.
- So the aim is to show what you can do against the big teams, as was the case in Cascais?
LP: Yes, I think there are things we can do in Plymouth. In spite of the difference in ability that is still obvious between the teams. But we have been making good progress. And I’m sure of that.